Dr. Stephen Hayes, the founder of the groundbreaking therapy technique Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), says, “If you’re not willing to have it, then you will.” Have what, you might ask? Anything you are trying to get rid of, from anxiety and depression to fear and loss. So what if the key to overcoming your anxiety was to welcome your anxiety in with arms wide open? You might think to yourself, “I’m willing to do that if embracing anxiety will eventually help me get rid of it!” But if that is why you’re doing it, you will continue to be anxious. Tony shares his thoughts on one of the most important yet paradoxical parts of ACT, “Acceptance and Willingness,” from Dr. Hayes's book “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life,” https://amzn.to/421Qssr

Find all the latest links to podcasts, courses, Tony's newsletter, and more at https://linktr.ee/virtualcouch

Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorder Course is Open! Visit https://praxiscet.com/virtualcouch Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorders, Dr. Michael Twohig will teach you the industry-standard treatment used by anxiety-treatment experts worldwide. Through 6 modules of clear instruction and clinical demonstrations, you will learn how to create opportunities for clients to practice psychological flexibility in the presence of anxiety. 

After completing the course material, you'll have a new, highly effective anxiety treatment tool that can be used with every anxiety-related disorder, from OCD to panic disorder to generalized anxiety disorder.

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


So I recently found myself on a run and I was, I was cold. I was freezing and my wife was under the weather. We typically ran together on Saturday mornings back in my active ultra running days. I would spend a few hours early, really early on a Saturday morning, trying to get all my miles in, but now a couple, two or three years post meniscus tear, I'm giddy to be able to just bust out, I don't know, 8, 10, 12 miles for my long run on a Saturday, and especially when I can go with my wife, but on this particular day, she was not feeling up to it. And to be honest, I kind of wasn't feeling it either. So it doesn't surprise me that I neglected to check the weather before I headed out. And it was cold and it was windy and I was a few miles away from home and I hadn't really thought out my route. So instead of finishing with a strong wind against my back, I had opted for that strong wind to carry me as far away from my house as possible, which at this point only meant about three or four miles. 

But that absolutely meant that the run home was not going to be easy. It's one of the things that I'm truly grateful for as a mental health provider is continually trying to learn about things that I think can help my clients. And I have now been practicing long enough to know that if I'm being honest, everything, I find myself embracing and putting into my practice. I embrace and put into my practice because it truly resonates with me. And I've accepted the fact that I think kind of long ago that, yeah, in fact, I did become a therapist many, many years ago, apparently to deal with my own issues. So I found myself thinking about a phrase that I often say that I don't think people find as powerful as maybe I do. And I also realize thank you, therapy. That is an observation that I make. When I say this phrase people don't leap off my couch and say, oh, my gosh. That's the one. That's it. You, you did it. You just changed my life with that one phrase. If that is not what I observe, then I quickly make a judgment I make at that very moment. To maybe ease my own anxiety or to make sense of that moment for me is that person on my couch just really couldn't give two rips about this life-changing phrase that I'm actually about to share with you. And that phrase is coming up next on the Virtual Couch

Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 365 of the Virtual Couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay, I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, and it actually hit me today that if you truly wanted to lose your mind, you can now listen to an episode of the Virtual Couch each and every day for an entire year. And I will just let that sit there and I will actually let you observe and judge. Some of those judgements may include, is he serious? What an ego. Is he saying that people would really do that and I really am not, but I feel like I'm almost required, I don't know by the podcast gods, to say that I never honestly would have imagined in a million years when I started the podcast that I would have 365 episodes, not to mention that Waking Up to Narcissism, my other podcast is now on episode 60 something. And on that note actually just released a third podcast and that is Waking Up to Narcissism premium edition question and answer, that's over on the apple podcast app and episode one of that is now available. I have a Google document that has more questions about narcissism and emotional immaturity and what to do about it and how to live with it and why does it happen and who does it happen to and all of those questions. It's $4.99 a month and hopefully it will raise money that we'll be able to fund a nonprofit that has been set up to help people that are in these difficult relationships with truly narcissistic people or extremely emotionally immature people that are definitely opting for control over love. 

And while I'm talking about podcasts, I really do appreciate when somebody gets pretty real about the behind the scenes things, the numbers, or the reach of a particular podcast. And I just have to comment on the fact that while the Virtual Couch has 300 more episodes than Waking Up to Narcissism, and it is a given that I never anticipated that the Virtual Couch would have the reach that it does, Waking Up to Narcissism just this morning crossed over more average daily downloads than the Virtual Couch. So the Virtual Couch has a few million more downloads overall, but each now Waking Up to Narcissism episode is starting to approach and show more downloads per episode, which again, sharing numbers that I think is fun, it could be around 15 to 20,000 per episode, depending on the episode. So I just feel like that's mind blowing that that podcast really does resonate, but I think it's definitely a, if, you know, you know, so people that are in those relationships with emotionally immature individuals and it doesn't just have to be a spouse, we are interacting with emotionally immature or people with narcissistic traits and tendencies on a daily basis. So that could even be somebody in the workplace, a neighbor, it could even be an institution or an entity that you are working with, it can be an adult child, or it can be a sibling, an adult sibling. So there's just a lot of information there that I feel I can help people just stay more present, know that they're okay. 

Know that it is 100% and that's an all or nothing statement that I stand behind for you to have your own thoughts and feelings and emotions. And you are not crazy for having them. And if you are in a relationship where those are continually being challenged or you are made to feel less than, then I really would recommend that you check that podcast out. Just check out the show notes and click on there's a link tree link, and it will give you access to the newsletter, the latest podcast episodes, the trailer for Murder On the Couch, the upcoming true crime meets psychology with my daughter Sydney. And I think it will also link to the Virtual Couch accounts on TikTok and Instagram and Facebook and the Magnetic Marriage workshop, which is a 90 minute workshop. And the updated full marriage course is going to be released shortly and I'll make a lot of noise when that is ready. So, where were we? 

That phrase, the phrase that I was alluding to. Let me in almost like a true reality show TV format, where we ended the scene, let me come back to the show and I will set the stage. I'll read the last sentence or two from the transcript, and this is where we left off. When people do not leap off of my couch after I say this phrase, and when they do not say that's the, there it is, that's it. You did it. You just changed my life with that phrase. If that is not what I'm observing, then I make this judgment at that very moment again, to maybe ease my own anxiety or make sense of the moment for me, that the person on the couch can not give two rips about the life-changing phrase that I've just shared. And that phrase is, “acceptance does not mean apathy”. And I feel like if I had sound effects that might go, maybe not as exciting as you think. But let me break that down a little bit today because we're going to talk about acceptance and willingness in a way that I think is going to help. It's going to help in a lot of ways, it's going to help with anxiety. It's going to help with fear. It's going to help when trying to take on something new. So why don't we start with, what does apathy even mean? And then I'm going to spend some time in the book by Dr. Steven Hayes, the founder of acceptance and commitment therapy, his book called “Get out of your mind and into your life”, which being completely honest for some insane reason, queues me to sing in my head each and every time the Billy Ocean classic from 1988, “get out of my dreams and into my car”, which I shared with someone in a session last night and she is in her twenties and she said, that was literally, that was really a song title? And it was 1988. The year I graduated high school again, Billy Ocean “get out of my dreams and into my car” which must be some sort of cue or trigger because that is the year that I graduated high school. So on that note too, I just hit pause. I came back and I did Google top songs of 1988 to see why wasn't another song stuck in my head, more iconically than this Billy Ocean song that I was never a fan of. 

And ironically, that is also the year of Rick Astley's hit “never going to give you up”. So, I guess in essence, you were just verbally Rick rolled. So back to apathy. Apathy by definition is a lack of interest or concern especially regarding matters of general importance or appeal. It's a feeling of indifference, lack of emotion or feeling impassiveness, it's not having a, want a feeling it's an absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement. Insensibility indifference. So when I give you that phrase, that acceptance does not mean apathy, that what I'm saying is that if we accept things, if we accept the fact that I am feeling anxious, if I accept the fact that I am afraid or scared, then that does not mean game over. So in this scenario where I was out on the run, I had to do some, some true acceptance of the fact that I was at that three and a half, four miles away from home. I was under dressed. I didn't have my beanie on, I have a giant bald head. I didn't have gloves on and my hands were feeling very numb and cold. 

I think I had a short sleeve shirt on and I was about to run headfirst into the wind for the next little while. So acceptance doesn't mean then at that point that I might as well give up because in a situation like that there really wasn't an option to give up, not to sound very dramatic, but I was a little bit off the beaten path. And there wasn't a, I couldn't just flag down a taxi or even know if attack, think I need to use Uber all the time now. But I didn't, I don't even think I probably had cell phone service where I was and I just had to accept the fact that this was going to be rough or difficult. Because that acceptance again, doesn't mean that I'm just throwing in the towel, and I think we fear so often that acceptance does absolutely mean apathy and this impassiveness, this hopelessness, this absolute suppression of passion or emotion or excitement. And this indifference. And let me, let me step back and we're going to talk about how that would still work, even in the context of that run. 

But when I first started using the phrase, this acceptance doesn't mean apathy phrase. It really was showing up in the context of helping people post-divorce. And I promise it really does require you the listener or a client in my office to stay really present here for a minute, because it's going to sound at first, I worry like the complete opposite of what I am intending a true paradox, which is going to be ironic because when we get into the book by Dr. Hayes, we are going to start talking about a paradox of just great proportion. So acceptance, acceptance, not meaning apathy in the context of helping someone post divorce. I remember the person that I was first talking to about this, and the concept that we were exploring was if you accept the fact that she was afraid that she was going to be alone for the rest of her life and be single. And I was really trying to understand this acceptance and willingness from acceptance and commitment therapy, because it can be such a powerful tool. But I think it's one that is so paradoxical that it feels, it feels like we are giving up. And then it shows that sometimes the, or oftentimes the thing that is going to help us the most will sound like the craziest thing we can think of. And I think that is so often because our brain is just so used to this pattern of stick behavior and the path of least resistance. That we are handing somebody this new tool and they are going to just say, okay, that is unknown and scary. So I'm going to double or triple down on the thing that I know in hopes that at some point something's going to change. 

And if you're like me, you've probably already thought now that the definition of insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result now to give us, give ourselves a little bit of credit. We are doing the same thing over and over often, but then we are hoping that things like time or being in a different location will be just the catalyst, enough so that it will not continue to be the same thing over and over, but it typically does end up netting the same results. So again, in this context, acceptance doesn't mean apathy. When this person is so worried about, I may be alone for the rest of my life, acceptance needs to look like, okay. I need to accept the fact that I may be alone for the rest of my life. And that's the part where the record scratch hits. And I believe I made the joke in that very moment of saying that does not mean that we need to back up the chocolate fountain truck and you just put your head underneath it and just hit the go button and then just indulge and do nothing and lay flat on your back for the rest of your life. 

It's actually the opposite. So if you accept the fact that you may be alone and that does feel scary and we want to get rid of scary and we want to get rid of discomfort. So we want to just get rid of it, we want to push that away. But if we accept that fact, then what she and I started working on was now she isn't going to try to become the person that someone else wants her to be in hopes that she will then find someone that will love her or find someone that will, will be willing to be with her because she will not be true to herself. But if she accepts that fact acceptance, not meaning apathy. But with that acceptance that I may not find someone. And again, how scary does that sound to somebody that's post divorce. But then I am not trying to figure out what I need to do to find someone. I am starting to figure out what to do to be the very best version of me. And then as you start to then uncouple, this needs to find the right thing to do. You start to find the things you like to do, and as you start to do those things and you realize that, okay, if I was in a relationship before where I didn't feel like I could be myself, and I did feel controlled or I felt like I didn't have a voice or I wasn't seen. And so if I really wanted to explore things that were, I really enjoy, let's say creativity or art or painting or I don't know, knife skills in a cooking class. And if you are with a spouse who says, okay, well, what about me? What am I supposed to watch the kids while you go do that? Or, do you know how much money it's going to cost? If you want to just all of a sudden paint another room and not even explore what that would feel like to really go after the things that you want in life. 

Now, those are real concepts around kids and finances, but when those conversations are shut down immediately, then you start to feel less than, and you start to feel like you lose your sense of self and as a marriage therapist, which I am, I know that then those conversations are had so quickly to just shut down some sort of feeling typically with that person who's more, a little bit reactive or emotionally immature as a way for them to get rid of their own discomfort. And so if we were sitting in front of a good marriage therapist and they were saying, okay we're understanding that this is something you want to do. You want to learn how to paint or you want to paint these rooms and you find that that would really scratch that creative itch and really help you feel alive so that you're showing up better as a better mom, as a better spouse, as a better fill in the blank because it raises your emotional baseline, then that is something worth fighting for. And if the husband then recognizes, okay, I immediately reacted because I just, all I thought about were finances and I worry that I'm not being the provider I need to be. So that makes me feel bad. So I looked at that as a threat. 

So when we can calm both people's amygdalas down and then have a productive conversation, of course, using my four pillars of a connected conversation, then we can start to say, what would it look like if we may be tightened up something over here, or, but because I want my spouse to thrive, I want them to be able to be the very best version that they can be of themselves. Because that does not mean that once they learn how to paint all the rooms and they feel confident, they will leave me. As a matter of fact, it means they're going to show up better in the relationship. So again, acceptance does not mean apathy. If I accept the fact in that scenario, post divorce, that I may end up single for the rest of my life. Now I'm not even fighting, I'm not even saying, oh my gosh, that's so bad. And it's horrible. And what if it's like, okay, I'm gonna sit with that, that is uncomfortable and now I'm going to step into things I like to do. And now all of a sudden, if I am taking a culinary class and I'm thriving and I have so much curiosity, and now I'm really connecting with the other people in my class, again, and we'll get to this in the, in the book, but I can't be doing it so that I will then, well, maybe that's how I'll find someone, but the chances of you finding someone with the shared experience or and mutual passion or some of the, you can really just bounce ideas off and they won't necessarily feel attacked or criticized may come from this place where you are operating as your very best self. 

So acceptance does not mean apathy. Let's go to the book. And this is the book, “Get out of your mind and into your life” by Dr. Steven Hayes. And I'm jumping over into chapter four and it's called “letting go”. And this is one of the key chapters to, I think that will really, it really helps you start to understand the things that we are not doing correctly in the mental health field. So Dr. Hayes talks about in the first couple of chapters, he really talked about your suffering. And your efforts to cope with it, because if you really look at the fact that life, yeah, life can be a real challenge. It can be difficult. And I feel like at any given moment, we can all identify areas of our life, where we are suffering and then he talked about this trap or this pitfall that is inherent to human thought because of the way that we try to handle the suffering. And he talks about experiential avoidance. That we try to find anything else to do to alleviate the suffering. So we turned to these experiential avoidance activities, which means our phones or unhealthy coping mechanisms or just tuning out of life because we want to feel better. And we are chasing this concept of just pure, euphoric joy and happiness, because we don't want to feel uncomfortable. We don't want to acknowledge this suffering. 

But I think it's safe to say that that's one of our go-to responses to try to get rid of discomfort or suffering. Is to tune out, to use this experiential avoidance to just, just watch shows and play games and just not do and not be, not be present. So Dr. Hayes says we've hinted at an alternative to experiential avoidance. And he said it has been variously described as willingness. Acceptance or letting go. And I really want to clarify what acceptance and willingness looks like, because I think this will really help move you forward. And being more present in being more present will move you forward and figuring out what really matters to you. And Dr. Hayes says that acceptance is a skill that you may have heard about or experimented with in the past. And it's certainly something that you can learn to do, but he said, unfortunately, it's not something that your mind can do. Your mind is trying desperately not to accept uncomfortable situations or feelings. So he said, that's why learning more skills will be required before you can implement these concepts of acceptance and willingness in your daily life, because he says even after all your mind is aware of what you're reading right now. And in this area, your mind is not your ally. So welcome to the first paradox. If you're not willing to have it, you will, and he said that that is one of these rules that applies to the things that are going on internally or what they call in ACT, your private experiences. That if you aren't willing to have it, you will. And he said that we've implied that this rule is important for dealing with your suffering. 

Although he said he didn't really exactly express where that importance lies. So he said, let's take a look at what the mind does with such an idea. Again, that idea of, if you're not willing to have it, you will. So he said, suppose that the rule is true, that if you aren't willing to have it, you will. So given that you've already suffered a great deal, what can you logically do that would apply that rule to your suffering? So when I go back to my running example, I would rather not be cold. And I would rather not feel pain when running home of fatigue. I would rather not feel all of the difficulties of running into the wind when I'm tired and cold or in the situation of this person that was divorced, she does not want to suffer in feeling alone. So he says, if you're like most people, you begin thinking about how you might be willing to have these negative private experiences, if that meant that those negative experiences would begin to diminish or even disappear. He gives a really good example. So he says, for example, suppose that your anxiety, that anxiety is your main issue. And he says, you really hate how anxious you are and you just write a sentence that purports to be a rule to help you deal with your problem. And that sentence that we just read states that if you aren't willing to have it, you will. So, what would that mean for your anxiety? He said, what follows is the kind of speculation that the word machine that we call our mind does best. So your mind is going to say something like, hmm, okay. So if I'm not willing to be anxious, then I will be anxious. So, and I think we can, I think we can accept that. If I am worrying about my worry, that is going to worry me. But he said, I suppose that means if we’re more willing to be anxious, then I might not be so anxious. And I hate being anxious. So I guess I'll give it a try. I will try to be more willing to feel my anxiety. So that I won't be so anxious. You can see what we just did there with the mind dead. He said with that, the thought trap slams down around you. Because if you are willing to be anxious only in order to become less anxious, then you're not really willing to be anxious and you will become even more anxious. Now I know that there are a lot of different ages that listen to the podcast. I want to talk a little bit for a second about what this concept even looks like with regard to intimacy within a relationship, a marriage. 

I often have this conversation with couples where, and I'm just going to go some real gender stereotypes here, and I'm going to own that, so one of the common things I find is if a guy comes into my office with his wife and the guy wants to more intimacy, he says that will solve all the world's problems. So he says, well, I'm happy then I would love to, I would love to celebrate with us being intimate, or if I'm sad, there is no greater pick me up than being intimate. Or if there's a headache, I don't know why there hasn't been more research on a cure for headaches in intimacy. And so he says this as if this is just the, this is facts. And so he looks at me and then often says, okay, you know, you get it. I'm sure you're a sex therapist. Can you tell my wife? And then I look over and then I see her withdrawn. And then this is, this conversations happened so many times. Where then if I say, okay, what are you hearing? And she says, all right. I am hearing that I am in charge of his emotions. I'm in charge of managing his anxiety, his depression, his happiness and sadness. And so that makes her start to feel more like an object. So fast forward, we have a conversation about maybe changing the relationship with intimacy so that the wife will feel safe to be able to be more physically intimate without it necessarily leading to sexual intercourse. 

And often this is why I bring this story up because I get such a good example of this, where I will almost in this scenario, have a guy look over at me and say, oh, okay. So if I change my relationship with intimacy and I don't make it that I need her to manage my emotions, my anxiety. And he said, I get it almost like with a week of saying. And that'll lead to more intimacy. And it's the exact opposite. So if you change your relationship with intimacy and focus more on the connection or the relationship and know that not all roads have to lead to the intercourse, then you start to learn to be more accepting of the moments of being physically intimate without that quite frankly. And then if the guy says, oh, go okay. I got you. And now that you laid out that way. Yeah, I would love more of that, but then it will also lead to more, more intercourse to, is that what you're saying? No, this is that person's missing the point. So we go back to that again. So if I'm not willing to be anxious, I will be anxious. And I suppose that means if I were more willing to be anxious, I might not be so anxious and I don't like being anxious. So I guess I'll give it a try. I'll try to be more willing to feel my anxiety so that eventually I won't be as anxious. 

So that thought trap slams down around you, because if you're willing to only be anxious in order to become less anxious or if you're willing to then deal with a less physical intimacy so that you will then eventually get more physical intimacy, then you're not really willing to be anxious or you're not really willing to be less physically intimate. And that will cause you to become even more anxious or frustrated. And Dr. Hayes says, this is absolutely not psychobabble. He said, read the sentence again. Yes, they are paradoxical. But the paradox seems to be true. Those census demonstrate the merry-go-round ride that can result from trying to force the mind to do something it can't do. If the only reason you're willing to allow yourself to feel anxiety today, is that the hope that feeling it today will free you from it. From the necessity of feeling it in the future, then that's not going to work. Because what your willingness here really means is you just don't want to feel any anxiety. And you'll try to jump through all kinds of mental hoops, not to feel it. And he says that's not the same as being willing to feel your anxiety. And quite frankly, that can cause more anxiety. So I said, this is why we've said that the approaches that might help with the causes of your pain are difficult to learn. Not in the sense that they are effortful, but because they are tricky. And he says for that reason, we're going to put the concept of willingness on the table here. But we will deal with quite a bit of other material before returning to this topic, then try to apply it to the core areas of the things that you struggle with in your life. 

So I think this next part is so key. It says, if I'm saying you may not be listening up until now, but now really listen. But this is key acceptance and willingness. So, accept, he says, comes from the Latin root cut Perry, or I don't know my Latin, but meaning to take. Acceptance is the act of receiving or taking what is offered. But sometimes in English, accept means to tolerate or resign yourself as in, okay. I guess I have to accept that. And that's where I go with the acceptance does not mean apathy. Or just, tolerate a resign yourself to and that is so key to understand that we're not saying, okay, accept and just tolerate and resign yourself to. Dr. Hayes says that is precisely not what is meant here by accept, we mean something more like taking completely in the moment without defense. So, if we are saying, accept your anxiety, then we're saying that, take it in and be in that moment. And try not to push it away. Just be in the moment. When I am taking in or accepting that I was three and a half, whatever miles away from my house and it was cold and I had to run, then I took that moment and completely, and I truly did without defense, it was happening there. I was now in the very present moment. And in that moment now I could feel, I could honestly feel the wind on my skin. I could feel the wind up against the cold of my shirt that had sweat. I could notice my feet pounding the ground. I could feel the contractions of the muscles in my legs. And if that sounds like mumbo jumbo or psychobabble, I understand because years ago, I would have thought there is no way I'm going to be recording a podcast and I'm going to be talking about notice, notice your labored breath. Ah, isn't that beautiful. Feel the air sucking into your lungs at a rapid rate as your heart rate increases. And, but that is exactly the thing that to do to be in that moment. And what am I not doing? I'm not being angry or beating myself up or. Or feeling this just hopelessness. I'm taking in that very moment, taking completely in the moment without defense. 

So then Dr. Hayes says we use the word willing then as a synonym for accepting. So staying true to that meaning of accept, willing, he said is one of the older words in the English language, and it comes from an ancient root meaning to choose. So thus acceptance is to take it in completely in the moment. And willingness can be understood as then, and then choosing what you do with that. So it can be understood as an answer to this question. Will you take me in as I am? And that is whatever that is. Will you take me in as I am? Will you take it well, will I allow this in anxiety and just like it is because there it is. Or will I allow this moment where I am far away from home and I am cold. Will I just take it in for what it is? It is what it is. I am there. What do I do now? So you said acceptance and willingness are the opposite. The opposite of effortful control. So Dr. Hayes shares a little bit more. He said, what follows is a description of what to take me in as I am really means. He said in our context, the words willingness and acceptance mean to respond actively to your feelings by feeling them literally. Much as you might reach out and literally feel the texture of a cashmere sweater. They mean to respond actively to your thoughts by thinking them. Much as you might read poetry, just to get the flow of the words. Or an actor might rehearse lines to get a feel for the playwright's intent. To be willing and accepting. It means to respond actively to memories by remembering them. Much as you might take a friend to see a movie you've already seen. 

They mean to respond actively to bodily sensations by syncing them. Much as you might take an all over stretch in the morning, just to feel your body all over. That willingness and acceptance mean adopting a gentle, loving posture toward yourself, toward your history, your past, your programming, so that it becomes more likely for you simply to be aware of your own experience much as you would hold a fragile object in your hand and contemplate it closely and dispassionately, he says the goal of willingness is not to feel better. Because if we are continually just chasing the feel good feeling. Then we are going to just be turning from one dopamine, hit to the next, and we're going to be missing out on so many of life's experiences. Because those experiences can come with a lot of emotion. They can come with some negativity, they can come with discomfort. So we need to be willing to embrace those moments and that discomfort. And what I truly wish people could get a glimpse of is that as you start to embrace these moments and sit with the discomfort, it really turns out to not be as scary as you think it would be things like anxiety are there for a reason, they're there to warn you, but we worry about 99% of the things that will never happen. And we even convince ourselves that we're just preparing or we're just making sure, or we're just a, what if, what if, and we're avoiding and we don't, but when we start to recognize that we're also in that same process, missing out on a lot of life and figuring out who we are and what we have to offer, and when we can really change that interior landscape of your mind or what it feels like to be you based on this slow residue of lived experience and those lived experiences are far greater teachers than that experiential avoidance. 

Mike Rucker was on my podcast. He has that book, “The fun habit”. And he was talking about a concept that I think about so often where I feel like when you are in the moment and having these experiences, even the ups, the downs, all of those experiences, and you allow yourself to feel them, those become really part of what it feels like to be you. And he talked about all of the other things that you do. All of the TV shows you watch and the games you play and the, the time spent ruminating and worrying and wondering, and getting that crystal ball out and just all those things, fortune telling. That those all just get lumped into just this kind of bucket of gray and our memories. Just, you know, what did you do over the weekend? Oh, you know, just a regular weekend. Just kind of got through it, here I am, versus the, oh man. I went on a run and I didn't dress as well as I should have. And it was freezing cold, but I made it and I got the, you know, interacted with a couple of people. I saw it. I saw these, I know this animal that I'd never seen before. That sounds crazy. What like an aardvark running around Lincoln. But you were having these experiences. So what it feels like to be you as somebody who does and somebody who is participating in life and in that participation, you are going to start to connect with new things and opportunities and feel feelings and sights and smells and sounds. And that is going to help you grow in that internal landscape of what it feels like to be you is going to be one that is feeling pretty, pretty content, or even dare I say overall happy with life because you're taking more charge or control of your life. 

So again, the goal of willingness he says is not to feel better. It's to open yourself up to the vitality of the moment to move more effectively toward what you value. Dr. Hayes said in another way, the goal willingness is to feel all the feelings that come up for you more completely even, or especially the bad feelings. So you can live your life more completely in essence, instead of trying to feel better. Willingness involves learning how to feel, to feel like, feel the feelings, feel better. And to be willing and accepting is to gently push your fingers into, if you've ever seen the Chinese finger trap, in order to make more room for yourself to live in, rather than mainly struggling against your experience by trying to pull your fingers out of the trap. So to be willing and accepting means to give yourself enough room to breathe. And by assuming this stance of willingness and acceptance, now you couldn't, all of a sudden, he says open up all the blinds of the windows in your house and allow life to flow through. You start to let fresh air and light enter into what was previously closed and dark at a fear and worry. So to be willing and accepting means to be able to walk through, he says, the swamps of your difficult history. When the swamps are directly on the path that goes in a direction that you really care about. To be willing and accepting means noticing that you are the sky, not the clouds, the ocean, not the waves. He said, it means noticing that you're large enough to contain all of your experiences just as a sky can contain any cloud in the ocean, any wave. He said we don't expect this foray into poetic metaphors to make any difference yet. But the sense conveyed may give you an idea of what we're aiming for in pursuing the acceptance, the acceptance, and the book that he's talking about, or the acceptance just in life in general. 

So I would really encourage you as you go forward after listening to this podcast to just really take a look again at that willingness and acceptance. That will you take me in, that acceptance to take me in. It's not, it does not mean to tolerate or resign yourself to, but accepting we are taking that moment in completely without defense. And then that willingness, accepting, willing. Meaning to choose. So acceptance and willingness can be understood as an answer to this question. Will you take me in as I am, anxiety? And acceptance and willingness then, are the opposite of effortful control. And when you can be willing and accepting to your feelings and your experiences and you experience all of them, you feel them, you are willing to take them in, then you can just experience every bit of that moment and that is going to drive you more toward this just sense of vitality and purpose. I would go on and on, but I think you get the point. If you have questions, let me know. Share this with somebody if you think that that would really help. And if you are listening to this for the first time, welcome aboard. And send me questions if you have them, I'd love to do a podcast about them, answer them. You can send them to contact@tonyoverbay.com and taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented, Aurora Florence with her song, “It's wonderful”. We'll see you next week on the Virtual Couch

Tony shares 8 mental health lessons learned from a Christmas spent at Disneyland. 1) You’ll never really know something until you experience it. 2) Churros provide an immediate but temporary dopamine dump. 3) How to come back to the present moment, over and over again. 4) How easy it can be to find yourself turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms when triggered suddenly. 5) What it looks like to turn to a value-based activity or goal when feeling down, flat, off, or all of the above. 6) Radical acceptance, or the ability to accept situations outside of your control without judgment, reduces suffering. (from “What is Radical Acceptance https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-radical-acceptance-5120614) 7) Psychological flexibility, or “holding our thoughts and emotions a bit more lightly, and acting on longer-term values and goals rather than short term impulses, thoughts, and feelings” can lead to a greater sense of purpose and a stronger connection with the present moment (from “What is Psychological Flexibility https://workingwithact.com/what-is-act/what-is-psychological-flexibility/) and 8) From Virtual Couch guest Mike Rucker, author of “The Fun Habit,” https://amzn.to/3ClRTXG doing things, or “encoding richer experiences,” starts to light you up because you are creating an internal “tapestry of really cool stuff,” in your brain rather than simply passing time. 

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

Go to 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


Tony: Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 355 of the Virtual Couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist. Mindful habit coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four, and creator of the Path back, an online pornography recovery program that is helping people turn into the amazing people that they were meant to be. But let's get to today's episode. First up, just sign up for my newsletter. Go to tonyoverbay.com. Plain and simple because so many things are coming now in 2023. New version of the Magnetic Marriage course is coming soon. If you're still interested in a discount on my Path Back Pornography Recovery Course, new year, new you, then email me through my website and The Magnetic Marriage Podcast is imminent, a true crime meets the Virtual Couch Podcast with one of my daughters is launching soon. The magnetic marriage workshop, which is different from the full fledged course, 90 minutes of what you didn't know that you didn't even know is still available for $19 at tonyoverbay.com/workshop. So, so many things, but let's get to today's episode.

So I am not sure what title I eventually went with, but the working title was, “It's the psychology of the churro, eight mental health lessons learned over Christmas break at Disneyland”. So, surprise. We went to Disneyland for Christmas as in literally on Christmas Day, and this is something that we have never done, and my wife essentially sold it as a bit of a bucket list item. Let's try it. Maybe it will be insanely crowded. Maybe nobody goes on Christmas. It might rain, it might be too cold. But let's jump right in. Psychology rule number one, you'll never really know until you, till you go. So spread that out in a broader sense. And how often in our lives do we just wonder and wonder and ruminate and ask other people what they think, what their opinion is? All the while that the answer lies in the doing. So curious what Disneyland would be like at Christmas. Well, there's really only one good way to know, let's go. And while we're talking about Disneyland, let's talk about churros, the psychology of the churro. Now, in episode 276, I had to go look that one up on the Virtual Couch, which was recorded about a year and a half ago. I talked about what I learned on my summer vacation on a trip no less than to Disneyland. And at that time I went with my daughter McKinley, my niece, Taylor, and my wife Wendy, and we traveled to the Magic Kingdom to celebrate. At that time it was Taylor's graduation from college. And McKinley's graduation from cosmetology school.

And in that episode I spent quite a bit of time talking about dopamine, the wonderful feel good, hyper-focused chemical in our brain, and how the true dopamine bump in our brain occurs in the anticipation of an event, which is so beautifully laid out in James Clear's book, Atomic Habits. And we had our dopamine neurotransmitters transmitting and anticipating that trip as well as throughout the trip as we moved from one ride to another. And I highly recommend you go back and listen to that if you're curious to learn everything you wanted to know about dopamine, because we talk about a lot of things. One fascinating thing there was the concept of the Coolidge effect, which is something where the more that you do this repetitive task, the more that you need to amp up that repetitive task in order to still have those dopamine neurotransmitters transmitting. And so that's especially true in the world of people who turn to pornography as an unhealthy coping mechanism. And why the more that they do that, the more and more they need to turn to, I don’t know, crazier or more extreme things to get that dopamine bump. But I digress. We were talking about so much, as I lamented, in episode 276 that I never attended Disneyland as a child. My first trip was after I was married and my wife couldn't believe that I had never been. So we went a few times before we had kids, but I had also never had a churro until, I don't even think I ate them at Disneyland, but I didn't have a churro until probably in my thirties. So, fast forward 20 years later now in my early fifties, and I've eaten my weight in churros many, many times. And one of the real treats of Disneyland are the churros. And just in case you're like most Americans, the Disneyland churro experience is not the game of chance that is the Costco churro or the churro from the random Mexican restaurant that you may stumble upon, where you're literally gambling on whether or not the churro is good, period.

And then even if it tastes good, is it fresh and is it hot? Oh no. The Disneyland churro cart will no doubt be lining, I think, the gold paved streets of heaven with never too long of a weight and the perfect freshness and heat, and we're not talking just cinnamon, over the holidays, the Disney churro carts feature, and I'm sure I'm missing a few of the following flavors of a churro. And yeah, I did have to google this. Berries and cream, blueberry, green apple. Now, I personally tried one called the Caliente churro that was covered in cinnamon red hot candy sprinkles, but there was also the cinnamon sugar galaxy churro where you're essentially, I think, eating cinnamon and sugar glitter. And I actually meant to follow up and ask about a couple of people in our party that had them if you noticed that glitter a day or so later, if you know what I mean. But anyway, there was a mango churro and a s'mores churro, and one called the bride churro, which was my personal favorite, other than just your original churro, but the bride churro was covered heavily in a bouquet of vanilla and sugar, according to the internet pires, where psychology lesson number two enters the story. So back to that dopamine, the I don’t know, the doggone but wonderful dopamine. So I was very aware during this. Of how, when I found myself with any of the following triggers, tired, feeling like a flat affect, bored, frustrated, angry, lonely, and I'm sure several others, my brain literally did think churro or a time or two a thought, beignet. But churro, yes, a churro would make me feel good. Or walking past a churro cart that was a layup. My brain would say, well, we have to get a churro. And I noticed in particular one, or I don’t know, seven or eight times where I was already incredibly full. But the trigger of the churro card alone signaled to my brain that we need churro almost in that Neanderthal speak, “must have churro”. And then I could remind myself that I had already eaten a meal or I'd already had a churro or two earlier in the day. And my brain thought, oh, okay. How cute. You know, two can play this game, so let's go. So then it would come up with all the “yeah, buts”.

Well, yeah. You're only at Disneyland every couple of years. Or what if a zombie apocalypse occurs in Disneyland and their churro carts are destroyed? And so you better have all the churros now, or it's the end of the year and you might want to dough up a little bit. So when you start the new diet and exercise regime come January one, then those transformation pictures and videos will be even greater if you put down an even two dozen churros over the next three days, so not to mention all the aforementioned flavors of churro, my brain telling me that, well, you don't want to miss out on the blueberry churro or the green apple churro. Or the fact that my watch showed that we walked well over 10 miles on day one, and so therefore, I deserve these churros, and on and on and on. So, my point being that our brains are really, really clever, especially when it comes to wanting their fix, or their high, and after a churro or two, I really didn't notice how my brain thought often about wanting one, especially whenever I was feeling flat or down or any of those other triggers that I mentioned earlier, which led to psychology lesson number three, which I'll just call being present or being in the moment. And this was a really important one that I was so aware of when I was aware of it during the trip. I once attended a mindfulness training and I remember the instructor challenged us all to go home and mindfully eat a piece of fruit. And what does that look like? Well, he said spend at least 15 minutes appreciating, savoring, taking in every sight and bite and sound and taste of whatever that fruit was. And I did try it with an apple and I lasted a few minutes, and it was a pretty good experience before I think I probably became distracted, but I've thought about that exercise often and I understand the point to being in that moment and appreciating every bite.

So I did try that a couple of times with the churro. And I would take in the smell and I would feel the heat radiating through the piece of wax paper used as a holder. And I would notice the granules of cinnamon and sugar. And then I would thank the universe for them, and I would bite down and I would hear this crunch through the perfect mix of solid and soft, maybe savoring the flavor and then I feel like at times, and I'm sure I'm probably going to humor here, I would enter almost some sort of sugar themed dissociative fugue state, where I would then almost in essence come to with noticing, I don't know, I'm gnawing on my finger or cinnamon and sugars all over my face like a child, and my family probably phones out filming my coming to from this, I don't know, sugar coma, wondering where I was, you know, until I could realize, okay, I'm in line. I can smell the rubber of the poncho draped over me as we're waiting in line for Splash Mountain. But my true point there is that it is fascinating that you can even bring yourself into the moment, the present moment, being mindful, all those wonderful therapeutic things that we talk about with mindfulness, and appreciating and doing. But then you can do that until you don't. And what I simply mean by that is one of these things that I love talking about the most from the book Buddha Brain, and I'll own that I have now completely butchered the author Rick Hansen's concept. But he's in essence talking about these four steps to enlightenment or four paths of awakening or something to that effect where I've boiled it down in my own brain to, you basically didn't know what you didn't know.

So before I even knew about mindfulness, I'm just, I'm just there. I'm just inhaling churros and I'm just trying to chase happiness or whatever that looks like. Then you start becoming aware, so you kind of know the things that you didn't know before. But that's a really difficult place to be at times, because I know, but then I don't always do. So I might have been in that moment recognizing, man, this is a moment, and I was noticing that I was feeling down or flat, and I come back to the present moment and let's say that I'm savoring that churro until all of a sudden I realize I'm not. So I went from not being aware of what I wasn't even aware of to now I'm aware I'm going to be in that moment until all of a sudden, I'm not.

And that isn't me doing anything wrong or bad. It just kind of is. And that's a tough place to be because there's a lot of things in our lives that we start to become aware of. But then we're not good at doing, you know, we might not be good at bringing ourself back into the present moment. We might want to stop yelling at our kids, and then we may be able to do that often, but we're not perfect at it. So then we beat ourselves up about, well, now that I know, and why did I still yell and what's wrong with me? But nothing, you're a human being and now you're aware. So that second phase or path of enlightenment or awakening is that we went from not knowing what we didn't know to now I know, and I do, sometimes, whatever this new thing is, and then that moves slowly but surely into the third step or path of awakening or enlightenment, where now you do whatever it is more than you don't. So now maybe you're not yelling at your kids very often at all, or maybe I'm almost finishing that churro and being so present and in the moment and eventually you just become. That is what it feels like to be you. You just do, now all of a sudden you are this calmer person around your kids, or you are a person that really is in that moment and savors and appreciates the entire churro. So that just being present and being in the moment is something that does need practice and to give yourself a tremendous amount of grace as you start to work on this path of awareness or enlightenment or as you start to make your way further down the churro.

But I really do recommend the exercise of trying to be incredibly present while you eat or drink, because that's just a good way to practice being present, being in the moment, or mindfulness in just your everyday life. But while we're on the churro, I would say that that would also lead to psychology lesson four, which is turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms to again, get that dopamine bump. Now if I go back to just part of the work that I do, I love couples therapy. I love helping people working through a faith deconstruction or journey. And I also work with a lot of people that struggle with turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as pornography, hence the Path Back Pornography Recovery Program. But I know when I was promoting my book, He's a Porn Addict, Now What? An Expert and a Former Addict to Answer Your Questions with Josh Shea, that at that time I had counted up and I had worked with well over 1500 individuals who have come to me wanting to be more present in their lives, wanting to be better marriage partners, better parents, improve their health, wanting to understand their relationship with the divine and their desires of a more fulfilling career. Now, they don't come to me expressing those things. They come to me because they want to stop turning to things like pornography, that it is absolutely zapping their motivation, their drive. They find themselves wasting a tremendous amount of time, which only causes them to beat themselves up even more.

And when it comes to things like pornography, it also probably can warp or dull their sex drive or make them have a more difficult time being present with their spouse, their mate, but, so that's what people come to me for, but you can replace, again, pornography with turning to their phones or gambling or food or work or even things like exercise or YouTube or TikTok. But when it comes to turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, that's where, I learned a long time ago, what I call these five voids. So I go back to when I said, people are coming to me wanting to be better marriage partners, better parents, improve their health, understand their relationship with the divine, desires of a more fulfilling career. Those five voids that I like to help people with when they turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms are becoming a better marriage partner or just a better partner in their relationships or becoming a better parent, or that could even be a better friend or finding something that really motivates or matters to them with regard to a career or if they feel, you know, for lack of a better word, stuck in a career. How can you work your values into your current career? Or working on your relationship with God or the divine or your faith. If you feel like that is not a place that brings you strength or joy, then, these are all things that will lead or cause someone to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. And that fifth void is your health as well. So, there's an acronym in the world of unhealthy coping mechanisms or addiction called halt, where if you are hungry, if you're angry, if you're lonely, if you're tired, that those are times when you have to watch out cause your guard's down, and you may then turn to these unhealthy coping mechanisms. So if you can shore up parenting or marriage or faith or health or your career, then that siren song of the coping mechanism is not gonna scream at you as loud, which is a pretty nice transition into psychology lesson five, which I just call turning toward value-based activities. So, long lines at Disneyland. That was no surprise. Now, they weren't horrible. I think part of it was going in, and anticipating and accepting the fact that yeah, there were going to be some long lines. And so that was okay. That part was all right because there was already an expectation or an anticipation that would be the case.

Now, that does not cause everyone to just be happy and motivated and hyper presents for the two hours in the wait for this new Star Wars ride, which is pretty darn amazing. And I was a Star Wars guy however many years ago that the first three came out, which makes me sound so old. And over time have probably not kept up on all the different Star Wars vehicles and then the entire franchise in Star Wars Canon. But in that Star Wars line, there were nine of us. And it was over two hours, the wait. And I felt like that was probably the test, the verbal exam, the experiential exam on mindfulness and being present at Disneyland. I think it was day two. And so we were already getting pretty tired and this is where I go back to that when you are aware of what matters to you, let's just go with the, it's easier to state it as when you're in touch or in alignment with your values. So I have absolutely a certainty that my values are a couple of them. Authenticity. I need to be authentic. I can't just do something to try to make somebody else happy. And I have a strong value of curiosity, adventure, fitness, and knowledge. And so the curiosity and the knowledge are things that I return to.

So, I could tell the mood everybody was starting to just get a little bit flat. People are getting on their phones. We're not communicating as much when we've been in this line for a while. And at that moment when you notice, you know, I notice that I'm starting to feel flat. I notice I'm starting to feel a little bit of anxiety around wanting to make sure that everybody's having a wonderful time, and so here's where I go big on there's three things I think that we typically do that are probably not the best when we find ourselves in those situations. The first one is to say, what's wrong with me? Again, nothing. You are a human being. You're the only version of you and check it out. That's how you think and feel at that very moment. First time I had ever been in that line on the second day of Disneyland on that day with nine people at hour number whatever of the day. And also experiencing temporary closures of the ride and trying to figure out if we should leave the line or not leave the line and managing a lot of people, helping people manage their expectations. So that is how I felt. And those were my feelings, and that was how I was showing up. So check that out. The second thing that I think we do along those lines, that is not the best is then when we, okay, so we don't do the, what's wrong with me, and then I feel like the next one's a layup where we also can't tell ourselves, well, don't think that. Because again, don't think of a pineapple right now. Don't think of a green polar bear holding a yellow umbrella, riding a unicycle because most likely your brain is following along with me because of that good old psychological reactance or that instant negative reaction being told what to do. Our brain is just hardwired. It's a defense mechanism at that point. It's a survival skill. And so I can't say, “what's wrong with me?”, because nothing, I'm a human. I have emotions and feelings and I can't say “don't think that” because I will think about it even more. And then the third thing I think is kind of tricky as well, is we will tell ourselves, okay, instead of that, just think something else is think, man, I'm so grateful to be here. And that can work for a minute, until it doesn't. Until then, all of a sudden I feel the pain in my feet and I feel the, I was going to say the lightness of my wallet and all these things where I can start to then notice that I am starting to feel flat or down or fill in the blank. So that's where I feel like the best thing that one can do is recognize and acknowledge that I am starting to feel flat. Check that out. I'm noticing that I'm starting to withdraw, to retreat, to feel flat. And then what is the story? My brain's telling me that people aren't having a good time or that I need to do something to make sure that everybody's happy, or these sorts of things. So those are stories my brain's telling me. Those are fascinating. I can make room for those. But then the key is then in that moment turning to a value-based activity. So a value-based activity of curiosity or of knowledge, I still have this in the cache of my browser. 15 random facts about Disneyland. And so at that point, now I'm turning to this value of curiosity and knowledge and then just sharing some facts.

And it led to some fun conversations. If I scroll through this, Mickey Mouse's name, did you know that Mickey Mouse was not the original choice of his name originally? He was to be named Mortimer. But later, it was turned into Mickey Mouse. California Adventure, which I love, I love that place, was a parking lot formerly. That one doesn't really make me think, oh my goodness, that sort of thing. There's a statue of Walt Disney on Main Street and it's seven inches taller than Walt himself was. Now it doesn't tell why, but as a person that is not towering over others. As I am not, I can see myself bumping that statue up a little bit. I might have gone a solid foot taller. And then, this website, which is actually called Everythingmom.com, but it also says the original design was supposed to have him with an ice cream in his hand, but that was rejected. And rumor has it that his hand is in the air and a celebratory “look, Mickey, at what we created.” You know what was almost Mortimer. Main Street. I thought this was interesting. The buildings along Main Street USA are built to create the effect of a longer street when entering the park and a shorter street when going back to your car. And then there were just a few others, the millionth guest of Disneyland was actually achieved within a month of the park opening, and there's a light in the window above the fire station and the apartment on Main Street. That's the apartment that Walt Disney would stay in. And that light and the apartment represented him working hard. He said he always wanted his employees to know that he was working just as hard as them. So since Walt Disney's death, it's been kept on 24/7 as a reminder of Walt Disney's dedication and hard work. And mustaches, Walt Disney did not allow his male employees to have mustaches. And then one more, one more of these fun facts, because we would see a lot of these different wishing wells, and they had money in them. They had dollar bills in them, they had coins, and we were continually playing the game of how much? And so in everythingmom.com, she says, did you know this random Disney fact with all the money that is thrown into the ponds and wishing wells, Walt decided very early on to always donate it to charity. And she says, could you imagine how much money is donated? Rumor is that every time It’s a Small World shuts down for refurbishment, they clean it out and it totals over a hundred thousand dollars each time. That's a lot of money, so turning to this value of curiosity, this value of knowledge, and then that will bring you more into the present moment.

Now, the reason why I want to share this is because what I thought was really fascinating, and I think this is such a valuable lesson, is that as soon as we would almost go through a list like that, and then you would notice that people were kind of done maybe talking. It wasn't like then I was locked in and the rest of the day everything was amazing and great and wonderful. No, our brain will default back to the “yeah, buts”, or I'm noticing my feet again are hurting or my wallet is light, or whatever that is. And I want to just normalize that because a lot of times I feel like people will bring themselves into that moment, be mindful, turn to a value-based activity, and then they will do that, be more engaged in the moment. And then when they stop doing that, then they will say, see, that didn't work. And quite frankly, it's the opposite. That did work because for that entire period of time we had a shared. And now we had some fun facts and we will probably remember some of those things at a later date and be able to share those with others but we had a moment there instead of just feeling down or feeling flat.

And I'll get to this in a little bit, I've got a quote from a former guest of mine that was on a few weeks ago, Mike Rucker, that I think will speak to this. So, that turning toward value-based activities. Another one that I thought was really fascinating was we played this game “Heads Up” and if you're familiar with that, you download this app on your phone and it's basically like charades. And we did that one, two or three times, and that was one where I can turn to my value of curiosity and look up fun facts at any point on any day. And that is just very fun. That is one of the things I really enjoy. But I don't always enjoy playing charades in a line where there are a million people around because my, “yeah, buts” in my brain will say, yeah, but it's going to be embarrassing. Or, yeah, but what if we hold up the line, and so on. But anytime I felt like anybody started to play this game, this heads up, then all of us were engaged and it was as if we all played a round of it and then it just felt like, okay, we're good. And then another 30 minutes would go by and then we would do that again. So I felt like by alternating between just some fun facts, some random things we were talking about, and then playing this game, that we made it through that line. And now I want to say we live to tell about it. But when I think about that experience in the line, I now think about playing heads up. I think about these fun facts with Disney, and I think about just having that experience rather than just sitting there and feeling bad and worrying and ruminating and getting angry. Which is almost what our brain will do by default. So it does take intentional effort to bring yourself into that present moment, turn toward those value-based activities. But I promise you that by doing that, whenever you can, I was going to make it sound pretty negative, do that over and over and over again, but eventually that becomes part of your implicit memory or what it feels like to be you, because that is based on this residue of lived experience, and it takes time. But the more that you are bringing yourself back into that moment, and taking action on things that matter, that it really does start to move this needle of what it feels like to be you as somebody who does, who does the things that they do, because you're aware and because you bring yourself back into this present moment over and over again, and that starts to feel like more confident, and more of a sense of connection and a sense of purpose, and just being connected with others and in the moment. So let me blast through a couple of others here. Psychology lesson six, and this is one that I want to spend more time on in the not too distant future, and this is the concept of radical acceptance.

So I noticed a lot of this opportunity to practice radical acceptance while we were at the park. And the reason is that the definition of radical acceptance is, I'm going to pull up a Verywellmind.com article, but radical acceptance is based on the notion that suffering comes not directly from pain, but from one's attachment to the pain. And it has its roots in Buddhism and the psychological paradigm by a gentleman named Carl Rogers that acceptance is the first step toward change. Radical acceptance. We often feel like if we accept the fact that maybe we are a bit powerless when we are walking through these large crowds that we feel like if we accept it, then that means that it is going to be horrible and I might as well just shut down and sit on the side of the road and wait for everybody to go by. And I'll engage again later that night. But I will say over and over again, acceptance does not mean apathy. So radical acceptance can be defined really as the ability to accept situations that are outside of your control without judging them, which in turn reduces the suffering that's caused by those situations.

So rather than being attached to the fact that, okay, there is a huge crowd here and everybody's going to bump into me, which I feel like was a theme often for a lot of people at Disneyland, and then letting them get frustrated or angry because people were going to stop in front of you. People were going to shift directions. People are going to talk loud, people are going to do a lot of different things there. I felt like it was an ultimate practice of radical acceptance. Again, that accepting situations that are completely outside of my control, it's outside of my control, whether or not somebody stops short in front of me and then decides that they are going to sneeze or cough or talk loudly to somebody beside them. Now I can get frustrated or angry, but to me that doesn't really feel very productive. It's a normal human emotion. I can notice that. But I need to accept those situations that are outside of my control without judgment, and that reduces the suffering that's caused by them. So at that point then, if I go back to this article from verywellmind.com, again, rather than being attached to a painful past, radical acceptance suggests that non-attachment is the key to overcoming suffering. So, non-attachment does not mean not feeling emotion. But it refers to the intention of not allowing pain to turn into suffering. So there was pain and frustration there by the crowds, by people stopping constantly, by people changing direction, by people bumping into each other, bumping into me. I mean, that can be frustrating, but it also means radical acceptance means watching your thoughts and feelings, and then just identifying when you're allowing yourself to feel worse than is necessary.

So instead I could be in that moment and notice and actually, bless the hearts of those people that were stopping short because I know that's something that I've done as well. Or I know that there are times where I have spoken up or yelled to get someone's attention in my party, and I'm sure someone was annoyed or I scared someone or surprised someone. So that lack of judgment is that important part of radical acceptance. And that doesn't even mean that I approve of this situation or that I love the fact that everybody stops in front of me and bumps into me. But instead it involves accepting reality for what it is and not getting caught up in an emotional reaction to that reality. So noticing that I have these thoughts, I have these feelings and noticing that I can have an emotional reaction but not getting caught up in it and not letting that consume me. So that's that concept of radical acceptance. And I feel like radical acceptance has a best friend and that best friend is psychological flexibility. And this is one that I've done an episode or two on because this is a real key part of acceptance and commitment therapy. And this is from a website called Workingwithact.com. Psychological flexibility means contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human based on what that situation affords changing or persisting in behavior and the service of chosen values. So psychological flexibility is more along the lines of what I'm talking about happening in that Star Wars line of contacting that present moment as a conscious human being based on what the situation affords, and then changing the behavior in service of chosen values. So, the author of this article says, so that means in everyday language, this means holding our own thoughts and emotions a bit more and acting on longer term values and goals rather than short-term impulses and thoughts and feelings. And then they say, why? Well, it's because thoughts and emotions tend to be unreliable indicators of long-term value because we have little control. And this is what I think is so key. Again, I think and feel the way I do because I'm a human being and I'm in that situation, and that's how I think and feel.

So we actually have little control over those immediate thoughts and emotions and they will tend to ebb and flow sometimes dramatically in just a moment's notice. And if we trust our thoughts and emotions and act based on them, we can often overlook more important sustained patterns of action, which bring true meaning and vitality and richness to our lives. So if we just say, man, I'm frustrated and angry, and now I take action on being frustrated and angry, then I can get caught up in being frustrated and being angry. But if I notice that I'm frustrated and I notice that I'm angry, those are emotions, of course, I'm going to feel that way. I'm part of the human condition, part of the human experience. But now I'm going to notice them, and now I'm going to take action on things that matter. There are these researchers, Cashtin and Roterberg. They define psychological flexibility as the measure of how a person, number one, adapts to fluctuating situational demands. And number two, reconfigures mental resources. Number three, shifts perspective. And then number four, balances, competing desires, needs, life domains. So then instead of focusing on specific content with a person, the definition of psychological flexibility has to incorporate repeated transactions between people and their environmental contexts. What that means is that it's continuing to adapt to the situations in front of you when what they mean by reconfiguring mental resources is just taking action on something that matters, shifting your perspective, and then starting to put into place your values. You're these competing desires, needs, life domains. I have a value of connection with others. I have a value of curiosity. I'm going to have feelings and thoughts. It's part of being a human. That's okay. But I'm going to take action based on the things that really matter to me, and that is being psychologically flexible at any given moment. So when you can really start to do more of that, and that starts to become the air that you breathe or what it feels like to be you, then when you find yourself in a moment of frustration, then you have this radical acceptance and you have this psychological flexibility, and those things just happen.

The event that you might be caught up in is happening. Check that out. It is, but now I'm going to feel like I have a little more control over that situation because I can now be aware of how I'm thinking and feeling, and that's perfectly okay. And I'm actually going to be able to take action on things that matter, even if it's just within my own brain. That's better than me just sitting in this reactionary state and then feeling like I am absolutely overwhelmed and that I have no control over the situation. Psychology Lesson eight, and we'll wrap this up. This is where I mentioned earlier I had a guest, Mike Rucker. He was on, he's the author of The Fun Habit, and I pulled the transcript because I want to read a quote that he said. He said, “Time is this really rubbery thing.” He said, “It becomes interesting where you don't realize you're wasting time,” he said, “because when you're in those moments that aren't really encoding new memories, they just fly.” He said, “It's not flow by any sense, but when we reminisce back on them, they kind of get condensed as one memory.”

So when we're just, and this is me now interjecting, when we're just thinking and just being, and not taking action on things that matter, it's almost like that just becomes part of this just gray area of our memory. We just remember Christmas, period. But then if we are doing things, he says, “So when we actualize them in a really strange manner where he said, where you think we're kind of led to through cognitive error that, oh, I'm just passing time.” But he said, well, when you start to encode richer experiences, those are the things that start to light you up because now you have a whole tapestry of really cool stuff.  He says, “The fact that we now know that the brain is a predictive engine. It's a predictive machine more than a cause and effect machine.” He said that allows us to make better predictions. “Like, I know I'm going to have fun, so I want to do the thing, whatever that thing is , that will allow me this chance to have fun.” And he says, rather, we want that prediction. I think that as I form these memories and encode these richer experiences, that more than likely I'm going to have a good time. I'm going to have fun. But he said, “Rather than the prediction machine of our brain predicting that, well, it probably won't be that great, so I'm just not going to do it.” Because then that becomes condensed into just this one memory, this just gray area and so we just feel like we just passed time instead of just creating this whole tapestry of really cool things that we do in our lives, because over time that's what it's going to feel like to be you. 

Okay. Taking us out per usual is the wonderful, the talented, the also on TikTok, Aurora Florence with her song, “It's Wonderful”. Have an amazing week and we'll see you next time on the Virtual Couch.

The science is solid; gratitude makes you poop! We often hear that we need to be more grateful to truly be happy. Is gratitude simply born of pop-psychology psychobabble, or is it actually an evidence-based way to improve our lives? Tony flushes out the details on how being more intentional about gratitude can improve your mental and physical health and can lead to less time in the bathroom. Tony also shares the story of why he still holds one of the top running times from Sycamore Street to the Covell loop in Davis, CA (yes, it too has to do with pooping).

Tony references the article “The Science of Gratitude: How Thankfulness Impacts Our Brains and Business” by Kevin Kruse https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2021/11/22/the-science-of-gratitude-how-thankfulness-impacts-our-brains-and-business/?sh=75faa7e720cc as well as “The Science of Gratitude” by Misty Pratt https://www.mindful.org/the-science-of-gratitude/

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

Go to 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 visitinghttp://pathbackrecovery.com And visithttp://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 herehttps://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ

When met with an unexpected situation, do you react or respond? And what is the difference? According to Dr. Matt James, while some people use the words interchangeably, there is a world of difference in their meanings. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/focus-forgiveness/201609/react-vs-respond Tony shares a story of showing up late to a recent speaking opportunity where he learned whether or not he was more prone to reaction or response. 

Tony shares the results of taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT) https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ and discusses how understanding how we give meaning to certain people and situations contributes to how we react or how we respond. And Tony also references Marshal Rosenberg’s book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships (Nonviolent Communication Guides)” https://amzn.to/3EjVZkx

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

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 visitinghttp://pathbackrecovery.com And visithttp://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 herehttps://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ


Over the past weekend I was in Arizona and I was going to speak to a large group of single adults from ages 30 and above. And let me just tell you that I've done a lot of speaking in my day and on these types of events, I just make an assumption that the event starts at 7:00pm. So I truly assumed that the presentation was at seven. Now, why? Well, just because, and thankfully the organizer of the event texted me at 4:45 and said, “Hey, I'll see you soon.” Now, let me read you the text that followed. So at 4:46, I responded back “Absolutely. 7:00pm I'm assuming, hoping, guessing haha I realized that as I scrolled through our texts, that I have not seen a time. So I really hope that that's the case. I'm a little over an hour from Casa Grande,” where the presentation was going to be held. 

At 4:51, so five minutes later, I text back after not hearing anything, “And if you don't mind just confirming that it is at 7:00pm that would be great.” Then seven minutes later, 4:58pm. “So we're planning on leaving here at 5:30. So I should be there around 6:40”. And then at 5:00pm, the organizer gets back to me and says, “No, you're on at 6:00pm.” 

So we're an hour away and we're hanging out with my daughter and son-in-law. We're in sweats. And as I mentioned, we're an hour away. It's five o'clock. The presentation starts at six. I flew to Arizona to do this presentation. And a lot of people are coming. Now here is where I feel like years of mindfulness and meditation and building in that pause just kicked into high gear. 

So I said, “Hey, we need to get dressed and we need to be ready.” And my wife and my daughter and my son-in-law were amazing and said, alright, we can do this. We can be out of here in five, maybe 10 minutes, max. And everybody jumped up, got into high gear. And here's the next text that I send,

“Okay. We are getting dressed right now. We will hurry.” And then I texted a couple of minutes later, “I am so grateful you texted, this makes for a far better story.” I am then in the car and I text and say, “We should be there about 10 to 15 minutes after six. So stall, but I promise you I will deliver.” And I threw a couple of thumbs up.

And then another text where I said, “Okay, my son-in-law is driving. And he is very determined as a driver, the GPS shows my arrival at 6:11. I will keep you posted.” And I had not been asked for a bio, which is normally the case. So then I sent a text and said, “Not sure if you want to, but here's my standard bio if you want to read it before I get there.” And then she responded and said, “Sounds good. And I will read very slowly.” So I just said, “That sounds great. And I will keep you posted.” So as we drove and it really did feel like it was almost out in the middle of nowhere. We started making up time. And by the time we got there, it was 6:07, maybe 6:08 max. 

So today I want to spend a little bit of time talking about a concept that had me thinking of quite a bit. What is the difference between reacting and responding? And then why on occasion can it be so easy to just react when those reactions that we do come almost impulsively versus really taking the time to respond? 

So coming up on today's episode, we're going to spend more time looking into the difference of reaction versus response. And more importantly, how can you in essence slow your roll if you are a reactor and then how do you start to build in more of a time to respond. So that, and so much more coming up on today's episode of the Virtual Couch.

Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 346 of the Virtual Couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, and let's dive right in today. I got a fair amount of business that I want to take care of, and that is because the magnetic marriage podcast is launching very soon. 

So if you are still interested in participating, we do have a little bit of a wait list of couples that I'm going to be doing some live anonymous coaching with, but you can still send your information, reach out to info@tonyoverbay.com. But if you are interested in just hearing these sessions, these coaching calls, and I cannot sell you on this enough, if you are curious to know what a couples coaching or couples therapy session sounds like, if you want to see how that might be of benefit to you, and I'm not even talking about talking with me. 

But what can happen when two of you go in and you're pretty open and vulnerable, and you put your issues and problems in front of somebody that does this for a living. Maybe this is what they are passionate about and you see change, you see change pretty quickly and dramatically. And so for the cost of far less than one session with a good therapist, you are going to be able to have access to these sessions, these coaching calls. 

 So you can stay tuned, or the best thing that you can do is go to Tonyoverbay.com and sign up for my newsletter. And I will make you aware of when the podcast is ready and it looks like it's going to be the first week of December, but there's a good chance that we might run some sort of special over black Friday and let you have access to a whole year's worth of these coaching calls. So go to Tonyoverbay.com. Sign up to find out more. And if you go to Tonyoverbay.com/workshop, there is still a $19 marriage workshop. In essence, it's three big takeaways that you can apply into your marriage right away. 

And it's also really, I want to lay out what we don't know that we don't know about relationships and how we pretty much all come into relationships, not equipped, and it's not a judgment statement, but we don't have all of the right tools. And I want nothing more than for you to be equipped, to have the very best magnetic marriage that you possibly can.

And with that said as well, you're going to hear more as the podcast launches about my magnetic marriage course that I have talked about often. And I have run multiple rounds or cohorts or whatever you want to call it of this magnetic marriage course where there's been a coaching component. But what we've decided to do, the co-creator Preston Pugmier, host of Next Level Life podcast, which I cannot recommend enough, but what we decided to do is we are going to put this course up as an evergreen course. So it is going to be available for all. And that is going to be very soon as well. 

And so just go sign up at tonyoverbay.com. And you are going to find out more about all of these things and much more. 

And let me just also continue to plug that if you turn to any unhealthy coping mechanism, now my path back recovery program is specifically for people who turn to pornography as a coping mechanism, if they don't feel as connected in their marriage or in their parenting or in their faith or their career or their health. 

Go check out pathbackrecovery.com. That program just continues to be something that I am so, I just can't tell you how much I enjoy working with people that are in the path back group. 

We have a weekly group call and I am very actively involved in that group call. And it's a good group of people that get together. And we talk about successes. We talk about life. We talk about how to be better people, and it may sound like we're just going to sit there and talk about all the evils of pornography over and over again. No, that's the coping mechanism that people turn to, but I really have confidence in the way that I work with people that are struggling with turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms. And that is let's fill in those gaps or voids in your life. And then you will not have the desire to turn to those unhealthy coping mechanisms on a regular basis and over time, what it feels like to be you is somebody that is feeling pretty good about themselves and becoming a better husband and father, and being more connected with your faith, your faith community, and getting in better shape, having more control of what you do, with regard to your health, your physical welfare, your physical wellbeing, and then also that can even lead to raising your emotional baseline up enough that you start to explore. Is this even the right career for me and all these things come from a place of power, not from a place of a victimhood standpoint. 

So, go to pathbackrecovery.com and there you will find out more. But let's get to today's topic, and that is reaction versus response. And what I did was I've done a little bit of just a hidden, Dr. Google. And I found a great article in Psychology Today, which I'll throw a link to in the show notes, and it is by Dr. Matt James. And you can go find out more about Dr. Matt at literally Dr. Matt.com. And Dr. Matt, he's got a PhD. I believe he is a clinical psychologist. And he has an article simply entitled “React versus Respond. And what is the difference?” He has a quote at the end that I think is really interesting. It's by William James and it says, “A great many people think that they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” And I really feel like this is hot off the heels of last week's episode, which I am very, and I literally talked about healthy ego, but I will stand in healthy ego and say, I really would love for you to check out that episode. If you missed last week's episode, I talked about healthy ego. And I talked about a concept called nonviolent communication, which again seemed a little bit of a paradox, an oxymoron, but I have been working that into sessions on a daily basis primarily for one thing. 

In last week's episode, I referred to a website called fourminutebooks.com, which is just my speed. And there is a review of Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication, his book called Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and the review was by Pamela Hobart. 

And as a quick reminder, communications expert Marshall Rosenberg says that most people's default manner of speaking to others is what he says, “highly violent”. That is if you consider violence to include attempts at cutting others down to size or coercing them into doing what we want. And I think that's more of what I see in my practice is people coercing others into doing what we want. And we started to explore a little bit in last week's episode that often people want to coerce others into doing what they want simply because it eases that person's anxiety. And one of the main tenets of understanding nonviolent communication is the ability to separate observation from judgment. That is the first step toward reducing needless conflict. And now this is one of those principles where once you see it, it's hard to unsee. And the example that I think I gave last week was if somebody doesn't finish their homework, then let's say you say, my son didn't finish his homework because he's lazy. So the observation is that my son didn't finish his homework, but then the judgment that we quickly throw in there is that he is lazy. Now, why, why do we say that? 

Oftentimes, I believe that is just an immediate reaction. And we're going to talk again today about reaction versus response, but those reactions often come just impulsively and they happen in the moment. And I really believe that they are there, our brain conjures this immediate reaction to try to make sense of things or to manage our anxiety. And I feel like in both of those scenarios, I want to just say how adorable that we're trying to make sense. We want this certainty. We crave certainty. But then I really feel like that in addition to trying to calm our own anxiety in a situation and now suddenly we're creating these immediate reactions, instead of taking a pause or time to respond. So in that scenario, we may put that judgment on of he didn't do his homework because he's lazy. 

Because what is happening in just very real time is that it must be because he's lazy because if not, what does that say about me? Have I not spent enough time with him in helping him with his homework? Have I not explored whether this is even the right school? Or have I passed along faulty DNA where he is now not a very good student? So we view everything, literally everything. Our first response is through our own lens. Why? Because that is what is happening to us, everything is happening in real time to us, we have a hardwired default setting of what it feels like to be us. And so we immediately are trying to make sense of things that oftentimes don't make sense. Or we're trying to make sense of things when we don't know what another person's experiences and we don't have the full context. I've referred in the past to a book called On Being Certain, which talks about the need that our brain has for certainty. I truly believe that what our brain is looking for at any given moment is this feeling of certainty so that we can make sense of things and move on. And, I really believe that our brain thinks that it can find certainty because it has found certainty in the past. The example is, if I say to you right now, what is two plus two? And your brain says four. Yeah, it feels right. So now we can move on. 

So I really believe that our brain craves certainty, desires certainty, wants certainty, so it can move on. So then in these very moments, so many things are happening. So we see we have an observation that our son did not do his homework. And then immediately we crave certainty. We need to understand why, and we need to throw a judgment in there as quickly as we can to try to make sense of that in a way that will ease our own anxiety. 

Look how complicated that is. So instead of just observing, he didn't do his homework. Period. Pause. Because now with that pause, now we can respond. Now we can respond and say, hey, champ, noticed you didn't do your homework. Tell me more about that. But if we are still up in our just reactionary brain, then we are immediately trying to make sense of things that maybe don't make sense. And we are throwing judgment on there to ease and calm anxiety. So I really feel like last week's episode got me thinking, it got me thinking a lot. And then this experience that I had in Arizona was pretty cool because there was absolutely a very, very large pause to be able to respond. 

Now, my reaction, I did think in the scenario that I laid out at the beginning of this podcast that, hey, this person didn't clearly communicate to me that this speaking assignment happened at seven o'clock, and I scrolled through my texts, but I also know that we had traded an email or two. And so I honestly am not sure. Now I want to say, oh, no, they did not clearly communicate. The reality is, okay, I didn't know that it started at seven and I found out that it started at six. Period, again. What an amazing opportunity then to just respond, not react. Reaction would have come from my, I feel like an emotionally immature person, that would've said, well, I don't even know if I'm gonna be able to make it. I can't believe that you didn't tell me what time it was at, but the reality is we're all just going through life. We're trying, and I was able to get in the car and I was able to go, now I say this, had she not reached out to me and I'm starting to head over there at seven, or if I would've got the text at  5:50 and I was still sitting there, I guess at that scenario, and in that time, we would have been on our way. 

Then I'm sure I would have noticed that I am feeling bad. But I'm hoping that I still would have been able to build in that pause and respond and say, oh man, I am so sorry. I didn't realize that it was a six. I thought it was a seven. So we'll be there. And when I got to the event and I really wasn't even that late, which was pretty funny because I had this whole thing where I was going to quote one of my favorite bands, AJR, they have a song called “A Hundred Bad Days.” 

And I got up there and quoted any way where they say in the line in the song, “A hundred bad days make a hundred good stories and a hundred good stories make me interesting at parties.” So I really just felt like, hey, this is just another story that I'll be able to tell. And I'm kind of having an aha moment as I'm literally telling it on a podcast that will get downloaded 20-25,000 times in a hundred and something different countries. 

So there you go. That story absolutely happened. And I'm grateful that I was able to respond and not react. So let's get back to this article because Dr. Matt just lays this out perfectly. Let's talk about reaction versus response. So, he said that some people use the word synonymously, but he said, “To me, there's a world of difference.” And Dr. Matt, I hear you.

He said, “A reaction is instant,” and I love this. He said “it's driven by the beliefs, the biases, and prejudices of the unconscious mind. So when you say or do something ‘without thinking’, that is the unconscious mind running the show. Our reaction is based in the moment and it doesn't take into consideration long term effects of what you do or say.” 

He says, “A reaction is survival oriented and on some level it's a defense mechanism. It might turn out okay. But often a reaction is something you regret later.” And I love the direction he's going there because I, you know, you can tell from where I was going at the beginning of the story, that I really did view this reaction as something that would have just been impulsive or a way to defend my fragile ego, a way to make sense of something that just, it happened. Or it was also a way for me to then throw judgment. I think a lot of times our reactions are coming, like he says, from a place of judgment, of bias, of prejudice, and it's coming from the unconscious mind. So being able to build in a pause and then instead of reacting, being able to respond, becomes a very, very important, I think, point of becoming more emotionally mature. And when we act emotionally immature, when we are working out of this world of reactions, then I believe that we're communicating a little bit violently, according to Marshall Rosenberg. And so if we are throwing this judgment onto every observation that we have, then we are naturally putting the other person in a place of defense, and that is not a way to build connection. If I am continually saying, well, I noticed that you did this and so tell me why you don't like me anymore. You know, I noticed you didn't respond to me, so tell me why it's so hard for you to respond to me. Instead of saying, oh, I noticed you didn't respond, tell me more. 

And I know it can sound overly simplistic at times, but the fact could be, my phone's broken. I had a client a couple of weeks ago that had dropped their phone in some water and I texted them and they weren't responding to me, it was because that phone was in a bag of rice. Now, again, a very simplistic explanation. 

But I was starting to make meaning out of something that didn't make meaning because I had to make sense of it. If that person wasn't responding to me, then it must be because they didn't value my time and they weren't willing to take the second to respond to me for something that I needed to know. 

Instead of just that observation and then watching the judgment that I had about that event. So Dr. Matt says a response. Okay. So he talked about how a reaction is this survival oriented defense mechanism, and that it may turn out alright, but he said that you typically regret it later. 

“A response on the other hand usually comes more slowly. It's based on information from both the conscious mind and the unconscious mind.” So he says, “A response will be more ecological, meaning that it will take into consideration the wellbeing of not only you, but those around you in a way is the long-term effects. And it stays in line with your core values.” And I love that he started dipping into core values. So if I have a core value of connection or compassion or empathy, or even curiosity or authenticity, then that will eventually start to build in this pause because I am very curious as to why someone says the things they do or what their experience of why they show up and assume that everyone thinks the way that they do. So he said that a reaction and a response may look exactly alike, but they will feel different. 

And I love the concept that they'll feel different because there are often, and there was a question at this event that I spoke at Sunday night. And somebody was talking about, it was a faith-based organization, and they were talking about the concept of the spirit of the holy ghost and that when you feel guided or prompted by God versus when is this just anxiety or fear? 

And I love that question because I laid out for over an hour why it's difficult to be happy. Why do we compare ourselves to others? The reasons that we don't show up authentic because of our fear of abandonment or attachment wounds, and once we laid all of that out, I feel like the people there were starting to understand things a little bit differently. And so then as the person was saying, okay, so now I realize that I need to show up and be a better version of myself. But then how do I know at times when something is just fear, anxiety, or if it's a prompting from God that it's something that I need to do? And I said, okay, at this point, that the key is you. The more you understand how you work, the more you understand how impulsively you may react, or the more that you may understand what is happening in your subconscious or why you get defensive. And we'll talk about that here in a little bit, a little bit more, but the more you understand what it feels like to be you, then ultimately you are the judge. You are the ultimate judge to know, is this something that I want to do, but I'm just afraid. Or is this something that I really feel I'm really looking for Heavenly guidance?

I did my undergrad or I did my practicum, this is when you're still in school and grad school. I did my practicum working at a nonprofit that had a spiritual overtones and people would often get in positions where they did feel a lot of anxiety when change was going to occur. And then people would often say, man, I would love to do that, but God or the holy ghost or the holy spirit has told me that that's not a good idea. 

And I remember as a new therapist often saying, well, my work is done here. You know, they pulled the holy ghost card out on me. And at this point I am not going to battle God because who am I to question what their belief system is or what that meaning is to them. But over the years, as I started to watch the pattern, people would then pull the holy ghost card, as I like to call it, on the most part when they would become very anxious or scared of change. And then I got to say, man, I hear you. And I don't want to then say, I know better than God, but then in those times I would say, yeah, I do feel like ultimately you're the person that will understand whether or not this is just, it's just something scary. 

Is it something I really want to go after, but I'm afraid, or is it something where I really feel this divine intervention? And I would have been surprised at how often people will then immediately be able to say, man, yeah, I really believe this thing is fear. If you are a person of faith, then I think there's an overall belief that we'll be guided to head toward things of good. And that if there is anxiety or fear, that that often just means that is something that is scary. And we don't want to do scary things at times because we don't want to feel uncomfortable. So I loved that this person asked this question because he was saying, how do you know, they might feel different, the reaction or response, but how do you know? And now laying all that out, the simple answer is ultimately you will be the person to make that decision. And if you make a decision that takes you in a way that you then regret later, then guess what? You get to make another decision. 

You know, that cliche that is very true when people say that I am so afraid to make a decision that I don't make a decision. And that in turn is the decision, is very true. And in that scenario, people want to, in essence, be acted upon. And so at that point, they often are able to hand over their accountability. Well, you made me do this, or you are the one that ultimately made the decision. And I can understand that, but the people that typically are good at making decisions, it's not that they just were born with this innate ability to make decisions, but over time, what it feels like to be them as somebody that makes a decision because they want to move forward and they know that then if they don't like the decision that they made previously, then they're going to get a chance to make another decision and another decision and another decision. 

And there's a subset of this concept around decision-making as well, where people will say, I would rather not make a decision than make the wrong decision. And boy, I understand. And there's no part of me that feels like I know better than that person, because I truly don't know what it feels like to be them. 

But from my therapy chair, I can say with some confidence that I worry that again, that goes back to what if we just say there are no wrong decisions, there are just decisions. Decisions are made because that's the very first time that you were in that spot in life. And so we are so craving again, I go back to the beginning of this episode, we want certainty. We want to know, we want to know that I am going to make the right decision or that the decision that I make is not going to harm anyone. But in reality, we are making decisions all the time. And so, I believe that it starts to become more empowering to continue to make these decisions. And then we deal with what happens after we make the decision. We often feel like if we're sitting at point A, I have to know what the end looks like. I have to know what point Z looks like. And I would rather not make a decision, then make the wrong decision. That will take me over on some different path. But in reality, I feel like part of the process of becoming more emotionally mature, or standing in your own confidence, is knowing that I can make a decision at point A and it's going to take me to point B. And then at point B, I'm going to gather all the data and now I'm going to get to make another decision and it's going to be to point C. And that becomes more of an empowering path is to know that what if I look at life as there aren't necessarily these wrong decisions? But I am just responding to the moment because it's the first time that I've been in that moment with all of my talents, abilities, tools, gifts, nature, nurture, birth order, DNA. All of those things that come into that moment that make me who I am, those are then why I think and feel and act and make the decisions that I do. So I need to just accept the fact that, oh, this is what I decided. And now let me take in that data because I get to make more decisions. 

And that's one of the most exciting things about being an adult human being. And the more that you make those decisions, the more you do start to recognize that some of them are good. Some of them maybe didn't play out as well, but I've learned something along the way and I've started to feel more empowered. 

So I know I went on a little bit of a decision-making tangent there, but if I get back to Dr. Matt's article that when he's talking about a reaction or response may look exactly alike, but they feel different, I really believe that’s what he's alluding to is that feeling is a feeling that comes with some awareness. 

So when we aren't even aware of what we're not aware of, we're not able to tap into whatever this feeling is of, okay, this decision maybe does feel a little bit more solid or concrete, and there might be another one that doesn't feel as solid. So then I'm going to make that decision and know that I'm probably going to have an opportunity to make another decision pretty quickly. 

So back to the reaction versus response, Dr. Matt says, “For example, say that you are approached by a panhandler on the street and you give that person money.” He said, “It's a reaction if you gave that money out of a fear or embarrassment or guilt.” He said, “It's a response if you gave that money from a solid sense of, I am here to help my fellow man in whatever form.” 

Or he says, “Or say you didn't give that person money again, it's a reaction if you didn't give them money out of fear or disgust or anger. It's a response if you didn't give the money because you decided that it's wiser to give your money elsewhere, or maybe you didn't give the money because you didn't have the money.”

So he said, “We all do know inherently the difference, but the point is that the more reacting we do, the less empowered we are. We're operating from underlying assumptions and beliefs that we're not even aware of.” 

And according to Dr. Matt, “We know this difference and the more reacting we do, yes, the less empowered we are. But if we're operating from these underlying assumptions or beliefs that we're not even aware of, then eventually the results of operating from this place of reaction,” he said, “the results are typically somewhere between horrendous and less than stellar.”

I love the next line. He said, “Left to its own devices, the unconscious mind creates a whole library of beliefs, prejudices, biases, fears, and limiting decisions because its main goal is your survival. So anything that might threaten survival becomes public enemy number one to the unconscious. So if your conscious goals are in conflict with your unconscious mind's sense of survival, then the unconscious will derail any efforts you try to make toward those goals.” Now why I love this is, one of my favorite things to do whenever I speak, and I  talked about this on Sunday night, is laying out Russ Harris's view from acceptance and commitment therapy that ultimately the brain is a don't get killed device. 

So the brain is operating off of this false pretense, that it has a finite amount of electrical activity. And if it has a finite amount of electrical activity then it wants to use as little electrical activity as possible. So it will live forever. That's why our brain creates habits. When things have been done habitually like thought processes or tying your shoes, then they eventually go into this habit center of the brain, the basal ganglia, where you use less electrical activity. So your brain is trying to habitualize things, make habits of things so that you'll use less electrical activity. So I love that Dr. Matt is talking about anything that goes against your own unconscious minds, library, beliefs, and prejudices, biases, fears, limiting decisions, it's going to feel like you are now attacking your brain's best interests to survive. So he goes on to say, “the unconscious can be an awesome partner to the conscious mind. It can provide the juice and the energy to accomplish what you want.” And he said, “When it's not freaking out trying to ensure your survival, it has a lot of intuitive wisdom to offer, but to get to that point, you need to spend time working with the unconscious and helping it release these limiting beliefs.” Correcting these negative assumptions or automatic assumptions that we make are these negative emotions that no longer serve you. And so often these fears that are there from birth and they're there out of a place of survival, then become limiting so that I'm afraid to make decisions can become a very limiting belief, but it was there early on because it was there from a place of survival. If you grew up in a household where you didn't have this unconditional love or the secure attachment with your parents or a parent, then there is a very good chance that you're going to continually make the wrong decision because your parents most likely had this hierarchy of right and wrong. One up and one down. And so as a kid, absolutely, for the most part, you're going to be making the wrong decisions because you were in the one down position when it comes to power or authority. 

Back in 1998, researchers Anthony Greenwald, Debbie McGee, and Jordan Schwartz introduced something called the implicit association test or the IAT. And the IAT measures, the milliseconds that it takes to connect pairs of ideas. And this test is based on the concept that you will be faster putting together ideas that you already associate with one another. So the example that Dr. Matt gives is that if you automatically associate female with family and male with career, then you'll be very fast at placing nouns that relate to female and family or male and career in these columns of the tests. 

But if the columns are titled male is equivalent to family and female is equivalent to career, and those are not the associations of your unconscious mind, then it will take extra milliseconds to sort these nouns properly. And I'm going to put a link in the show notes. It's out of Harvard and it took me only about 10 or 15 minutes, but I went and did one and there are some that talk about everything from race and gender and these really heavy topics. But I took an implicit association test just with, I think it was fitness and good and bad. And it really was a fascinating experience. And I can't even  really describe the way that the test worked and it's free. I think it would be really interesting if you took that. 

But it was free. And then it would just bring up these words that had negative associations or positive associations with fitness and health, and the first go through everything that seems nice and normal. You're hitting a button of a word that relates to good or fitness. And you're hitting another button on the keyboard if it relates to, I think it was bad or unhealthy. And that just seemed like what's the point, but then the next time that you do it and I can't even describe what this was like, then you would need to hit a particular button if it had to do with exercise and bad or not fitness and good, you hit the other button and it just threw my mind for a tailspin, but then it would do the next round of tests and it would do ones that made more sense to my brain. Again, these positive associations, and you could fly right through it. 

So then by the end of the test, it showed me that I have a strong, strong implicit association of fitness and good. And so then that plays out into my reactions that if I see somebody, I'm sure that is talking about their exercise and they're wearing a marathon shirt, then I imply my implicit memory looks at them. And then I'm going to lean in a little bit more with trust. Now, am I saying that's a good thing? No, there's a judgment there. Absolutely. But now that I'm aware of that, now I need to go right back to what we talked about at the beginning of this episode. And my observation is that that person is wearing a St. George marathon shirt. So I happened to have run the St. George marathon 10 times. I wanted to get a t-shirt in the 10 timer club, which is hilarious now because that's a lot of work and time and effort to get a t-shirt that I couldn't even tell you where it hangs in my closet today. But if I see somebody wearing that shirt, then I have an implicit memory or a feeling that, oh, we are kindred souls, but I think, I don't know, 4,500 to 6,000 or more people run that every year. 

And it's been going for decades. So what, there's hundreds of thousands of people that might wear that shirt. And now I'm saying we're all the same tribe. So you can see where we create these associations. So that implicit association test is fascinating. And once you're aware of the associations that you make then it gives you some data to be able to really separate observation from judgment. And Dr. Matt talked about this. And I thought this was really interesting. He said Malcolm Gladwell, and I love the author, Malcolm Gladwell, and I love his revisionist history podcast, but he wrote about the implicit association test in his book Blink, and he took one on race, and there was one on there on the Harvard test and I did not take it, but, Dr. Matt says that in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Blink that Malcolm Gladwell says that he took the one on race and he was mortified to find out that he had unconscious associations with Caucasian and European as good and his association with African-American was bad, even though Malcolm Gladwell himself is half African-American. So in an interview, Malcolm Gladwell said that his experience taught him to disregard his first impression of people. And to take time to know them before passing any judgment. So I feel like learning what your implicit associations are can be very powerful and being able to separate that observation from judgment. Because again, if we now put all of these pieces together, then your reactions so often come from your implicit associations out of your subconscious of trying to make sense of things that don't make sense to ease your anxiety. So I feel like there, we just put all of those pieces together. So then what Dr. Matt is saying is that when we do, we all have these associations and so many of them are unconscious and the unconscious mind is driving your reaction versus the way that you can show up and respond. 

And he said, “You can work with the unconscious to unearth these associations. And then you can start to align them more closely with your own particular values and goals. And now when you do,” Dr. Matt says, “you tap all the power of the unconscious and all the power that it has to offer.” 

But he said, “Even before you engage in the unconscious, as a productive partner, you can start living a life that is more responsive and less reactive.” Simply by the time you're done with this podcast of just paying attention and noticing when, what you do or say feels off center. 

So pause whenever you feel yourself about to react, take a deep breath, step back, and give yourself an opportunity to respond. And, for the sake of time, I won't go into the entire mindfulness pitch, but a daily mindfulness or meditative practice is absolutely necessary and essential to get to this place of responding much sooner. 

Because remember your visceral or gut reaction is happening. Your thoughts or your emotions are happening much faster than logic. Your brain, back to that don't get killed device, is a miraculous thing and that everything that comes through the brain, your first thought is, is this safe? So we lead with our emotions, is this safe, and if it's safe, then it moves on to the part of the brain that says, what can I do with it?

So it is absolutely critical and important that you learn to build in that pause. And one of the quickest ways to do it is to be able to do a daily mindfulness practice because what you are doing is not training your brain to clear thought, but you're training your brain that when you start to get caught up in thought, your brain already says, oh, this guy is going to turn right back around and focus on breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth. And he's going to square up his shoulders and he's going to sit up straight and it's just going to happen. And it's going to lower his heart rate, which is going to reduce the amount of cortisol in his brain. 

And before you know it, he's out of his fight or flight response, and he's tapping into his prefrontal cortex where he can now respond rather than react. Okay. I would love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to email me your questions or comments. If you follow me on social media, please go check out my Instagram. 

I have an amazing group of people now that are starting to take over my Instagram account. And I love the work that they're doing. So that's @virtualcouch. So go check that out and I'm sure there will be a post up about this, and I would love your feedback. I would love your comments. So, taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented, now on TikTok, Aurora Florence with her song, “It is wonderful”. We'll see you next time on the Virtual Couch

How do you know what you don’t know? Tony shares an example of what it feels like to speak to a group of people when you seek validation versus speaking because you care deeply about the topic you are presenting. Often we hear people talk about being authentic, but what does that look like in real life, and what additional benefits come when you live and operate from a place of authenticity? Tony also discusses what it means to stand in your “healthy ego” vs. “pathological defensive narcissism,” and finally, he discusses Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life from a summary by Pamela Hobart https://fourminutebooks.com/nonviolent-communication-summary/

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

Go to 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


Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 345 of “The Virtual Couch”. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist. Certified mindful habit coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four, and creator The Path Back, an online pornography recovery program that is helping people reclaim their lives from turning to the unhealthy coping mechanisms of pornography, go to pathbackrecovery.com and the rest you'll find out all the information you need there. It's an incredible program and I'm very excited about that. 

And the “Magnetic Marriage” paid subscription podcast that is going to cost less than less than even a half of one session with me. And you're going to get access to a year's worth of these coaching calls. It is going to launch in the first week of December. So please go to tonyoverbay.com and go to my contact page. And reach out and say, I want to know when this launches or better yet sign up for my newsletter, go to tonyoverbay.com and just find the little place there that says “sign up” because it is good. It is really good. We're going to try to get some samples out soon. So you'll get a feel for what that is going to sound like, but I have a lot of episodes recorded and even a couple of second episodes with people, follow up episodes, and it's phenomenal. It really is phenomenal. And I really cannot wait until you get to see what it looks like to be couples therapy or couples coached.

So sign up and find out about that right now. Let's start. Story time. So I have changed some of the finer details and timeframes to protect the innocent and that alone sounds very dramatic because I simply want to tell a story that will show probably more of my own emotional immaturity, as much as anything else. And this starts with a speaking opportunity I had with a group of youth just this past Sunday.

And, okay, so quick side note. If you are listening to this episode the first week of November in real time, I think I'm recording this on November 1st and you happen to be single and over 30 and live in the Phoenix or Gilbert or Queen Creek area of Arizona. I'm going to be speaking this Sunday, November 6th at the Casa Grande's state center in Casa Grande, Arizona, and the topic of my talk is nothing less than the secrets of life. Now I joke, but honestly, I feel like I'm putting together a big old package of what we really didn't know that we didn't know about life and relationships and how we show up. And that is going to include bonus content of what to do with that information, once you have the information of what you didn't know that you didn't know, and then how to slowly but surely change your inner landscape or what it truly feels like to be you.

So if you're in the area, it is free and I would love for you to stick around and say, hi afterward. All right. So this gig, this past weekend, I did not know the youth. I had not presented at this particular church congregation. And typically I'm asked to speak and standing in my healthy ego, we're going to talk about that a little bit more and a bit, I'm almost exclusively asked to speak these days by people who listen to the podcast or who've taken a course of mine or who have read my book. So a couple of weeks ago, a fellow therapist said that this particular congregation was looking for a speaker. And they couldn't do it. So they asked if I could step in and my family was for the most part, all out of town. So I said, no problem. I would love to. So I was contacted by somebody in leadership for this congregation and the person was incredibly nice. And they asked me if I could give them a call.

So they could see if I would be a good fit. Now, emotionally immature response. I am taking ownership of this. Emotionally immature. Response number oh, uh, wondering if I'm a great fit, we'll I am a great fit. All right. And I will send you, let me individually send you 450 links to podcast episodes and interviews. And did I mention that we are talking in an airport right now as I wait to board my plane back home from speaking to an entire state full of marriage and family therapists.

But yeah, let's jump on the horn and see if I have what you're looking for. And I thought, oh my goodness. Okay. That was incredibly emotionally immature. Thank goodness I did not say those things, but I thought, where did that come from? And it was my ego, that is on me. If this guy does not know me, then he does not know me. How dare he ask me if I'm a good fit to talk to, the future people of the world, the youth who attend his congregation. Oh, the horror. Instead I texted back and I said, yeah, no problem. And we ended up talking in that airport that day and he was incredibly nice and caring and we had a really good chat and he had asked if I had any examples of some of the talks I've done with youth. And I literally the week before, just on a digital virtual fireside talk to an amazing group of youth in Ririe, Idaho of all places. And I had the video to prove it. So I uploaded it to my YouTube channel. And I sent him the link and thought, okay, we're done with it. He'll see that. And he'll say, okay, this guy's fine. But he texted a few days before the event and then asked if we could go over the content.

So here's where things get interesting. And what is really framed where we're going to go today. I still wanted to essentially tell him to Google me. Which is, how immature is that?  So I noticed that thought and I did not express it. But he said that he would love for me to address the dangers of social media and how the youth need to curb the need for social media and that they're on their phones too much and could I make sure and let them know that, in not so many words.

And while I absolutely can see where he's coming from. And I agree with the message he is sharing with me. And the father in me thinks those things often, but that's not the message that I personally can deliver authentically. The, hey, how about you get off your phones and go outside? And because while I'm at it, I might as well tell them that it would be easier if they did what I asked them to do with their chores for the first time. And if they could not take food into their rooms for the thousandth time, and maybe I can even throw a bit of, hey and all your online friends aren't actually your age. They are men in their sixties in Velour sweatsuits, trying to lure you into their layer via two years of daily interactions playing call of duty with you.

But every, I feel like most, every youth under the age of 20 or 25 has grown up with an incredibly steady diet of being reminded that us older folks played outside and we didn't have phones. And I really don't know if I've ever met somebody under that age who has heard someone like me tell them that, and then have them say, man, you know what, tell me more about that old man, you know, I think I'm going to get rid of my phone. And I think I'm going to try to call my friends on a rotary phone. But what I can do is talk about how the brain is a don't get killed device. It is a comparison making machine. And how the need to fit in is so hardwired into us as a survival mechanism. So comparisons are natural.

But when we don't feel good about ourselves, we naturally want others to validate us. We want external validation. And we think that will happen through posts and likes. And I can ask the youth how they feel when they check their number of likes or posts. But if I'm being asked to tell kids to get off their phones, then oh, no, I won't be saying that.

But an interesting thing occurred. We traded some messages and I made myself available. He ended up having to go out of town and we didn't even have that conversation. But what that caused me to reflect on was, again, another experience just, it was a few years ago and I have been speaking to groups and youth groups and adults and training for literally about 25 years before I was a therapist. I spoke in the computer industry. And then before that I wrote a humor column in a newspaper. And so I would find myself in situations where I would speak often. And I thought about this and it was really fascinating to me.

That I would often say, okay, well, what would you like for me to say? What would you like for me to say to your crowd, your audience, your people. And I would be told what to say, and then I would do my best to say it. Now I am oversimplifying this, but I think you'll get the point because I would say what they wanted me to say. In essence, I was just the vessel, the delivery vessel.

And then I would want validation. I would say things like, oh, I hope that's what you wanted me to say. Or I hope that things came out the way you were hoping for. I hope that was okay. Did I do good? Or then I would find myself saying, man, not many of the people came up to me afterward and told me I did a good job. And then the ones that did say you did a good job. Well, what else were they supposed to say? They had to say that.

So there was no winning there because I was just repeating words that I wanted people to validate. And then if they validated me, I thought, well, of course they have to say that. And if they didn't validate me, I got to say, man, I must not have done well. And they must be really disappointed with me.

So, because at the core of that entire situation, is the fact that I was not speaking from a place of authenticity. From a place of real, like a passion or a connection. I was being told what to do and what to say by somebody else. Now, again, I'm not saying that that is one of the number one problems in society. No, I feel like that's what we do.

We do that until we don't do that, especially if we're in jobs that we don't necessarily feel connected to, or we don't feel confident in our marriages, we don't feel like we have tools or the opportunity to really speak what matters to us. Or it might be our church where we feel like, okay, if I express my opinion, that I'm going to be banned from the group. I'm going to be kicked out of the tribe. So if we're struggling with our faith or with any of these things, are we still just placing our happiness so often in the hands of others? Saying, well, what do you think about me or what I'm doing or what I just said? 

And if the other person invalidates us, then over time, what it feels like to be us is we don't express ourselves, because we feel like I can't even believe I'm thinking that, nobody else is talking about this, or when people do talk about the things that I probably want to talk about, then other people say bad things about them. So when we're still coming from this place of just desperately needing that external validation, we are not going to feel connected or happy or authentic, or any of those things.

But when you're coming from a place of authenticity, when you are talking about the things that you know and that you care about, and you don't have to be an expert, but it's things that you care about. It's the things that line up with your values. It's the things that you've always been interested in because they are the things that you are interested in. And you are the only version of you that has ever walked the face of the earth. Your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, all those things, are absolutely valid because they're your thoughts and feelings and emotions. So, when you are really living from this place of authenticity, or in alignment with all the things that matter, you are far less likely to be swayed by or to feel bad about other people's opinions. 

I still have people say, oh, hey, I think something different. But when you're coming from a place of authenticity, really feeling like you're living your best life, then the answer to somebody saying I disagree is, oh, thank you. Tell me more about that. Not, oh yeah. Well, you don't know what you're talking about.

Earlier I had stated that I was going to stand in my healthy ego, so I really do. I jotted down a few notes. I think I want to go back and take a second and explain. Because I really feel like this concept cannot be shared enough. I say it so often that I assume that people know what I'm talking about, but here's what I mean when I'm talking about a healthy ego. So in the article, the truth about narcissistic personality disorder, we didn't know we were going down the narcissist path today, did we?

But in the article, “The Truth About Narcissistic Personality Disorder'' by Eleanor Greenberg from Psychology Today, she is addressing the question that I have been asked on several occasions and it's somewhere around the concept that a four time leading Virtual Couch guest, Jennifer Finlayson-Fife shared with me on one of her appearances where we were talking about narcissism and she said, “Well, you know, we're all a little bit narcissistic though. Aren't we?” And I remember at first I thought. She called me a narcissist. But are we? But I know, I know where she's coming from when she first shared that, I thought that that was pretty interesting. Then I went on my “Waking Up to Narcissism” podcast, I think it was 8, 9, 10 episodes in, to record an episode called Am I the Narcissist?

Where I shared, first of all, that, if you're asking yourself that, the answer is no. But I shared that the actual narcissistic personality disorder really only applies to somewhere around 2 to 3% of the population. But when we're talking about emotional immaturity, well, I think that we are all emotionally immature until we, I don't know until we become more emotionally mature and it's a process.

You are not aware of the things that you're unaware of. How often are we just wanting to control someone to manage our own anxiety? Or we want to feel like we are special, so that people need to do the things that we ask them to do. So, again, that's all coming from a place of emotional immaturity.

And the growth process from that takes awareness and takes being aware that that's even a thing. Am I being emotionally immature? Then it takes introspection. It takes self confrontation. And it takes being able and willing to self-sooth. Not to rely on others to manage your ego or manage your anxiety.

Or to continually validate you. So at the heart of a simple phrase, like, well, you know what I want you to do? As the assumption that you know, better than I do. And that I would do incredibly well to listen to you, to abide by what you are telling me to do all the while without the person first coming from a place of curiosity. First checking in and asking me about what my experience is. So in the earlier example, rather than starting with, hey, what are your thoughts about social media and what direction would you go with this topic? It was presented as, hey, here's what I need you to say.

And speaking to aren't, we all, a little narcissistic, Eleanor Greenberg shares the concepts of healthy and unhealthy narcissism. And because narcissism is an incredibly charged word, I made the decision in that episode, and have done so since, of replacing the word narcissism with the word ego. When talking about the healthy version.

So in this article, “The Truth About Narcissistic Personality Disorder”, Eleanor says “normal versus pathological narcissism”. She says, “unfortunately, in the English language, the word narcissism has come to mean two entirely different things. Depending on whether it's being used formally as a diagnosis, as in narcissistic personality disorder.

Or informally as a synonym for positive self regard”. So often, do we hear it used as a synonym for positive self regard?  I don't even know if that would be possible in this day and age with the way that the word narcissism is thrown around. And that is coming from a person who hosts a podcast, literally called waking up to narcissism.

So she said, “I am often asked, isn't a little bit of narcissism healthy and normal?” And so Eleanor says, “I would like to clarify that distinction.” So normal, healthy narcissism, and I am now taking ownership of Eleanor's words. They're wonderful. What you're about to hear, but I'm going to say normal, healthy ego.

So she says, “this is a realistic sense of positive self regard that is based on the person's actual accomplishments. It is relatively stable because the person has assimilated into their self image. The successes that came as a result of their actual hard work to overcome real life obstacles. Because it is based on real achievements, normal, healthy ego is relatively impervious to the minor slights and setbacks that we all experience as we go through life. Normal ego causes us to care about ourselves. Do things that are in our real self-interest and is associated with genuine self-respect. One can think of it as something that is inside of us.”

When you find those things that make you tick, those things that you are passionate about, now you can start to step into that healthy ego because it is going to be relatively stable because. This is because it's been assimilated into your self image by the successes that came as a result of your actual hard work.

So the more that I learn about mental health, the more that I talk about helping somebody navigate a faith journey, using the stages of faith. The more I use my four pillars to connect a couple and help them be able to communicate like they've never communicated before. And the more that I learn as the brain is a don't get killed device. And the reason that anxiety is there and how we all fear this abandonment, we have these attachment issues and these things that I just feel such a passion about. Then I'm going to stand in my healthy ego and I'm going to answer questions based on the things that I know, because I have gathered those things as a result of my actual hard work to overcome real life obstacles. Because those things are based on real achievements, my normal, healthy ego is relatively, not completely impervious, but relatively impervious to the slights and setbacks that we all experience as we go through life.

So, a normal healthy ego causes us to care about ourselves and do things that are in our real self-interest. Not being self-centered, but in our real self-interest and is associated with self-respect. So one can think of it as something that is inside of us. So when I say that I am standing in a place of my healthy ego, it is that  I'm about to communicate something that I feel confident about and that I feel passionate about.

Now I have come to learn the things that I have learned from things that I did not know. So one of the most amazing things I feel like when you really find you are working in a place of alignment with the things that matter to you is of course you don't have the full story. Of course you don't know everything that you don't know. So that gets exciting. So here's what I know now.

And I'm going to continue to explore. When I go back two or three years ago, I wasn't talking about differentiation. I was talking about my four pillars. But I wasn't talking about differentiation. I didn't have my big abandonment and attachment speech all down. I didn't really understand the concepts of external validation and boy coming up over the next two, three months, I've been learning more about just being able to hold this frame, this presence, to an unhealthy radiance. And I'll talk more about that in the coming episodes. But so that is a normal, healthy ego. Now let's talk about what Eleanor says is pathological defensive narcissism. So maybe we could call it, I've never actually done this, but pathological defensive ego, because again, the narcissism word is so triggering.

But she says, this is a defense against feelings of inferiority. This is why when you see somebody that is just throwing a fit, an adult tantrum, or they need control over everybody around them. That is a defense against feelings of inferiority. The person dawns a mask of arrogant superiority in an attempt to convince the world that he or she is special. Inside, the person feels very insecure about their actual self-worth.

And this facade of superiority is so thin that it's like a helium balloon. One small pinprick will deflate it. So this makes that person hyper sensitive to minor slights that somebody with a healthy ego would not even notice. Instead, somebody with this type of defensive ego or defensive narcissism is easily wounded.

I think the kids call it butt-hurt these days. Or probably a decade ago. But they frequently take any form of disagreement as a serious criticism. And then they are likely to lash out and devalue anybody who they think is disagreeing with them. They're constantly on guard trying to protect their status. So pathological narcissism or pathological defensive ego can be thought of as a protective armor that is on the outside of us.

Protecting people from really seeing inside and seeing who we are. When I was living my life in that computer industry, I absolutely was working out of a defensive, pathological, ego where I needed people to think that I was special because I felt so insecure. Because I was in this job that I did not feel a connection with. Yet, I was on the hook to provide a living for my family. And at that point it was my ever-growing family and trying to buy a house and living in California and my wife wanting to be a stay-at-home mom.

So I needed people to think that I was something special because my fear was that if they saw inside of me, then everything would crumble. Everything would fall apart. And then I would be a failure. But little did I know that I didn't even understand what a healthy ego could look like when one truly finds the things that matter to them.

And you find the things that matter to you, because again, you're the only version of you. So things are going to matter to you that may not matter to other people. So, why do I bring that up? Let me talk a little bit more about my days working in the computer software industry.

So I was in that industry for over 10 years and I did okay. I mean as a career, financially, that sort of thing. I spoke at conferences. I gave a lot of presentations. I spoke in Europe and Japan and Russia and China. And many places where I talked about the technology that we were selling. But honestly, I didn't know what I didn't know about speaking from a place of authenticity. So I learned about my product. We did device drivers. And if you're not familiar with device drivers, they are not exciting at all. So I had to be excited to talk about code that helped move data. Data on CD's, data across hard drives. And then we branched out a bit from there, but I was basically memorizing our feature set.

I was learning the selling points. And then if I was asked detailed questions, I would have a programmer with me, and then he would either baffle the crowd with insanely low level programming talk or worst case, we would just say that we couldn't answer that question because that would be sharing proprietary information.

So in essence, we had an out. So I was absolutely operating from a place by definition of pathological defensive narcissism or defensive ego.  I wanted people to think that I knew what I was talking about. And I absolutely was insecure about people thinking that I didn't know what I was talking about, which is so fascinating now, as I speak from the heart, I share what I'm passionate about, which gets me less in the mindset of, well, what do you think about what I said or how did I do? And you can see how it's borderline me sounding like a jerk is I think one of the biggest worries when you start acting in alignment with your values or your true sense of self. Or you find these passions. That then you, when you speak confidently, there's always that fear of, oh, am I being prideful? But if you are letting your light so shine, so that others around you will be lifted, then I feel like that is truly stepping into who you really are as a person. And maybe what your purpose is here upon the earth to, to spread light and knowledge, the things that you know, and truly understand, and not from a place of, so that people will like me, but from a place of, oh my gosh, this I am so grateful to know the things that I know, and I want to share those things. And then if people have a different opinion, then I can say, tell me more about that. We're differentiated. I want to hear more because obviously I don't know what I don't know. And what a chance to grow, but if I'm coming from a place of pathological defensive ego or defensive narcissism, then I'm going to lash back out and try to attack you about the things that you don't know, what you're talking about.

Because I'm so afraid that you will see through me and see that I'm not being my authentic self.

So again, this little side note here is that I didn't even realize again, that when you find your passion or when you find things you're truly interested in, you are more curious about those things. So then you live in a way where you read more about the things you care about. You talk more about them, you find yourself around more people who also care about those things that you care about.

And here then is the interesting bonus. Just standing in your healthy ego. That as you lean into the things that you actually do care about, the things that matter to you, I personally have found it far easier to acknowledge the things that I don't know. It seems so much easier when you have a healthier ego or a sense of self to simply say, oh, I don't know.

I brought on a social media team and I'm so excited about them and it's so easy to say, oh, I don't have a clue how any of that works. I even went back two or three years ago, and I thought, oh, I know what I want to do with my social media presence. While that really hasn't worked, has it? So in that scenario, I don't know what I don't know. So at times they'll say, well, are you okay if we do this? Or what do you think about this? And I say, oh, I have no idea.

But I know that that's what you guys do, and I know that that's what you know, and I'm excited. I'm excited about that. Being able to step into the things that you really care about and are acting in more alignment with really the, your passions have allowed me to give up on a lot of things that I used to pretend that I thought I needed to know. At one point I went to a quick book seminar because I thought, well, I better know how to do QuickBooks, but I made it through a few hours and then I was starting to nod off and I left and I think I called my wife and we ended up having a fantastic weekend because it was it was in a whole different city that was within driving distance of where we live. But, oh, I know nothing about that, but why should I, that's not something that is a passion of mine. And I'm grateful that there are people that like numbers and math and all of those kinds of things. So then that is not something that I feel is in alignment with my values or something that really speaks to me.

As well as I went on forever trying to do my own website on the various plug and play, build your own websites. But I don't know that stuff either. Not a big fan. So the more that you find the things that really matter to you, the easier it is to let go of that idea that you need to know everything, because that knowing everything is coming from a place, that I feel, of pathological defensive ego, where if people think that I don't know things, then they might not think I'm cool and they might not like me. And they might boot me out of the tribe and I'm going to be devoured by a saber tooth tiger and die.

So I have found myself, far far more often saying, oh, I don't know. Because I know the things that I do know. So let me give you a quick example. And pay attention to how often people around you are saying, well, you know what I think, I think that this person really does know, I think they know what they're doing and I think they just don't want to admit it. To which I used to say a lot of things like, yeah or maybe they're just forgetting, or maybe they think this, or maybe they think that, because I want the person I'm talking to to value my opinion.

But now, because I absolutely feel confident about the things that I do know, it is far easier to simply reply to the person and say, oh, yeah. I don't know. We'll probably have to ask that person. Let me give you a hypothetical example. This one came to mind. We're doing a little bit of traveling again, going to Arizona to speak over the weekend. So let's say that my wife asked me, oh, do you think that we'll be able to make the connecting flight in Vegas? The time between flights is only 55 minutes and I don't know how far away the next gate is. So I feel like in the past, I would definitely want to manage her anxiety. I would want to reassure her and I might say things like, yeah, I'm sure they wouldn't let us book a connecting flight if it was going to be that close, or I might say, yeah, that's not something you really need to worry about right now.

Or I might say, you know, we can change the second flight, if that will make you happy. And although that may be true, is she looking for me to fix it or does she simply want validation? Is she needing me to help manage her anxiety? So remember when we don't often feel good about anything and I'm talking about ourselves, or a situation like this one about whether or not we'll be able to make a connecting flight, that causes us to have anxiety. Anxiety comes from uncertainty. And if we aren't operating from a place of a healthier ego, then we are most likely looking for someone else to make us feel better or to manage our anxiety. We're looking for that external validation.

But we aren't exactly sure what it will take for us to feel better. So there is a good chance, actually, an almost certain chance that whatever I say in that scenario about the flights is not going to be exactly the right thing. And then again, in this situation, my wife will most likely then feel like I just don't understand her.

Because she may not be wanting me to fix it. She just wants for me to hear her, to validate her, to say, man, that sounds hard. Or if I don't hear, she might even go to the place of, you know, he must not care about me. So, coming from a healthy ego and feeling more authentic in life allows us to show up differently in those situations, it allows our partners to start operating more from a place of trust because we feel more confident in the things that we do feel confident in.

Because now we're doing things that we care about, that we feel connected to. So in those areas, we're going to speak from a place of confidence and healthy ego, not requiring or relying on external validation. So when you come to the table, feeling more confident and connected because you feel like you are living in alignment with your values and what matters to you, then you speak with authority and confidence of the things that you know and you believe, and therefore, of course, you say, I don't know, do the things that I'm not certain of or that I'm not connected to. And that doesn't make me less than, that doesn't mean that my wife is going to think that I am less than, as a matter of fact, it's quite the opposite.

I've had people literally say in my office that man, no I literally find it attractive if he says, yeah, I'm not really sure about that. But we can discover that together or let's find somebody who does know. Rather than the guy saying, don't worry about it. Right. Or you shouldn't worry about that or, well, I'm sure that this is the answer because that does not give us a sense of safety or certainty in our relationships.

It's the opposite. So I may frame the conversation differently, like in this scenario about the airport, I may say, you know, I really don't know how that works with gate changes or time between flights. But I wonder if there's a system that keeps track of that and hopes that people won't miss their flights or, let's Google that together. I don't know.  I'll ask Siri a question.

And now we're having a conversation based on curiosity. Off of, oh yeah, I don't know the things that I don't know, but I'm here with you. Let's go through this together. If there was something that I do know, you can be certain I'll share it. Oh, I know this thing. But on the flip side. Yeah, I don't know what I don't know because how could I? Because in that world of emotional immaturity or unhealthy ego, you hear a lot of things like, I'm sure the doctor's just going to tell me it's not a big deal. Okay. How do you? Or you find from a place of emotional immaturity, a conversation I heard recently where someone said, yeah you know, my spouse says that they're not going to go into the doctor because they know more than 90% of all doctors do. Says the person who's never been in medical school or never practiced medicine. Or here's one I hear, you're just going to tell me to start up a mindfulness practice, says the person who has never regularly meditated to the person, me in this scenario, who also spent an entire life well into my forties, also never meditating, until I did. And then I didn't again, and then I did regularly and many, many years later now I just can't believe that I didn't know what I didn't know. I didn't know what that could feel like to have a built-in pause to allow you to then tap into that prefrontal cortex, those frontal lobes and access my tools instead of just sitting around in a fight or flight response all the time. And that has been because of a mindfulness practice. I didn't know what I didn't know. And so now when people are letting me know the reasons why that won't work they tell me that as they haven't tried that over a sustained period of time. Then that can be difficult because I know that they can feel like I am not hearing them. Yeah, no, I don't think that will work. I don't think that will work, says the person who hasn't tried it regularly to the person who did, and it has changed their life.

Let me change gears just a tiny bit. And I think that this will actually resonate or make more sense. It's along these lines because it goes along with needing somebody else to manage your anxiety or telling someone else what to do or how they're supposed to think or feel. Quite a while ago, I had someone reach out to me and they had asked me if I would take a look at a gentleman named Marshall Rosenberg's work around what's called nonviolent communication.

And I remember just not really understanding the term nonviolent communication. And just in that context, that just seemed like those words didn't necessarily go together. Because I think of violence as physical violence, that sort of thing. And I want to turn to a site called four minute books. And this is a summary of Marshall Rosenberg's book about nonviolent communication by Pamela Hobart.

So I, but I really feel like this is a really fascinating concept. And before I even read this, I also saw someone had shared with me and I thought this was just really, really interesting. They shared a quote and this is from a book called, The Yamas and Niyamas, which is about exploring the ethical practices of yoga, which is a really interesting principle or concept. If you really look into it.

And they had shared a page of a book that I thought was so well said, and this is around why I wanted to go down this path of nonviolent communication. In this chapter of this book, it says, “thinking that we know what is better for others becomes a subtle way we do violence. When we take it upon ourselves to ‘help the other’ we whittle away their sense of autonomy. Nonviolence asks us to trust the other's ability to find the answer that they are seeking. And asks us to have faith in the other, not feel sorry for them. Nonviolence asks us to trust the other's journey. And love and support others to their highest image of themselves. Not our highest image of them. It asks that we stop managing ourselves, our experience, others, and other’s experiences of us. Leave the other person free of our needs, free to be themselves, and free to see us as they choose.” So they go on to say, “the violence we do to others by thinking we know what is best for them is dramatically illustrated and they tell a story.” 

But nonviolent communication, and the reason I hope you can see why I think this fits, is maybe a nice way to end today's episode is the way to find that true sense of passion, sense of self to be able to actually act in alignment with the values that are important to you. And they're important to you because of all of the tiny little things that you've been through your entire life. The nature, the nurture, the birth order, the DNA, the abandonment, the rejection, the hopes, the dreams, the loss, the growth, the people that have moved, the people that have passed. All of those things that make you who you are, are the things that also guide your values. So when someone else is telling us what they think that we need to do, thinking that they know what is better for us.

I can understand or appreciate this concept of nonviolent communication because it is not allowing the trust, the other person's journey, love and support. It is supporting them and helping them view themselves as the highest image of themselves, not our highest image of them. In the world of parenting, I know it's a balance because we are the ones that are guiding our kids when they're young, but as they start to mature and grow and start to become them, then doesn't that phrase just fit so well. Nonviolent communication means allowing us to trust our children’s journey, and love and support them to their highest image of themselves, not our highest image of them. When we're trying to manage our highest images of them, I feel like what we're doing is we want them to manage our anxiety.

We are worried that we won't be viewed as a good parent. We're worried that someone will think that we didn't do our job, or we didn't do enough if our kid isn't living the life that we think that they should live. But in reality, we need to help them find the highest image of themselves. And so we need to stop managing our experience of others and let them start to figure out what matters to them. The sooner that we can help our kids do that and the sooner you do that, I promise you the better place that you're going to be operating from. And you are going to be able to do more good for yourself, for your family, for the world, not to sound overly dramatic but when you find what really matters and you act in alignment with the things that matter to you, you are going to be speaking from this place of healthy ego. And it is relatively impervious to the slights and setbacks that we all go through on a day-to-day basis. So I'm going to blast through this four minute books on nonviolent communication, and maybe we can tackle this in a completely separate episode.

So, Pamela Hobart. She's the one that wrote this summary. So she says, “Free speech advocates commonly argue that speech is the opposite of violence. Words can offend us, but they don't actually do harm. So from this point of view, nonviolent communication is practically an oxymoron.” Exactly what I was feeling. So thank you, Pamela.

But then she goes on to say “Communications expert Marshall Rosenberg, begs to differ. According to Marshall, most people's default manner of speaking to others is highly violent. Because he says that is if you consider violence to include attempts at cutting others down to size and coercing them into doing what we want. So that that would fit more in that concept of violence. So whether or not most ordinary speakers are constantly committing literal acts of violence or not, most of us can see the potential benefit in learning to communicate more effectively. Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life provides one provocative lens per seeing what's morally and pragmatically wrong with many of the things we tend to say in our everyday lives. Nonviolent communication also helps us to figure out what we can say instead.” So Pamela says, here are the three lessons that she's learned from the book, Nonviolent Communications, A Language of Life.

Number one is, “separating observation from judgment is the first step toward reducing needless conflict.” The second thing she says is “connecting actions and requests to people's specific needs points the way towards solutions to any problems.” And number three, she says “you can use nonviolent communication to improve how you talk with yourself too.”

She talks about these nonviolent communication touch points. Lesson one, and I think this one is so, so good. “Keep your observations and your judgments separate in order to keep others from feeling defensive.” She said, “often our brains leap to label somebody, ‘that student is lazy. My husband is careless,’ and so often our mouths rush to speak judgment too,” but she says, “does it really work to go around judging people? How do they tend to respond when you judge them? How do you respond when other people judge you? A person who's feeling judged typically goes on the defensive or just shuts down.” Again, I feel like that's the psychological reactance or that instant negative reaction of being told what to do, being judged. She said, “judging someone is about the worst thing you can do i f what you want is for them to listen to you or admittedly, if you would like to change something about their behavior.”

So I think I could kind of step away and take exception with me wanting to change something about their behavior, but, She makes a good point here. So, Rosenberg suggests a foundational habit for nonviolent communication that we learned to separate observations about what happened from our judgments about them and observation is objective, it's concrete and neutral.

Instead of a lazy student, learn to think that student did not complete their homework. Instead of a careless husband, think he left toothpaste in the sink. Because if you can start from a place of, he didn't complete his homework or he left toothpaste in the sink and we removed the judgment statement. Now we're going to go in there with curiosity. Perhaps he received a dollar every time he left his toothpaste in the sink as a kid. Because his dad worked for Colgate and the more toothpaste they could buy the more his yearly bonus would be. Oh, that was good. Made that one up on the spot. But instead, if we just say, we love this toothpaste in the sink, he must not care about me. He thinks that I'm the toothpaste cleaner.

So in order to separate judgment from what an observation is, then we can get to the conversation. So, she said, “straightforward observations leave much more space for potentially understanding the reasons why people did what they did, rather than making a lot of assumptions. Others' actions might provide a stimulus for us feeling the way we do, but they don't literally cause our emotions. We must distinguish between our own stuff and what happened in the world.” I had a couple recently where someone said, well you’re the one that makes me do this. That old chestnut. But in the world of nonviolent communication, if the person is staring at their phone, if they just say, okay I'm noticing that you're looking at your phone while we're talking.

That is a statement. That's an observation. But if they say you obviously don't care about me because you're staring at your phone, that's a judgment and that's going to put somebody on the defensive. So lesson two in this book, connecting actions and requests to people's specific needs can diffuse tension and point toward possible resolution.

She says, “Why are we so judgmental if it's not usually productive?” Rosenberg explains that analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values. In other words, when a teacher labels a student lazy, perhaps she's stressed because she doesn't know how to motivate them. Or the wife of that careless husband values neatness much more than he does, but she doesn't see a way to resolve their preferences. So this is why I thought this would be a perfect cap to this episode where I was talking about managing someone else's anxiety. So if we aren't even looking at things as observations, if we're making judgments about them. Then when we make a judgment, we're typically judging that this is about me. That they must not care or the student isn't listening. So that must mean I'm a bad teacher or my husband must not care about me because he obviously leaves his toothpaste in the sink and he should know that I care that I really want everything neat and orderly. So, she said, “people's needs are more alike than different. We have physical needs as well as needs for autonomy, positive, emotional experiences, positive social experiences, spiritual experiences of some kind and the need to play. So the teacher who judges her student, maybe trying to fulfill her need to feel competent at her job. The wife who leaps to judgment of her husband needs to feel comfortable in her own home. So understanding others' frustrating behaviors as manifestations of their genuine needs helps the humanized conflict.” It goes back to my pillar one of my four pillars. Assuming good intentions or there's a reason why someone shows up or does the things they do.

She goes on to say, “people mostly aren't just wandering around trying to cause problems,” validation galore for my four pillars. “They're trying to take care of themselves and they deserve empathy. So if you first find a way to show others that you truly understand their needs, you're likely to receive a respectful response to your request of them whether it's exactly what you wanted or not.” And then lesson three from this book, “using non-violent communication on yourself can alleviate feelings of regret and anxiety. Since all people have needs and deserve empathy, that includes your past and current selves too. So perhaps you're harboring painful, longstanding regrets about something you did a long time ago. Can you find a way to empathize with who you were back then. Which needs were little you trying to get met, however, mistakenly. How were you trying to fulfill the things that mattered to you at that time when you made maybe it was a regrettable decision. Or maybe you're facing a difficult decision right now. And by setting aside what you think you ‘should do’ and focusing on the needs of people involved. You'll enable a comfortable resolution. So nonviolent communication even provides a better way of giving compliments after all even positive judgements are still judgments. And they remind people that you're critiquing them instead of just giving a conventional compliment, try explaining to somebody how something specific they did met one of your needs.”

I really appreciate you cleaning up the house because it really helped me come home and feel more calm in my home. So that was all about me and thanking them for what they do. These kinds of compliments are much clearer and more meaningful than hey, you finally cleaned up. I mean that one has judgment written all over it.

So she said, “a review and some of the ways of speaking endorsed and nonviolent communication,” she said,” do sound a little bit stilted.” But she said, “as she read it, she had a hard time imagining herself saying some of the things. However, the nonviolent communications core lesson seemed sound. It's really about people judging less and then being able to understand people's needs more.”

And given how many problems in life come from communication breakdowns. I really do feel like this is something that really resonates to me, or it really does fit. So I would highly recommend the book Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg. So in summary today boy, how important is it to really try to find what really matters to you so that you can act in alignment with your core values and some of the bonuses that come from that is, you really do know what you know. And people are going to start to be able to trust you more because when you are saying, I know this thing, it's coming from a healthy ego. It's coming from something that you actually do know, and you care about and matters to you. And then when you say I'm not sure, rather than them feeling like, oh my gosh, you must not care about me.

Then they know that you are just acting in alignment. And I feel like that is a calm, confident, energetic person. And those are the type of people that I really feel like we tend to be drawn to. Because it's a wonderful example of how to live your life. You're still going to have the ups and downs of regular day-to-day life. But when you are acting in alignment with your values and living in a way that feels authentic to you, then you are less needy and less in need of somebody to self-soothe you or to validate you. And we're so afraid of, I think at times, is that if I, then all of a sudden give up this control over somebody else to manage my anxiety, that things will be worse.

But this is part of that, we don't know what we don't know. Imagine a world where you're showing up in your relationship as confident. And it doesn't mean that your partner is going to leave you. It means, oh my gosh, of course we want to enjoy life together because we're both two autonomous amazing, wonderful people that have really found out who we are. And now we can go through life together with two completely different experiences. And the one plus one is three and what an amazing way to live. And I don't need my partner to manage my anxiety. And that is going to look so much different in your relationship. And it is going to cause a connection. The likes of which we really have never known. Because we didn't know what that looked like. All right. If you have comments, questions, feedback on this episode, feel free to send it to me through contact@tonyoverbay.com and as always I appreciate the support and I will see you next time on “The Virtual Couch”.  Taking us away, the wonderful, the talented, the now on TikTok, Aurora Florence with her song, “It's wonderful”.

Sarah Doucette, author of the book "Stronger Than That: A Domestic Violence Survivor Uncovers the Truth About Her Abuser" https://amzn.to/3FoX5MI joins Tony to share her "harrowing story of a domestic victim's search for the truth about her marriage. Twenty-one-year-old Sarah Doucette married a charming, gregarious and attentive man. Six years later, she left the marriage, lucky to be alive. Suffering from PTSD and dissociation after years of physical and emotional abuse, Sarah could barely remember the details of her marriage. After her ex-husband's death by suicide, Sarah set out to interview those who knew him, piecing together the destructive patterns in his life and how it affected her even years later. This book is a cautionary tale about trusting one's inner voice in order to leave an abusive relationship. It is a story of domestic abuse survival that can help others survive their trauma while outlining the many kinds of domestic abuse."

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

Go to 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


Tony:  Okay. Sarah Doucette, welcome to “Waking Up to Narcissism”.

Sarah: Hey Tony. Thanks for having me.

Tony: Take seven, I think? Just for the listeners, we were talking, and I was going over a few things and all of a sudden I felt like we were deep in a very productive conversation.

So, I said, hang on, don't say another word, which is probably very awkward for a host to do to a guest. And then we jumped back on and then things were downloading and dinging and pausing and freezing. So, I think we're ready. Yeah, I think so. Okay. I'd love to, that I was saying is it okay if we're conversational and you were sharing a little bit of you maybe had a couple of interviews that have not been quite conversational.

What's that been like?

Sarah: It's been fine. I, yeah, I just am not great at pontificating about myself for 40 minutes without, you know, the give and take and really, my goal with putting this book out here is to have dialogue and conversation about intimate partner violence and abuse. Yeah, I just think it's super important to have conversations about it, and it's so natural for people to have questions, especially if they maybe have never been in that situation, or they know someone who has, and they're just dying to know.

But it can be really uncomfortable to ask. And so, I've put myself out there to not represent everyone in that community but try to help answer some of those questions.

Tony: And I think it's interesting. Tell me if this is true about you, Sarah. So, in the “Waking Up to Narcissism” podcast, I have a private women's Facebook group for women who are in emotionally abusive or relationships with narcissistic people and emotionally immature people.

Most of the group are, we call them, pathologically kind people. They are people that don't typically put themselves out there, and they find themselves in that relationship with the more dynamic, narcissistic, emotionally abusive person. So, would you consider yourself one of these pathologically kind people who doesn't normally put themselves out there?

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that would describe me to a T you know. And, you know, I'm very empathic. So, I think a lot of people who have that trait tend to find themselves in relationships with narcissists because they just suck all the energy and life out of you. And as an empath, like you just give all the time. And so, it's so easy for them to kind of latch onto.

Tony: Absolutely. And so that's a perfect segue too. Your book is amazing. I didn't, it's a little bit of true crime. It's also a story of survival and people, you didn't know what you didn't know. How about you set this stage and tell us a little bit about your book and your story, and I promise I will jump in and ask questions. I won't leave you hanging.

Sarah: Okay, perfect. Yeah. So, I met my ex-husband my sophomore year of college. So, we were really young, and it was kind of a whirlwind romance as it were. You know, he was very charismatic. He had a big, gregarious personality. Everyone knew. Steven, Steve-O, The Steven, like he had all these different personas that he went by, and I was very quiet and very shy.

You know, I grew up fairly sheltered and then I left small town Maine and went to Florida for college. And um, it was like latching onto him and being pulled into his world. I immediately had this great group of friends. And being shy and introverted, that was hard for me. So it was, it was so fun for that year of us dating. And we got engaged and we got married when I was 20.

Tony: Can I ask you really quick, Sarah and, I do feel like so often people do say, but everything did seem fine. Did you experience the love bombing? Did you feel like this was just the most incredible connection and person I've ever met. Or were there, were there red flags or warning signs, and did you just maybe overlook them?

Sarah: I think there was all of the above. I mean, this was the guy who would, you know, just show up at my dorm room with like a bouquet of a dozen long stem pink roses for no reason. Like he would just show up. You know, he was always doing great, nice things for me and including my friends, which was really important to me.

And then there were red flags that I think if I maybe had had experience with someone with this personality, I would've picked up on, but you don't know what you don't know.

Tony:  What were some of those red flags?

Sarah: I put out an example in the book of this incident where we were arguing about something so silly. It was a very common argument for us, and that was, where are we going to eat? And you know, I would go through listing off every restaurant, like within a 30-mile radius, and he would say no to every single one of them. And so finally I just said, okay, well then, we don't need to go get lunch. We'll forget about getting lunch. And he just gets really quiet, and I could just feel the energy coming off of him. And so, I ask him, I'm like, are you mad at me? And he says, I'm not mad at you. You wouldn't want to see me when I'm angry. And that's kind of a big red flag.

But in my like 19-year-old brain, I was just like, oh, he's protecting me from his anger. How sweet of him. And that's where my head went. And so, I just was kind of, oh, okay, let's move on. And so it was little, little things like that. With my hindsight being 2020, I would've been like, oh girl, run. Get out of there.

Tony: Well, and you bring up a couple of really good points too, Sarah. One is, I feel like the pathologically kind person is predestined to give the benefit of the doubt and I mean, I love what you're saying. That exact example of always protecting me or I feel like so often I hear as a therapist the examples of people saying, oh, I'm sure I read that wrong, I'm sure it isn't as big of a deal as I think it is and, you know, versus the, somebody grew up in a home where there, there was no tolerance for that, would they have just not even attracted that person to begin with?

Sarah: Yeah. No, I think it's, it's so complicated because I find myself even in other relationships, and this is something that, you know, I mean, I've been in talk therapy since getting divorced and you know, one of the things that I actively work on is not creating excuses for people.

Like they don't need me to make excuses for them. And yeah, I will do everything in my power to be like, oh, well they're doing this because. And that's not my role.

Tony: I love it. I do. So then, you get married, so a year in college and then you get married and then what was that like?

Sarah: The chapter in my book that talks about right after we got married starts with the simple sentence of “the honeymoon was over as soon as it started.” Things went south immediately, like in the airport on the way to our honeymoon. His true personality started just kind of rearing its ugly head.

And so, our honeymoon was horrible. He had me in tears several times there, and on the way back it didn't get any better. And so, within the first year, and I think this is a super important point to make, and I think a lot of people find, you know, shame in this, but within the first year I left. Things got really bad.

And I left. And we were living in Massachusetts at the time. My family was in Maine, so I just hopped in my car, and I drove home. And he came and got me, and you know, we went out on a drive, we had this whole long, deep conversation about like, how he's sorry, he's going to change, he's going to fix things, but you do these things that make me do that. So, you also need to change, so enter gas lighting.  

Tony: Yeah. And Sarah, I so appreciate you giving that example because I've got a whole episode called the Narcissistic Apology, and it's like, okay, fine. You know, you're right, I'm sorry. And then it turns to, but you made me do it and it's your fault and, what are you going to take ownership of?

And at that time did you recognize that as a, you know, let's call it now a narcissistic apology or did you feel like, okay, that's fair, he's taken ownership. I probably need to.

Sarah: Yep. I completely fell into it. I was just like, you know, it takes two to tango. There are two sides to every story kind of mentality.

And so, I was like, you're right. I'll take ownership that I'm not perfect and I'm sure there's things that I do that upset you and have driven you to some of these behaviors. And so also, growing up in a very religious background, divorce was unheard of. And so it was like, you have to do everything possible to save your marriage.

And I was like, okay. He's admitting to things. Some give and take. I admitted to things. I went back. And probably within three or four months of going back, I ended up leaving again. And the same cycle, right back, you know. And I ended up going back again and shortly after that, he got in some trouble at work, and we ended up moving back to Florida, which is where I was when I met him.

And from there it became easier for him to kind of separate me from my support network, which was my family and my friends from up here. And you know, I make mention of this specifically because I think people don't understand that it takes an average of seven attempts at leaving an abusive relationship for it to finally take. And then those two weeks after you leave are probably the most dangerous time of your life.

Tony: Wow. Okay. And thanks for bringing that too. I mean, I do, I call them rule outs. And a lot of times when people say, okay, no, I understand more. And did you ever feel that way? Like, I'm going back in, but I have new knowledge, or I can work with this better.

Sarah: Yeah. You know, people judge a lot. You know, I hear from people all the time, oh, if my husband ever did that to me, I'd be out the door like that and it's so easy to say that and it's so easy to say, oh, if my husband ever laid a hand on me, I've heard people say all the time, that I'd hit them right back or stuff like that. And I'm like, it's so easy to say that when you're hard of heart, that if something like that happened, your husband wouldn't kill you. But if you don't know that for sure, it's not as easy to just say okay bye. One of the things that I talk about a lot, I spent a few years as a financial advisor because there's something called coercive debt that happens in domestic violence relationships. This was not a term I had any clue about while I was here.

Tony: I’ve never heard of this? Tell me about it.

Sarah: So coercive debt is when your husband, or your partner, intimate partner, they either strip you of your job, and then they spend money in your name, they convince you to take out credit cards. When we got married, my credit was much better than my ex-husband’s, so we used my credit to finance a vehicle. And then during our marriage, unbeknownst to me, he actually had used my social and my identity basically to finance tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff and then never made a payment.

And so, he hid the bills for me. I never saw any of this stuff until we got divorced and because all our property was in his name, he demanded that I give him my car back, so I had to go buy a new car. And when I went to buy a car, my perfect credit was in the four hundreds, and I only got financed with a 16% interest rate. And at the time, I was living in that car, so losing my car was a big deal.

Tony: Oh man, Sarah. Did you see signs of that? It’s interesting when you, I didn't know there was a name for that, but so often I do, I hear those stories in my office of people that, the husband or the wife, whoever the more emotionally immature person was, has just made a lot of decisions.

And in their mind, I think they justify it, saying that they'll eventually pay these things off, or it won't matter down the road, so they don't feel like they need to share those with their spouse. I mean, did you see signs of that along the way? When he would bring home big purchases, would he gaslight you about how he made those?

Sarah: Yeah. There's an example in the book, we got married in January of 2006, and in February of 2006, we had left Florida and moved to Maine, and he'd become a general manager of the company he worked for. And one day he comes home with this gorgeous Dell laptop, super expensive, top of the line. And I was like, where did you get this? And he tells me that they give them to all new managers, and all new GMs at the company get them. Lo and behold, no. He used my social, he went on the Dell website and financed this $3,000 laptop back in 2006. And then when we got divorced in 2012, You know that $3,000 laptop was now over $6,000 in interest charges and late fees and penalties because he just never paid on it.

And you know, we always lived in apartments. They give you one mailbox key and he had that on his keyring. So, he would get the mail and just dump the bills in the dumpster before he'd come home. So, I literally had, I had no idea. It was the shock of my life when I went to try to finance a car.

Tony: I bet. I bet. And so, you talk about you having made a couple of attempts to leave and then he would get you back in and I think I had maybe taken you on a different path when you were talking about it can take seven times, so how long were those? Was there more time between attempts to leave or was it getting shorter? Or what are some of those things that you remember?

Sarah: So, the first two times were pretty quick. It was within the first year, and I tried to leave twice after that. When we moved back to Florida, we kind of went through a honeymoon period, like we had moved, we were back in Florida. He was around his family again. So, there was a little bit of a buffer. It was never perfect, but it was better. And then I had some support from his aunt who lived nearby. But it wasn't until we were married six years total. So it was five years later before I officially tried to leave again, and ended up successfully leaving that time.

Tony: What was the key to that?

Sarah: So, he came home one night with this crazy idea that like, what if we got divorced, didn't tell anyone, and then threw a party and were “like surprise we're divorced”, and I was just completely taken back by this. I thought this was the craziest thing I'd ever heard in my life.

But I was also like, okay, he wants a divorce too. So, now's my opportunity. So, he was like, let's think about it for a couple of days and then let's talk about it again. Do we want to get divorced, or do we want to stay together? And so, I waited a couple of days, and this was like a couple of days after Christmas. And so, I was like, have you thought about it?

And he said, no. And I said, well, I have, and I think we should get a divorce. And he literally just grabbed a soda from the fridge, and he was like, okay. And he just went to the bedroom. So, I was like, yes, I'm doing this. Like he's not fighting me. So, at the time I was like, listen, I'm just going to move myself into the spare bedroom. You can have the master. I'll move into the spare room. There's a little twin sized bed, it'll be fine. So, less than a week later was our six-year wedding anniversary, and I was home in bed. He came home super late, and he was drunk, and he spent hours just yelling at me and just like verbally assaulting me.

And then finally he came in and physically assaulted me. And at that time, I was just like, I was scared for my life. I mean, he had, you know, basically slammed me up against the wall, cracked my head up against the wall, and I was just like, I must get out of here. It's me or him at this point.

And so, I waited until he had passed out from, you know, all the drinking and I don't know what else he might have been on. And I just grabbed what I could, and I took off in my car and never went back.

Tony: Did he pursue you after that?

Sarah: He would text me just vile things and just be really rude. And I relay some of those text conversations in the book. But I went into hiding after that. I worked for a company that had armed security at the doors. So he couldn't get into me at work. When I eventually got money and found an apartment, he never knew where I lived.

I'd ended up, after the divorce was final, changing my phone number. So, I never saw him again. Yeah, after, everything was kind of final and he never even showed up for the divorce proceedings. He didn’t sign the papers. I ended up having to file a motion for default.

Tony: So Sarah, during the six years, did you guys try counseling or what was that experience like? Did you try to get help?

Sarah: Um, no. I had talked about it, but in my experience with this particular narcissistic personality, there was “nothing wrong” with him, of course, right? So, there was no counseling for him? So, it just, it never worked. I talked about like, well maybe let's go talk to our pastor. Because we were members of his family church and he was, no, he was not interested in that. No.

Tony: And like you say, “nothing's wrong” with him. And I appreciate, and I hope that, I should have maybe even prefaced that by saying that if someone, you know is going, it's typically, it's the husband saying, okay, fine. That way the counselor can say that you are crazy. A lot of times they end up going to multiple therapists or that sort of thing because they need to find the one that backs up there. But your situation, I think, is far more out of the norm because why would they if they're “fine” and you can go figure your stuff out if you need to.

What was your family support like? What was your family saying throughout this process?

Sarah: Oh, so my parents never liked him. And here's the thing about that. I get it. I know why they didn't like him. You know, they got bad vibes from him, but they were very far away. You know, they were in Maine, and I was in Florida, so they couldn't see all the everyday stuff going on, and it wasn't super easy for them to be involved. And then one of the things that happens in relationships like this is my ex-husband was very manipulative and he would find ways to kind of turn me against people and people against me.

So, towards the end, my mom and I had a very surface level relationship. We weren't talking as much; we weren't super close. A lot of it is because my mom has a very strong personality. Very sure of herself. And so, she would have very strong opinions about my ex-husband. I was not in a place where I was ready to hear any of that.

And so, I couldn't receive what she was saying to me. I mostly just resented it. I was like, why can't you just support me in this relationship? But I get it, as I'm a new parent myself. So, I get it. Like, you see your kids suffering. You see them in a situation you don't want, and you just want to rip them out of it.

But in this type of situation, when you're not ready to hear it, you're not ready to hear it. I wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to go. I was still fighting the good fight.

Tony: Well, and Sarah, I feel like wanting to say, I don't know you well, I love your vibe and your energy, and we haven't even gotten to the part of the book that is just so wild. It takes almost like a true crime turn.  So I don't want anything to feel like I'm saying, here's what you should have done because , you did everything that you could do but that concept with your mom, I think is so fascinating because, here, I just was wanting to tell you that, hey, you're okay, but I really am going to say things about your mom and I know that she was doing the best that she could do.

So, I want to preface it by saying that too. But I feel like it feels natural for a parent to then want to say, I don't like him, and I think you should get away from him and that sort of thing. But I love that you're bringing this up because, as a parent, my kids are adults and, even some of the relationships they've been in, my wife and I had to have had to be very intentional of, I need to put that almost aside.

It almost feels counterintuitive to be able to say, I'm going to support my daughter through this relationship so that when, and if, she finally has enough that she knows she can come and say, I need help. Versus the, I don't know if you've had moments where you felt like, I can't go. I need to show them that I can do this. Did you have any of those moments?

Sarah: Oh, absolutely. I talk about that quite actually in depth in the book as well. About, obviously hindsight is 2020, and so at the time, yeah, I felt like I was being so strong, like doing this myself. Yeah. I was like, I've got this. Now that being said, I do have a cousin who's also like my absolute best friend in this world.

She has a PhD in social work, and she was right there with me. She was the person that could tolerate my ex-husband. So, she was really kind of the only family that I had contact with. Like we would go on vacation and go visit her, and I mean, talking to her now, like they hated every minute of having him in their home.

But just what you said, she needed to make sure that she was a safe place for me to come and talk to him, and that I felt like she had an unbiased opinion. So, I would talk to his family about my problems with him. And I would just, I just remember, and I tell this story in the book as well.

I'm like, why is he so mean? And I'm just pleading with his mother and his father. Like, why, what have I done to deserve him being so mean to me? And his mother turns and looks at me and says, “It's the woman's lot in life to suffer.” And that was her advice.

Tony: I know I don't know them as well and I told Sarah and I talked before and I said, are you okay if I end up doing humor? And I know this isn't a humorous thing and I appreciate it. And you said, absolutely. Because I want to say, if I say, bless their heart, I can say anything I want about them. So, bless their hearts, I don't know her. Right. But I feel like that concept of. Hey, look. If you now suddenly say he's bad, then a parent will often say, well, then apparently you must think that I'm bad too. And so, then I just need to gaslight you with that. And what an example that is. Right? Well, a woman's lot in life, I mean, I feel like says the person who unfortunately probably was not in the healthiest relationship themselves. So, if they can convince others that, well, this is the way life is, then it justifies that was how their life has been.

Sarah: Yeah. It was just, just like a moment, I was like, what in that, what are we saying right now?

And so, you know, at that point I just kind of stopped talking to them about it too. And it was just so insane. And I think I was really nice to her. She and I were very close. I think that she was afraid that she would lose that relationship. I think a little bit of her advice was self-serving.

Tony: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. And that's why I say bless her heart. I mean, people are trying their best and I know that is what can be so hard. I love that you had, did you say it was your cousin that was the social worker? Yeah. Okay. And so, I'm grateful that you had that example and, when you found out, when she said afterward that we didn't like him the whole time, did that feel validating or did you have that moment of, why didn't you tell me? What was that like for you?

Sarah: No, I never, but it's just not my personality. I just never like begrudging to anyone about it. It was very much more validating to me. And then finally we got to like talk very candidly about all this stuff going on. So, it was more of a relief. And like, writing this book and, okay, so we'll kind of jump over it a little bit, I guess to the true crime aspect of this. Yeah. I'll give you the quick 30 second synopsis of where the true crime element comes into this.

For the listeners, if you haven't read the book yet, basically, part of what spurred me on to write this book is I received a phone call from my former mother-in-law. It was about two and a half years after our divorce, and she called me. Late at night, so I missed the call. And something in like, my spirit just told me something's not right.

Like she shouldn't be calling me. And so, I called her back and I said, what's up with Steven? I didn't even say hi. I just, I knew, I was like, what? What's going on? What's up with Steven? And she said that his body had been found in the woods and it was either homicide or suicide. I just, I just didn't even know where to go from there.

I just remember sitting down, it was in my bedroom. I just sat down on my bed, and I was like, well, when did this happen? And the second shock of my life, she's like, about 30 minutes ago.

Tony: Wow. Oh, Sarah.

Sarah: I've been divorced from your son for two and a half years. Why are you calling me 30 minutes later?

Like finding out that he's deceased it was just so surreal for me. I didn't even know how to process it. Uh, so after that, I tried to be there for his family, they wanted me to come down to the funeral. I was like, I can't do that. I can't go to a place where everyone's going to be honoring the memory of someone that I just physically couldn't stand. So, I respectfully declined. But they would call me like, when they left the funeral home. They called me, when they left the morgue after identifying his body and they called me, and it was just so weird to be a part of.

Tony: When you say that they were calling you, were you taking those phone calls or was that too much? Were you talking to different family members? Tell me about that whole experience.

Sarah: So, I would take the phone calls, you know, his mother and I, like I said, were super, super close when I was married to her son, and I knew she was hurting and for some reason I was the person she wanted to reach out to. And so, I just felt like, not that I owed it to her, but that, if she needed me to be a part of this portion of her journey, I would do it and hold my tongue. And I also wanted to know what was going on in his life. Because he loved nothing in this world more than himself. And it was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that he may have ended his life by suicide. And I was trying to understand. I would totally get if he upset someone enough to have them murder him. But I couldn't wrap my head around suicide for him. And so, it did come out that he ended his life by suicide. His parents never really gave me a straight answer as far as what happened.

His mother just kept saying that he died of a broken heart. And, not indicating to me, but there was a girl that he was pursuing at the time that I guess they had broken up with and I didn't know why. So, it was really interesting in doing the investigation and writing this book, because I had the story from his family that he died of a broken heart.

Someone wrote an article about him, and they listed all these crimes. And I was shocked when I saw that. And then they called him a force for good. They said, I don't care what he did in his crimes, he was a force for good in this world. And that really upset me.

Tony: Okay. Tell me why. Take me on your train of thought.

Sarah: So, I knew this person very well and I was really good friends with his fiancé. Years ago, when my ex-husband and I were in Massachusetts, they got engaged and they literally pulled me aside and said, we would really love to have you as a bridesmaid in our wedding, but we can't do it because we can't have your husband there. He's too much of a jerk and he's embarrassing. So, for him to then come back years later, and write an article that he called “How to Deal with the Suicide of a Mentor”, I just felt was so dishonest. And he had mentioned me specifically in there, like coming to my house for dinner and all of this stuff and how much he loved my ex-husband and up to this point, I really kept quiet. You know, people kept saying all these nice things about him and I just kept quiet. They say, don’t speak ill of the dead. I was just like, well, he's gone. What good is it going to do? And when I read that article, it's hard to explain or maybe to understand, but I felt like my life got stolen from me.

Tony: Okay. Like what?

Sarah: He had invalidated my entire life experience by saying that this guy who had basically ruined my life. To this day, I'm still in treatment for PTSD and then he was like, eh, it doesn't matter all the bad stuff he did, he was still a force for good in the world.

Tony: And a “mentor” and yeah.

Sarah: And I kind of found my voice at that moment, and he had posted this article on LinkedIn, all these comments of sympathy to him. And, I felt like it was attention seeking. And so, I just posted a message back and I just said, I don't know why you wrote this article. Please don't use my life to get whatever it is you're looking for. Whether that's attention, sympathy, I don't really know, but you and I both know the truth about Steven.

Tony: Okay. So, was there any feedback to that?

Sarah: Within five minutes, the article was gone. And then he sent me a private message telling me that I'm not the first person to have read the article and told him that my ex-husband was a terrible person. And he apologized that he should have taken the article down a long time ago. And then I asked him, I was like, well, how did you find out about these crimes?

And apparently, he just, I didn't know you could do this at the time. He just called the police departments and got the police reports. And so, he shared all of that with me, so these were police reports for charges of felony, grand larceny, and swindling of over $250,000.

Tony: And, and Sarah, was that the time when you were with him?

Sarah: It was not. So, I like to consider myself if we reflect back to the coercive debt conversation. I was his trial ground for that. And so, he ended up doing the same thing to a business partner. And so, he got arrested for that and while he was out on bond is when he chose to end his life by suicide.

Tony: So, needless to say, had you not gotten out of that relationship, where would that have gone as far as the debt and the ruining your credit, your name, your financial future? I mean, I can't imagine there would've been an end to that.

Sarah: And. You know, I also just feel like a lot of times with people like this, they get backed into that corner, which is what happened to him. Like the mask was gone. He couldn't hide himself anymore. Like the police came, they got him, he spent a few weeks in jail until his parents could get him out on bond.

It was over for him, the charade. And, he had an arsenal of guns. He was an avid collector of guns. And he loved to pull them out. And clean them and play with them and whatever. And I just think about myself or the girl that he was with at the time. If she had been with him, would he have taken either one of us out with him?

Tony: Yeah. And that's real. And I feel like that's where, when, I think you had mentioned earlier, when people aren't in these types of relationships, it's easy for people to say, I'm sure that wouldn't have really happened, but so says people until it happens, right?

Yeah. Sarah, you mentioned that people reach out to you after they read the book and they're sharing their stories. What's that been like for you? Has it been overwhelming? Has it been validating or what's that like?

Sarah: It's been overwhelming, but what a complete honor it is to have people trust me with their own story. It's such a vulnerable place to be, to say, this happened to me as well. And so, by telling my story, I've kind of given people an opportunity to at least have one person that they can reach out to and know that they won't be judged.

Tony: Yeah. Okay. And I think I was sharing with you that I'm getting a dozen or more emails a day from the “Waking Up to Narcissism” podcast, because people just feel like they're alone or they're crazy. And then they hear a story like yours. And the reach is just profound for people to feel like they aren't the only one. They're not alone. And did you have those moments when you were in that relationship or would you read other people's stories or did you feel like you were kind of going it alone for a long period of time?

Sarah: You know, I never knew of anyone else going through this situation. Okay. So I was very much confused and alone, I mean, I was young, right? Like I was 20 when we got married, 26 when we got divorced. And the words I just kept using wasn’t abusive. It wasn't domestic violence. I didn't know those terms. I was just like, he's just so mean. And it wasn't until I had my own dark moment of, so when I finally left and I got into my apartment, I started having this recurring nightmare and I won't spoil all the good stories, but I do tell the nightmare in the book, and I would wake up every night from this nightmare.

And it was one of those nightmares where you would wake up and still be in the nightmare and then, you know, kind of finally actually wake up, and I got really close to my own, like struggle with suicidal thoughts. And I just didn't know what else to do. I was like, I'm stuck in this. How do I get divorced?

You know, I had gone to an attorney. I didn't have $4,000, like he had stolen all my money. I barely got into my apartment. I was hardly feeding myself. How was I going to spend $4,000? Luckily in Florida, you can just go online and download the divorce papers. And so, I just did it all myself. I don't know how I did it. Looking back, I'm just like, that was crazy. But I filled out my own divorce papers. I walked down, I dropped off the papers, and then I drove the papers to the sheriff's department to have him served. And then I waited the 30 days and when he didn't respond, I printed off the paperwork to file a motion for defaults on the divorce papers. And I took those down to the courthouse and filed those papers. Yeah, so it was just like it was overwhelming. There was so much going on and then I wasn't sleeping because I was having the dream and waking up and a friend of mine had given me this book and I never wanted to open it. Because I mean, I was down in Florida, right? It's the bible belt. Everything was about church and religion. And so, this book was called What the Bible Says about Divorce. And I was like, well, the Bible obviously says you're going to go to hell if you get divorced. Like, that's where my mind was. And I was like, I'm not touching that.

So finally, one night I was at my wits end and I was like, what's it going to hurt? You know, I'm already there. So, I opened the book and the first page that I came to was a verse from Isaiah and they had, you know, paraphrased everything into more modern day English, but it said, “Your builders are working faster than your destroyers.”

And that was the turning point for me. I immediately made a list and instead of pros and cons, it was builders and destroyers. And my destroyer was my ex-husband. And I just started listing out my cousin, my parents, my friends at work, the girl who gave me the book, and the list of builders was way bigger than the list of my destroyers.

And it was at that moment that I was like, we can be faster than him. We can figure this out. And my work, just like the other day, had given me paperwork on their employee assistant program. And so, I called the number to get connected with a mental health provider. And I've been in talk therapy ever since.

Tony: I love it. I mean, what's on your wrist?

Sarah: I got the verse tattooed on my wrist. So, it says your builders are working faster than your destroyers. It's just a constant reminder.

Tony: Yeah. Like that gave me the chills, Sarah. I mean that is beautiful. And because that takes a lot of courage and I love the fact that you even said, okay, I know what this is going to say anyway. And you almost didn't, you almost didn't do it. I mean, I feel like the brain still is so afraid of that unknown, or the uncertainty of the future. Did you run into that?

Sarah: Yeah, for sure. I was just going to say it's scary when you don't know what to expect and what's going to happen.

Tony: Yeah. Well then are you getting asked a lot about the, and I know this can sound so cliche, but then advice for people, because people are going to hear this, and I think we're going to get the people, they're going to say, well, my situation isn't as bad as Sarah's. But I think that still doesn't mean that it's, you know, people shouldn't have to be in a relationship where they feel isolated or gaslit.

Like they don't have a voice or they can't be themselves so what do you say? You had also mentioned people are asking you for advice, right? When they're reaching out to you.

Sarah: Yeah, I've had a couple of women reach out to me and say, I'm in a situation right now and I want to get out, but I don't know what to do.

And as I had just mentioned, I'm a big list person. I give two pieces of advice to the people that reach out to me: man, woman, whatever you identify as these two pieces of advice have got me through.

The first one is you need to know where you're going. So, you need a list. You need to map out the steps. So, when you feel like you're losing your way, you know where you're going next. So, for me it was kind of like thinking of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right? Food, shelter, needed to get out of my car, and needed an apartment. I needed a new bank account. So, making that list of what to do, and then it was like, okay, now I need to file for a divorce. How do I do that? And just give yourself marching orders and keep yourself on track.

The other piece of advice that I always give to people is get angry and stay angry. The anger was the fire that I needed to keep going. For people like myself, it's so easy to just backslide and not be mad anymore and then just be like, oh, okay, well, I guess, but the anger was necessary at the time, and I'm not an angry person. I hardly ever get upset or angry about anything, but I just remember as soon as I start to feel a little bit weak, think back on the stories like, stay pissed off, for lack of a better term. And then there comes a time where you have to let it go. You have to. And it sounds so easy talking about it.

Get angry, stay angry, and then forgive them. It's not easy, but I'm a firm believer in the fact that forgiveness is not for the person you're forgiving. It's for you. And you have to let it go. It's a physical feeling when you remove that burden of anger and unforgiveness from yourself. At least it is for me.

So, use the anger. Fuel the fire. And then, once you're done, it's time to let it go and move on with your life. Those are the best two pieces of advice I feel like I can give anybody.

Tony: I so appreciate that advice. And what I love about that is that we started today by talking about the pathologically kind, empathic, highly sensitive person that I can only imagine how difficult it is to conjure up that anger.

But what I love what you're saying is, emotion is there to protect us. In theory or not even in theory, in reality. Anxiety is there as a warning; anger can be used as a tool. It's your body trying to say, okay, I need to fight for this injustice. So, you laid that out perfectly. I would love for some of my pathologically kind people to be able to use that tool, that emotion, you know, those emotions are there to help them.

And I never heard it put so well, like you said to then when I'm done with my anger and it served its purpose, I can put that away. Because that maybe isn't who you are at your core, but your body needs to pull that emotion. For good, I think in that scenario.

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, like you were saying, our emotions are there for a reason.

They're there to protect us, you know, fear. Fear is important. Anger is important. So is happiness. Sadness is important. I mean, all of it's important and it's just about don't let it control you. You control it and use it.

Tony: Yeah, I love it. I do. So, Sarah, the book is Stronger Than That and I'll have links to that in the show notes. And I really appreciate your vulnerability and I know that this story is going to make its way out to a lot of people. And so, I would love for people to write in if people have questions for you.

I don't know, would you be open to coming back on and maybe doing a Q and A?

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely.

Tony: Okay, so anybody listening, I highly recommend getting the book. It's on Kindle or paperback. And then you can also send questions to me through the website or contact@tonyoverbay.com for Sarah. And then Sarah, I'll stay in touch. And then I would love to have you come back on and we can do a Q and A either, in the group for the women's group or we can do one as a bonus episode. But I really, I love your energy and I feel like you are such a survivor and what a story. So, I really appreciate you coming on.

Sarah: Oh, thank you so much. It was really great meeting and talking with you and yeah, I'd love to answer questions. That's what I'm here for.

Tony: Okay, perfect. So, we'll have all the links then in the show notes and I will talk to you again soon. Okay. Thanks so much.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram