True or false? You only use 10 percent of your brain? Albert Einstein was a lousy student, and look how he turned out! Positive affirmations will lead you to self-love and happiness. To get the answers, you'll need to listen to this episode, but (spoiler alert) we are often building meaning and judging ourselves based on stories that aren't true and, in some cases, cause us to feel deep shame and fear. Tony talks about how certain myths around fear stunt our growth and what we can do to resolve our fears and doubts. Tony references "The Confidence Gap" by Russ Harris for this episode. 

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

Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorder Course is Open! Visit Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorders; Dr. Michael Twohig will teach you the industry-standard treatment used by anxiety-treatment experts around the world. 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 to see a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

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

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

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

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

Let's talk about S to the E-X, aka "intimacy." Dan Purcell, host of the "Get Your Marriage On" podcast as well as the "Intimately Us" app joins Tony to talk about the mission that he, along with his wife Emily, share of strengthening marriages by helping them deepen their connection through both physical and emotional intimacy. They are the creator of the popular "Intimately Us" app that has been downloaded over 300,000 times. They host romantic retreat getaways for couples and host the "Get Your Marriage On! Podcast and coach couples on how to have a great sex life and deeper intimacy. 

You can find out more about Dan and Emily at or on Instagram

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

Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorder Course is Open! Visit Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorders; Dr. Michael Twohig will teach you the industry-standard treatment used by anxiety-treatment experts around the world. 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 to see a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here

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

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

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

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

Virtual Couch- Dan Purcell Transcript

Tony: Okay, Dan, welcome to the Virtual Couch. How are you? 

Dan: Thank you. So happy to be here, Tony. 

Tony: Okay, so this is the part where I told Dan we got on and I said, Dan, don't say a word. Because I just want to just capture this pure gold because I really enjoyed being on your podcast. I felt like we had a real fun interaction and I feel like we covered three hours in about 45 minutes, so I'm gonna link that in show notes, but then I sat there thinking about that and I thought, man, I forgot that I'm the one that I think the first time we were supposed to record, I got a notification. I was on my way to Disneyland a couple days before Christmas and I felt horrible calling that off. And then I think last week, I think the morning of, I realized I had someone else in your spot. It's bad. It makes me sound like I'm completely disorganized, but so you've been so patient, and I really appreciate that. So here we are. 

Dan:And you've had a death in the family too?

Tony: That’s right. Okay, man, yeah my mother-in-law. And what an amazing woman. So you're right. So I'm just grateful that we are here and we're talking. So there's my first just thank you so much, but okay. Here's the funny part to me, Dan, and I'm gonna take you on my train of thought, I'm gonna do all this. I'm gonna be emotionally immature. I'm gonna talk about healthy ego. I'll make it really quick, but I realize that, you know, I'm a marriage therapist. I've been doing it for 17, 18 years. When I put your episode out here, I think it'll be pushing close to 370 episodes of the Virtual Couch. And I realize what we're probably gonna talk about today, one of your areas of expertise. As a couple's therapist, I talk about every day, multiple times a day, but I haven't really talked about it much on the podcast, which is really funny. And it's not like I'm afraid of talking about sex or intimacy or anything. So I really don't have a good reason why. I mean, I don't, I literally talk about it for hours every day for 15 years, and so I don't know, and I was thinking about that because you and I talked on yours about self confrontation and sitting with uncomfortable feelings and, you know, I'm not uncomfortable with it.

Again, haven't done this for a long time. And all I kept thinking about was, there's a part of me that still thinks that for some reason, moms are listening to the Virtual Couch in the minivan and the kids are back there, you know, listening along. But I don't think so, because I got one email about five years ago of somebody saying that. So, but I think that was probably the one person that was listening to it in the minivan. So there's that part of me that still feels like, oh, the kids are present. We can't talk about s e x, you know, so that's all I could come up with. So, I'm excited to see where we go today. So there's self confrontation, number one, and then self confrontation number two is, I'm really gonna check my ego because I want, you're the guest and I want to hear everything that you have to offer, and I kind of think that early on. This is why I love what we talked about in your podcast, and I still recommend my listeners to go, listen. We talked a lot about that self confrontation and differentiation and not needing your spouse to validate you. And I really worry, thank goodness, I don't like to hear myself talk, so I'm not gonna go back and listen, but I would imagine early on in my interviews, I wanted to make sure that the people knew I knew what I'm talking about. You know, because I'm a therapist and so this is, I'm also gonna sit with the perhaps potential uncomfortable feelings of wanting you to know that I'm smart too, Dan. So I'm, I am not gonna, I want to hear your story. I want you to go, I'm not gonna, I'm gonna try not to say, you know what, I think about that, Dan, because I want to know what you think about the things we're gonna talk about. So if you're okay with that, I really would love for you to do a lot of the driving and let's, I just want to kind of hear your story, how you got where you are and what you like talking about and working with and I don't know. How's that sound? 

Dan: Sounds great. Sounds great. Okay. Let's see, so my wife and I have been married over 19 years. And we met each other in eighth grade, so we've known each other for a really long time.

Tony: Were there breakups along the way or was it love at first sight?

Dan: It's not that romantic. We were just in the same group of friends. We went on a few dance dates together, but I was really shy and she was popular, so there wasn't a chance back then.

Tony: Just trying to stay in her orbit, so to speak, in a sense. Is that what the goal was? Okay. Right. 

Dan: But we never dated seriously in high school. I served a mission and had a fantastic experience.

Tony: Where'd you go?

Dan: I served in Japan.

Tony: This is about the only phrase I used to travel. Look at me. I'm already like let me tell you about my experiences in Japan, Dan. No, that's fascinating because I do, I used to go there when I was in my computer career, and I love, I loved everything about Japan. Did you enjoy your time there out of curiosity? 

Dan: Yes. Yeah. In fact, I was born in Japan, so I lived there for, yeah, I went up through second grade in Japan. So, I already knew Japanese. They kicked me outta the MTC early, so I got more time than my peers in Japan. It was really good.  

Tony: Where? 

Dan: I served in Hokkaido, which is the most northern island.

Tony: Okay. Oh, wow. That's quite a, that's a different experience than Tokyo I would imagine. 

Dan: It’s like the Montana of Japan. Really cold.

Tony: So, outta curiosity, do you still use your Japanese skills or the language skills at this point? 

Dan: So my dad served his mission in Japan, so he speaks Japanese. My younger brother served in Japan too, so we speak Japanese and we grew up there. So as a family, yeah, within our family, we can speak Japanese to each other. And it comes really in handy when we're out in public. We don't want others around us to know what we're talking about.

Tony: Oh, I think that, and that's actually where I was going with it, I think that would just be so amazing and fun to be able to do that. Okay. Last quick Japanese point. I love the food. And there was a thing there called shabu shabu. Are you familiar with that? 

Dan: Yeah. Yeah. They're really thin sliced beef.

Tony: Yeah. You just drag around in boiling water and then it's pretty, pretty amazing. Yeah. So, I don't know, like what was your favorite, what were your favorite foods? Or what, what's your favorite Japanese food? 

Dan: I don’t know. Uh, if I had to pick one, it'd be street ramen. And the ramen shops not like the ramen here. No, it's on a class of its own. I miss that, especially when it's wintertime.

Tony: Okay this is fun. We will get to, for those listening, we are gonna get to an incredible topic, but I enjoy here we are being in the moment. And, boy, I love that when you can connect and if I throw my, now I'll throw my therapy hat because don't forget, Dan, I want you to know I'm a therapist, but now Dan and I are having a shared experience and now we will always remember this and, and it will be amazing and wonderful. Very quickly on that, the ramen to me, like the, the why that's significant is, I probably was there 10 times before I tried sushi. I didn't like sushi at all, so then I would just devour ramen everywhere I went until I finally did try the sushi. And now, you know, 25 years later and I've loved it ever since but yes, nothing like Japanese Ramen.

Dan: Yeah. Yeah. In fact, that reminds me of his story. I didn't like the idea of eating anything raw, like sashimi or la sushi. And, I didn't like sushi either because to me rice should be hot and steamy. Not cold and sweet. And vinegar, like the sushi rice usually is. And I served in a very cold part of Japan, and one particular day we had no appointments, so we were just outside all day snow up to our waist just knocking on door after door. No one's letting us in. And it was just a really miserable day. It was cloudy. We're just frozen. But we had one appointment at 8:30 at night at the very tail end and it was really on the outskirts of town, we had a hard time finding them, they lived at the top of this hill and so it was like we're slipping on the ice and snow, you know, giving it to their house and the very modest home. They don't have a traditional western door. They had the eastern sliding door sliding. Okay. We opened that, came inside and guess what they had served us for dinner? Sashimi and sushi. The raw stuff, right? And I was so hungry. I was so tired. And after being rejected all day long, to have someone go through this, it's expensive. It's an expensive meal. They're really putting out to have the missionaries come over. And, I couldn't turn 'em down. Anyway, that was the best sushi and sashimi I ever had. And from that point forward, I didn't have a problem with it because I love it, you know? In that moment it was meaningful.

Tony: Yeah, again, being very present there. And, were you a fan ever since? Was that, did that sell you or was that just an isolated experience based off of all the things that led up to that moment?

Dan: From that point forward, I didn't have a problem with it. I love it. Well if I can do it there, I can do it there. And I think that's like a principle that we can really build on for our conversation today, because it's like faith. We need to try things. We need to do an experiment on things, but we also need to do things with a willing heart. So my wife and I both come from really good families, but sex wasn't talked about much at all in our homes. And if it was, it was either about biological reproduction or the thou shall not talk, but not a lot of conversation about how to build a great and exciting sex because no one really ever talked about it. We kind of inherited some anxieties about it. I remember our wedding night, we were so excited to be together and to have this new experience together, but I didn't know, I kind of had an idea what was supposed to happen because all the lyrics to all the love songs say, you know, you make love all night. And so we make love for the first time. And my body, you know, doesn't last all night long.

Tony: I think Hall Oates has a song, “did it in a minute”. Maybe that's more applicable, right? 

Dan: Probably. Yeah. 

Tony: But I love what you're saying though and you're right. It does tie into your sashimi and sushi experience. I mean, you absolutely in that sense don't know what you don't know until you know it. Knowledge can be such a hindsight principle because you wouldn't have even known the right questions to ask heading into your wedding night because you weren't modeled a way to talk about it. And now back into that role of marriage therapist, I do most of the conversations when we finally start talking about sex are, well, tell me what that was like growing up. Tell me what certain things meant. What are expectations? And, it is just a conversation that gets really immediately awkward and full of a lot of judgment and a lot of assumptions and then a lot of shame. So how'd you navigate from there? 

Dan: Not very well because I had a hard time reconciling spirituality and sexuality. Like spiritual people aren't sexual, yet I have sexual desires. And so that for constant combat and like kind of the running story in my head was like, sex is all about the quote unquote the natural man because I really didn't understand then what natural man really meant. I thought it meant any natural desires. So, I tried to suppress my sexuality, sexual desires, like here's an example, maybe two weeks after I was married, sex is so new, I'm excited about it and I have all these questions and I'm at BYU Idaho at the time and I go to the library and I get the courage to search something about sex or something. And I found a textbook on human sexuality and thought if this library has such a book, I'm sure it'd be a helpful resource for me. So I write down the call number. I go to that section of the library and I don't want anyone to know that I'm there becauseI don't want anyone, so like make sure no one's like looking at me as I take that book off the shelf, I tuck it under my arm and to my bad luck, it was like a woman at the checkout, like scanning, checking out my book. I didn't make any eye contact with her. Like, I don't want you to know I'm getting this book. I put it in my backpack. And anyway, later on, like that night, I open, I flip open the book. I'm just leafing through the pages. And I see an illustration of a couple having sex, like in the 69 position or something like that, just a drawing. And I freaked out like, oh no, this is pornography. I'm not supposed to be looking at this. So I shut the book and I promptly returned the book, never to get any answers to my questions, because I thought I shouldn't be looking.

Tony: And look, and look at that right there, Dan. Even like you're going into some, I'm a very old man and I worked in the video store industry, 30 years ago. And it, and it's as if you were going into that, behind that back wall where all the R-rated and pornography movies were, and your trench coat with your hat pulled down. And yes, all you're trying to do is learn, learn about this natural thing that occurs with couples. I mean, so that, and then the fact that you're going to a, literally a clinical textbook for it, and then you even see the things and then feel like I did something wrong. There's so much there.

Dan: Yes. I felt like I did something wrong. Right? So, my wife and I have always, I guess you could say, a really good marriage. Like we have a great emotional connection. We know how to play together. We're good. We have prioritized date nights throughout our marriage. Like we've been comfortable talking about a lot of things. Fast forward 13 years, so 13 years into my marriage, I am having a conversation with a friend and he opens up to me about his sex. He starts telling me some of the things he and his wife are doing in bed. And I'm like, really good people do those things? And he is, and he has a very vibrant and creative sex life. I guess you could call it. I had more bed curiosity. It's like, oh, no, no. Wait, tell me more. Tell me more. No, no, no. Don't tell me, but tell me a little more. I was so fascinated that here's a good man that enjoys sex with his wife, and they're very creative and the reason why he was telling me these things wasn't to brag or anything like that, it was, he was trying to tell me that ever since he and his wife really started working on their sexual relationship, their bond, became a lot stronger. They're better friends. They communicate better, they parent together better. Like there's all these benefits he's experienced in his life when he's really put the effort into making sex great for him and his wife. And he had something that I did not have. I could notice that. And yeah, so this was kind of my moment where I'm like, well, maybe all along I've been wrong. Maybe there is more to sex. Maybe there's a lot of goodness in sex that I've just been dismissing because of the way I've been thinking. So it really forced me to really confront my thoughts about it.

Tony: Tell me about that too. I mean, when you think that is there, okay, you may start to feel like, yeah, maybe I am. But is that still something that is scary to try to bring to your wife? Were you nervous for that? 

Dan: Yeah. So I go home that night, say, hey Emily, you'd never guess what kind of conversation I had today. Now part of the conversation with my friend is he told me that I think in his marriage, his wife is the one who has the higher desire for sex. So, okay. She basically told him that he's not a good enough lover at the time and he needs to figure things out because she's not satisfied or whatever. And which he took very personally at first, he didn't like hearing that from her, but since, like, I made an effort to make it great for her and then it's great for him that that's kind of how the story evolved. So I'm really self-conscious now with my wife, like, am I a good enough lover? Are you enjoying our time together? And our model, I guess our model of what sex looks like or what it was supposed to look like up until then was in the dark 10 minutes missionary position, and you're done.

Yeah, just that, that's kind of a quote unquote, avoiding anything unnatural and not knowing what that was, what that meant, and just being modeled that that was probably the way we do things. And so my mind's blown like, no, there's other ways to do this. So now my wife and I are having this conversation about us and our sex life, and we probably had the most vulnerable conversation about sex in our marriage to that point in our marriage. Then we were up to like 2:00 AM talking that night about us and what we think about this. What do you think about this? Is this okay? How do we know if this is okay? This is so different from our experience. There seems to be more here than we're experiencing. 

Tony: I appreciate that because I feel like people will have these, like when you said the most vulnerable conversation and I won't go into, you know, I love my four pillars and there needs to have, I think a framework is ideal, but I do feel like at times when we get vulnerable, it is more of a, do you feel like you were coming from this place of curiosity and then just, you know, this collaboration versus, you know, why don't you, or you know, do you feel like it was a different vibe in the conversation altogether?

Dan: Yeah. But we're both, I was really scared talking about these things because we haven't, we didn't talk about these things ever. And there's a lot of judgment involved. A lot of self judgment. What does she think about me? Like, does she think I'm gonna be some, like, you know, sex maniac or something? Like there's, there's a lot of that self-judgment too. You're really going into that conversation. What will she think if I really tell her my experience of what I think?

Tony: Well, and I think this is why it is so important to talk about this as a couple's therapist, I always talk about this as one of those, I call them a high charge topic, and then I almost feel bad because that puts such pressure on having the conversation but I really do feel like having a good foundational principle of a connection and having a way to communicate is necessary so that it doesn't happen, like what you're saying because I think we're all gonna worry that, okay, if I really say this, she's gonna think that I am a deviant and then she's gonna wanna leave. And I think it hits at that core attachment wound of, you know, will you still care about me? Do you love me? And so that's where I feel like I even like when you're saying, you know, guess what conversation I had? And we still almost wanna put it out there, testing the waters. I mean, almost like worried that if she says, you better not have talked to one of your friends about sex, you know, because then, then we would probably go, no, no. It wasn't that. Of course it wasn't. We're still wanting to, you know, lean into that. But I appreciate what you're saying though, because we're going into it already worried. And I think that's that part where we're all a little bit enmeshed in codependent to a point, but then have these different experiences in life. And then, but when we start talking about them, there's that fear. If I say the wrong thing, you know, it's just all or nothing, they're gone. They'll leave me. Which is not, not the case.

Dan: But there is a reason why we haven't talked about it to that point. 

Tony: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Right.

Dan: So we went through it from there. We push, like courage, courage forward, onward. 

Tony: And do you feel like Dan, at that moment, do you feel like there were, I don't know if you had to rate your assumptions around what her beliefs were, were you close to the mark or did you learn a lot that you weren't aware of? Or what was that like? 

Dan: I would say, that's a both and, or yes and no. Like, yeah. I live with her. I know her. I've known her for a long, long time, so I know pretty much how she's gonna respond to things yet, I was blown away at her compassion and her openness and understanding. I didn't expect that much. Like that she held space for me to kind of explore this with her, you know, during that conversation. And likewise, I wanted to hold space for her to explore her thoughts because we really haven't put a lot of brain power to really, you know, examine this topic of our marriage. Because we always thought this is a topic of marriage.You don't examine, you kind of let it be. 

Tony: I love your answer because it's the yes, and because I really do feel like this is where we observe and we judge in the same motion with our spouse. So, and that's where I feel like even the concepts around, oh man, can you believe that so and so, you know, whatever, that they do this in their life or, and we're, we're kind of making that, that bid to our partner of what do you think? Because if you really get angry about this, then I'm, then I know, or then we observe things where, you know, I've had some really good sessions with people where maybe a wife has started to open up about why she may feel shut down at certain times during sex. And where the guy has then said, no, I know, I know that that's because of this. And she, and then she's saying, I, no, I, it's, you know, might date back to previous relationship or some childhood trauma. And so I, I like what you're saying because I think we, over time, even if we think, oh no, I know my spouse. No, we know what we're observing and we know the judgments that we make, but we're, and then we do that long enough and now we even just assume. And even when they try to open up to us often, I think we say, no, no, no. I know, I know you, you can be honest with me when I mean, they're trying, you know, so I love what you're saying there. So then, what was that process like? From there you have that vulnerable conversation and then the next day, did you feel an emotional hangover or did you feel excitement or what was that?

Dan: I guess excitement because that conversation didn't end then. Right? For the next two weeks. We're up late every night talking about things and what do you think about things like that? So, we both concluded we needed more information and being kind of scared to even Google our sex questions, we thought maybe a book would be helpful. So we did Google, like a Christian author like sex book. And found one, it came in the mail. We read a little bit together that night. She fell asleep, because you know, she's tired and I think I stayed at 4:00 AM and I binge read and finished it in one night. It was awesome. 

Tony: Like you had the permission now to read that kind of thing. Getting rid of those BYU Idaho library days at that very moment. 

Dan: Yeah and the vibe of this particular book was like, perfect for what I needed at that time because it was basically giving me permission that sex is a good and helpful and wholesome and amazing thing which is very different than the narrative I have been giving myself. It was something to be tolerated, not something to be very embraced and celebrated. So that's what I needed at that time.

Tony: So where do things go from there? So now a couple of weeks and you're still talking, you're reading books and then you know, then what happens? 

Dan: Right, I should also mention, I had a lot of questions about what's okay and not okay. I think a lot of people have that. So, do you know Jeff Stewart?

Tony: Jeff and I have had our Home and Away podcast as well. And what's funny that you're talking about this too, I have him coming up soon to talk about consent in relationships, and, you know, in my world a lot when I'm working with clients, I don't know and we can maybe get to this in a minute, but I find that people do fall into these particular patterns or ruts in sex whether it's talking about things like duty sex or whether the guy is going to, I mean, I had a guy put it so well, and I'm sorry. Now I am going on a tangent, but Jeff is, is such a good person to talk about this with, but the concepts around consent, where if a wife is saying, I don't necessarily feel like doing a certain thing, but then the guy is saying, okay, but I can, I can get you to orgasm, for example, and then he feels like, see, that was worth it. But the wife said, I don't want to, to begin with, and then, I've had that conversation so many times where the guy feels like, no, but I got us, I mean, a guy said recently and I appreciate it. He said, no, I got us to the promised land, you know? And she said, no, you, you know, you didn't respect my boundaries. And then, and so often I will have a guy say, but you, you had an orgasm. And that's where I have a classic line of, okay, well yeah, if you're asking if the 20,000 nerve endings and her vagina responded to stimulation, then yes. But was she a part of that? No, not mentally. And so anyway, Jeff's gonna come on and talk more about that concept of consent. You know, because consent sounds like things and dating or that sort of thing. But, I think in the marital relationship that's important. 

Dan: So Jeff and I live in the same neighborhood. So we see each other at church. And, I really respect Jeff and I figured of all the people to help me understand where's the line of like, what's, okay, not okay. Like, yeah, he'd be it. So I say, Jeff, can we go to lunch? And he's like, sure, we'll go to lunch. So we're at Chick-fil-A and I get all my courage and I ask them all my questions. And so we're talking about everything in explicit detail. And I feel so sorry for the family sitting next to us.

Tony: Sending the kids into the ball pit though. Like voluntarily, right? 

Dan: But this is my chance. And he was so encouraging. He was so like, he was so amazing yeah, this stuff is fantastic. Keep like, he was encouraging, like, keep going. This is good, you'll figure this out. So I guess we just started progressing a little more. And then within a few months, I'd say within two months, our sex life went from good to, I guess it wasn't bad, but we didn't know any better, right? To like amazing. Like we started experiencing a lot of change, a lot of excitement and vibrancy and, and then all the things my friend talked about, our bond being stronger. We were communicating. If we could talk about that, we can talk about anything. So our level of communication just deepened and all of a sudden the sky was bluer, the grass was greener. I'm performing better at work. Like I'm whistling. There's like the pep in my step. Like there's so much in life that was like, so much better when our sex life just became amazing. Those twitter painted feelings I had early on in our relationship all came flooding back in full force. And, we're flirting with each other all the time. Just the level of, in our relationship just went up like an order because of the vibrancy of what we're experiencing together. 

Tony: And then, and so I'm curious too, do you feel like, were there still these experiences where there were, you know, not tonight? Or did you feel like it was, if somebody was saying that this was something that you wanted to do, then okay, we're doing this. I mean, was there any of the letdown, not even letdown, that's the wrong way to frame it. But do you know what I mean though? Because it sounds like right now when you're saying, okay, it was just this euphoric high. And I think a lot of couples that I work with will often feel that, because we finally talked about the elephant in the room. But then it's, but we still don't really necessarily talk about when maybe the euphoria dips a bit. It doesn't mean that, okay, now we're gonna go all the way back to where we were and, and how to find that area in the middle, the gray or that, that kind of thing.

Dan: Yeah, so I am still very immature and have a lot of growing to do. So yes, we've experienced all of those things and I'm still growing in all those areas. However, I gotta say, I think growth and progression happens. Not, it's not so linear, right? Our growth isn't so linear. Like we have growth spurts where you grow, grow, grow, and then you hit a limit, and then you kind of stay at that plateau for a while, or it might feel like you digress for a little bit and then something else happens and then you have another growth spurt, so you hit your next limit and you progress for a while. That's been my experience and I think that's an experience for a lot of couples. So, yeah, I like that there was like, we're on this high for a while. Feels like the honeymoon again. And the honeymoon phase kind of, you know, wears off a little bit. But then, we don't stay there for a very long time. We want to keep growing and progressing and so you kind of go there. And in all of that, because we're at a different level, the challenges that we now have in our marriage are gonna look very different at that level than they were at the lower level. So yeah, things are better in some ways, but we have different new challenges so things feel worse sometimes because the challenges look different. So, yeah, we're always leveling up because there's always another level I think.

Tony: Do you start to identify patterns of when things start to maybe flatten out. I mean, is there, I dunno, the seasonal things, work related things, kid related things. I mean, do you start to identify things that then you can bring awareness to foster that growth in a sense?

Dan: Okay, yes. So as far as patterns go, well, there's life and life happens. Like my, my daughter, my 16 year old daughter's in a, just finished, she was in a production. She had a, anyway, it means late nights. And I'm driving her there to play practice and picking her up late at night. And it kind of disrupted our, my wife and I, our mojo and how we spend our evenings together. So yeah, things like that do happen. Life happens.

Tony: And do you feel like you guys were communicating about that in real time or was that something where you would then all of a sudden feel like, okay, something's off and, and then we go back and review the game film?

Dan: I guess. We go into it knowing that, all right, okay, daughters play practice. This means this is gonna happen. So, yeah, part of my personal growth is I've, I guess, learning how to self soothe a lot better around things like this. And that's a skill I don't think people teach enough, learning how to like, calm the heck down around things when they don't go exactly the way you had hoped to go and just being okay with that.

Tony: What and what's that look like? And I think this is some of the stuff we talked about on your podcast which I so appreciate and maybe that's a good context and I hope it doesn't feel like I was trying to set you up for an answer or anything, but I like what you're saying because I feel like in the perfect world, we know and we can say, okay, what are things gonna look like while our daughters at play practice? One of us can be driving. We may be tired, we may need to communicate more. Or I find the couples that in the middle of it, they recognize something's off and then they're able to communicate about it, assuming the good intentions. And so now we recognize, okay, oh, this is what's happening. Can we adjust? And I worry that too often it's the, now we realize we are just off and then we start trying to take a look at what happened and, you know, and now in hindsight I've built like that hindsight piece is pretty important. And I worry at times that couples, you know, they don't want to quote, dredge up the past or, you know, well that's, but I really feel like you can analyze that data if you have a nice framework and look at it at a place of, okay, that happened. You know, what was my role? And so that's where I was going by I like what you're saying about this self soothing too, because what does that look like? What have you learned? 

Dan: I've got a few thoughts on this, and I'm not saying I'm always, you know, really good at this, but I'm getting better and better at it. The first thought I have is, you know the old story about the Indian chief teaching his son that there are two wolves. One has a death instinct, one has a life instinct. Well, which one wins? The one you feed, right? And it happens on a microscopic level in our marriages. Like it's this idea of are things a year from now gonna be worse between us or things between us are gonna be better a year between us a year from now. So it's, I guess, kinda like an optimism versus a pessimistic outlook. And it might sound silly to say, but when you feed the wolf that says things are gonna be worse, you know, a year from now because this or that? It does manifest itself in the way you relate to each other because you tend to withdraw a little more or justify your resentments or there's, because you're like, well, we're already heading down this path. And that's the wolf you're feeding. But there's also the other wolf you can feed. Now it could be a lot worse, but if things can be worse, I think that means things could be better. So I'm going to do those things, that advocate for or fight for something better. There's also, entropy is at stake. I mean, it is a very powerful force in any relationship.

Tony: Yeah, talk about that. The marital entropy. If you just leave things as they are, do they deteriorate? Is that the concept?

Dan: Yeah. So it is a constant uphill thing, so it's exhausting sometimes, but it is a fight. Prioritize each other. It's a fight to make sure we're connecting. It's a fight to make space for both of us to express what we need or what we want out of our relationship together. Those are forces to fight against. 

Tony: I love the, I haven't thought about the wolf you feed in a long time, because I do feel like there's so much there where you know what you seek, you will find, if you want to find the ways that your spouse is, is not there for you the way you would like, you are gonna find that, you know, if you're gonna find the ways that you can show up different, you will find that. And I like what you're saying, I haven't put that in the context of that wolf you feed analogy because I really do like that a lot because if I want to find my part in something, I'll find it. If I wanna find her part in something, I'll find it. And then I really feel like, if I'm gonna look for the part, what she's doing, then I have to acknowledge the fact that I am basically saying that I'm not at fault. I mean this isn't, this isn't a me issue. And, I would rather have somebody start with a, oh it's, it's a me issue because I only really know what I'm doing.

Dan: Another tactic that helps me is paying attention to the story I'm telling myself and I play the game two truths and a lie. So often it's like, we'll never, you know, X, Y, Z, or she'll never want this, or whatever. And so, then I kind of build this story in my head. I keep telling myself the story over and over. She's never gonna want to do X in bed with me or whatever it might be, right? We'll never achieve this or whatever. And sometimes the story we tell ourselves has a lot of truth, but there's a little bit of a lie embedded in it. Okay, so identifying what about it? The story I'm telling myself what's true and what really isn't that completely true. We like to self deceive ourselves in a way. We like to set up a story that makes us feel better or superior, or we're the ones in the right, they're in the wrong or whatever. But identifying really, that's not completely true. I mean, it's a little bit of a stretch in this area. As not me, but identifying, that's tricky. So one tool that I've helped that helps me with that is I type up a dialogue so this takes time. So you gotta be willing to set aside some quiet time. I open up a Google doc and I will type up like the dialogue of the last conflict we've had around, or a conflict I anticipate we're having, I say this, she says this, then I'm gonna say this, and if I say this, I think this is how she's gonna respond, or this is how she does respond. So I kind of type up this dialogue, and that practice of typing up this dialogue helps me at least on paper, kind of take a step back and say, I can see here where I'm a little bit, I'm a little, I like for me, my tendencies to take the superior stance. Like, okay, I'm more evolved than you. I know what's going on.

And you don't like that, that doesn't create a marriage where, where we're equals, right? Because I'm condescending. So I know this, these tendencies. I mean, I can like, after the dialogue's like. Or another one I tend to do is play the victim really well. We're good at that. It's your fault on the way like this, I have no choice in this matter. And then as I go through dialogue, I can go, wait a minute, I'm playing the victim here. And the victim pattern for me is always the, I don't have a choice. When in reality I remind myself I always have a choice. What are my options? Even if they're all crappy options, what's the least crappy option of all my options I can still make? And when I look for those things, then it's all on me again. I kind of keep the focus on me. This is the step I need to take for me in this, in light of these things. 

Tony: I like it. And I think, again, back to the things that we talked about on your, on your show, all of those options may cause discomfort and we are not huge fans of discomfort and rather than feel uncomfortable, it's easier to pull that victim card or that it'll never work card. Or why would I even bring it up card? Because then I can still stay in that victim mentality and I don't have to be uncomfortable. And now I get to tell a story to myself. About something that she's unaware of the task, something she's failed at and she didn't even know she was taking the test. So, I mean, that's a, that's a lot, right? I like what you're saying too, when you lay the narrative out, I do not journal. I love giving journaling homework. I'm not saying it as if I think I would never do it. I wish I journaled and I haven't aired his episode yet, but he's been writing every day for a year now, and he wasn't a journal writer at all. And we were just talking about that concept of laying things out, when you put things out linearly, it almost does it, it declutters from your mind. And I love that you just put another piece to that puzzle together and then you could identify, oh, when I lay it out that way, I take, I try to take that one up and I think if things are just in our heads and that we got all kinds of stories going, I wonder that might be harder to see that that's the pattern, do you think? 

Dan: Yes. But I do also admit there's also times when I've typed it out and I still can't see it. And that's the next stage I go in and get help. So I have friends, I'm in a great group of other men that I can trust with some of these things and they're willing to look at my dialogue or whatever it is, help identify things, right. I believe in marriage coaching. I have a marriage coach that I have that I go to and helps me see things when I have trouble seeing it myself. And because I think we still will always have blind spots. There's only so much.

Tony: Absolutely. We can see. And I like the group. I wouldn't say I really like a group like that because, you know, if we're in our own echo chamber, that's one thing. And then if we're wanting someone to be gentle with us, you know, bring gentle awareness. And sometimes I do feel like we need that, you need a little, little, little taste of reality there. And so I think that they, the more real that somebody can be, because you can still have, you still have the option to disagree with them, but you'll never have that option if you don't have somebody willing to confront you with what they notice. And I think that plays into it, we put out a version of ourselves to the world and we say, hey everybody, validate this guy right here. And then if people really don't feel like, okay, but that's not the version I see, I'll try. And then if somebody is being insincere and trying to validate the version of you that you think you are, then you pick up on that. And then you say, okay, you don't even care about me. And I feel like that's the position we put our spouses in or our friends in at times of, you know, then we get to play the victim as well. So I love having a group that you can go to with that. When I was starting on your journey, and we only have a few more minutes and I didn't even, tell us what you do and you offer and how you help people. I mean, you've got an amazing podcast, you've got a big following on Instagram. What are all the things you do and how do you help people? 

Dan: So the first thing I did after our, I guess you call it our marriage renaissance, the rebirth. We're like, this is so amazing. I wish more people knew about this. I'm an app developer, I'm from a software development background, myself and my wife created a bedroom game app. I'm also really creative and being really creative in the bedroom sounds great to me. So we made a collection of bedroom games we put on the app store. And it took off because I think we hit an underserved market. It's not craft, it's not raunchy. It's not, it's full of really good information and it's fun, but in the process of marketing that app, I connected with that author of that book that I stayed up really late reading, I connected with her and I connected with other authors and other bloggers and Instagrammers and podcasters. Like, wow, these are the people that I admire and learn a lot from and say, hey, I have this app. Would you like to share it with your audience? And they check it out and say, yeah, we love it too. Of course we'll share it. So I kind of developed these relationships with others in this like conservative Christian sex positive community, which I didn't know existed. 

Tony: I was gonna make a joke there, Dan. Like, yeah, you found all 20 of them, you know, but I'm joking.

Dan: There's probably 2000 of them, but, right. No, exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Right. Exactly, so one thing led to another and then a year after, so this is in 2018, my wife and I had this hair-brained idea to put on a marriage conference. We are both kind of introverted, right? We have no idea what this is like, but like we have the anti pornography conference in St. George which is a real downer. If you ever go to it, you walk away feeling scared for your life. You want to cut, you know, the internet, right? It's not an upbeat event. And then we have the family history conference. But we don't have anything like marriage enrichment. So we're like, let's do it, let's do it. And 550 people came to our first conference.

Tony: It was when I saw on your website that you have the couples retreats and that sort of thing. And you know, I've been doing this forever in my podcast and I even thought, oh, I would be, I would, that would be very difficult to put one of those together. What if no one comes? I went into all those stories and I can't imagine what it's like to have 500 people. That's amazing. 

Dan: Yeah. So it was way better, and that's the day I got the shot in the arm. Like I think I found my calling in life Love. I love it, I love it. Love helping couples have a great sex life. That's, that's it. So ever since then I've continued to develop apps. I have about five apps on the app store. The main one is intimately us and the second one is just between. And we've put on marriage retreats, we've switched from the conference format to a retreat format to do those annually. My next retreat's coming up in three weeks, so I'm really excited for that. 

Tony: Well, I will get this out quickly then. What's the date of the retreat? 

Dan: It's sold out.

Tony: Okay. All right. But that's exciting.

Dan: They sell out within a few weeks when we announce our retreat. So get on our waiting list if you want. Okay, that sounds good, then I really wanted to help other couples, kind of like what you do, Tony. So I've gone through a lot of training on how to coach other couples. And coach on sexuality. I'm a pretty good student. I can hit the books and I can, anyway, so I have a handful of clients that I coach and I launched a program called Next Level, and it was something that I wish I had. It's a low barrier to entry. It's a low cost, but group coaching program for couples that wanna take their intimacy to the next level. And it's myself and another trained marriage coach in there, and we have weekly meetings. We have a private podcast, kinda like what you have the marriage matters. Is that what it is?

Tony: Magnetic marriage. Oh, you're fine. 

Dan: Yeah. Where as you subscribe, you can listen to other couples being coached anonymously. We've kind of created this kind of community and that's called Next Level and that's growing pretty big.

Tony: This is exciting. We'll have to have you back on again too. But I did a podcast recently where it was all about therapy versus coaching, and I talked a lot about, there's a, I did, I wasn't aware that and I'm kind of joking here, but that there was this therapist versus coach vibe that I wasn't aware I was supposed to have, because I really appreciate coaches and I know that, I think that as I often kind of joke about the fact that I think a coach is necessary to say, okay, here are the next steps. Here's what's worked for me. Here's what I feel like will help. And then I'm, you know, then I feel like the therapist is almost right there beside the couple, and then if and when those things work until they don't, or the challenges they have with continuing on whatever that the program is. They bought the book, they bought the course that they maybe didn't finish, you know, then, then here comes the therapist to say, all right, let's figure that out because I feel like, you know, it's a nice balance of both because I've bought courses and got the dopamine hit and done a couple the modules and then thought, man, okay, I'll do, I'll do something later, you know, and then I thought, what's wrong with me? And I paid the money and why did I fizzle out? And then I've had to put my therapist brain on and have some good acceptance. And anyway, I really love what you're doing and I feel like a perfect balance of coaching and therapy is probably a nice mix. A little bit of chocolate meets peanut butter kind of.

Dan: I like that. Chocolate and peanut butter. That's a good idea. The way I look at it too is therapists are licensed and trained for treating that mental illness too. And there's I, or something that like with dealing with trauma or those really, really specific trainings that I don't touch, but if it's about overcoming differences in sexual desire, I can totally coach you through that. Or if it's about I need more creativity in the bedroom. Or help us where we have this dynamic where it's the pursuer distance or dynamic, I can help you with all those common patterns that a lot of couples struggle with. I can help you with many of those. And that's, and people do come and their marriages are changed for the better as a result of this. They're learning new habits and new tools that help them, you know? Like what we talked about today, for example, self soothing, if that's what they need, or if it's learning how to have those difficult conversations that need to happen. And how to have those are all things that I think couples benefit from things like this.

Tony: So I love it. I do. And then, so then if we kinda wrap up where we started there, I honestly, part of what I was excited, because I really liked your vibe when I was on your show and I know that even as we were talking, I know as the therapist and whatever, 1300 couples later, my default at times is to already anticipate the yeah, buts that are happening. But then, you know, the people need to try to understand the things they don't understand and maybe those yeah, buts won't be as strong and that big fear of the unknown that's there. A lot of times I almost feel like as a therapist, I'm trying to walk us gently to discover the unknown. And I feel like sometimes maybe the services you offer saying, hey, here it is. And it works. And I know it works and it's exciting. And then as people, you know that they didn't know that, and so they start moving toward that a little quicker. And then just know that, you can have a good therapist there if that trauma response does come up. Or if you start doing the, okay, everybody else seems to agree, what's wrong with me? Maybe that's then where the work kicks in. So, I love, I love what you're doing, that's awesome. So I'll, I'll put links to everything. I love that. The next retreat you've got is sold out, so get on, get on your waiting list, listen to your podcast and then, we should do this again.

Dan: Yeah. Let's do, let's do, I do, I guess I can announce. We will be having a virtual marriage retreat on June 9th of this year. June 9th is International love making day because it's six nine on a calendar. Get it, and it's also a Friday. And so we're gonna have a two day virtual love making retreat so you and your spouse are, it's up to you to get your own hotel or kick the kids outta the house for the weekend or whatever. And then, we have sessions where we're meeting with you and giving you very specific ideas to help you explore your own eroticism in your own marriage. So you have a very wonderful love making retreat that weekend for the two of you.

Tony: Perfect. All right. Dan, what a, what a joy. Thanks for coming, we'll talk to you again soon and I'll have all the notes that we can put in the show notes and we'll try to get this out pretty quick because I think there's a lot of good stuff here. So thanks for coming on, and thanks for having me on your show. That was a blast. 

Dan: Thanks. My pleasure. 

Tony: Okay. All right. We'll talk again soon. Thanks so much. 

Childhood abandonment and neglect issues can manifest in seemingly unrelated ways in adulthood. In this episode, Tony helps you identify how they show up and how you can help your kids become more emotionally intelligent and resilient. Tony's muse today is an article by Jonice Webb, a licensed psychologist and author of two books, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships with Your Partner, Your Parents, and Your Children He discusses the impact of emotional abandonment and neglect on your children and yourself. Why Emotional Neglect Can Feel Like Abandonment by Jonice Webb Ph.D.

Tony also references the article "Attachment Woes Between Anxious and Avoidant Partners" by Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT from

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Transcript Ep370 Childhood Neglect

Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 370 of the Virtual Couch. I'm your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist. And just go to the show notes, sign up for my newsletter, plain and simple, my wonderful social media agency, the yeah yeah agency continues to knock it out of the park with posts and reels. And this past week we got out a newsletter that features a little bit of everything. So please go follow me on Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn and TikTok. We're getting content out there in hopes of helping people. And I welcome your feedback and your questions and your show ideas. And if you're interested in having me come speak or you name it, just reach out at So let's go on a little bit of a train of thought that leads to today's topic, which I am very excited to talk about because it has to do with everything from being a parent to parenting, to how to teach your kids empathy and emotional resilience, to even maybe doing a little bit of healing that inner child. 

So from time to time, I'll be interviewed by somebody as part of a psychological evaluation or a profile for a client or a client that I've been working with for things like, I don't know everything from child custody arrangements that sort of thing. And I don't actually do the psych evaluations. That's reserved for the likes of a clinical psychologist. And so my role in these evaluations is pretty minor. I'm just typically interviewed and asked my thoughts on some things that it's not typically about, well, it isn't about the kids. It's about the parents and maybe some of the observations that I will see. But on occasion, I also get the opportunity to read the evaluations and they're pretty fascinating. And something that will stand out is the way that the parents will show up in these evaluations. And my goal is never to throw shade or try to shame anybody listening. This is just my observation. 

And as I've been talking a little bit in the, as of late about observation and judgment of Marshall Rosenberg's concepts around nonviolent communication, I'm going to take ownership. That I will observe something, a behavior. And it's pretty natural to make a judgment, but I'm trying to recognize more and more that that is just my judgment of something that I'm observing. So I may see the way that a parent interacts with a kid in line at Walmart and just make that judgment of, oh man, they must be very frustrated or they must not be a very good parent. And then I have to catch myself and say, okay, or I'm observing a parent that appears to be frustrated. And I don't really have context about that at all. Back to these observations, but in these psych evaluations and I'm reading these, it's almost like you'll learn that you're having this incredibly important test, maybe as a parent, one that is going to not only be there's like a written portion, which might be truly a personality test or a profile. But then you also learned that you are going to have an oral portion where you're going to be quizzed by somebody that you find out happens to be an expert at their craft. And there can be some pressure in this interview as well. And you only have a few days to study and you're not even sure what to study. And this particular class has been one that is forged more by participation. So, not only are you not sure what to study, but you're not even sure how to show up with this evaluator. Actually, let me see if this example will work. I'm going to just kind of spitball this one. 

So in this world of examples, let me take you back to the height of my ultra running career. I was putting in a lot of miles. I was doing at the very least about a marathon distance, 20 to 25, 26 miles on a Saturday, and then running throughout the week. And that would be every Saturday and every week. And I was running a race of 32 miles or more, or a 50K once a month with a couple of 50 mile races peppered in there, trying to get in 100K or a 62 mile race, at least one of those. And then I liked having a hundred miler on the calendar every year as well, something in the summer. And I was also running around the track for 24 hours in my town to raise money for local schools. And that was every spring. So on occasion, then, I would run into somebody and they would also claim to be a runner, which is great. But on more than one occasion, I would have somebody come up to me and they would just start telling me what it is like being an ultra runner and almost as if they're wanting validation for the amount that they run, which it wasn't a contest or a competition per se. 

But they would just start telling me the things that I'm sure that we were on the same page about and instead of being more curious because I remember one time in particular, this person was just talking to me a little bit about what we both knew about how the body works when you run long distances. And it was pretty obvious that this person didn't know what they didn't know that they didn't have their own body science down to the amount of calories that they needed to ingest hourly, to offset how many calories their gut could actually take in and process without spilling their contents while fingering the amount of salt tablets necessary to balance the need for electrolytes and knowing what propensity they had to basically sweat, I'm a heavy sweater, versus just water. So you don't experience the fatal condition of hyponatremia. Even better examples: on one occasion, somebody wanted to go on a run with me. They also claimed to be an ultra runner. They later went on to an essence, challenge me to a 50 mile run, even though they had not run since high school. 

And so they, I can only imagine, that they Googled something maybe a day or two before we were going to go out on this long run with a group of other ultra runners. And they must've seen something about vitamins or nutrition in their water. So right before the run, they popped a multivitamin in the bottom of their store-bought water bottle. Just one water bottle while the rest of us there, we had our handheld water bottles or our Camelbak hydration systems along with our gels and our salt tabs and glide to rub on certain parts and pieces of the body that would chafe as you ran for hours. As well as SPF. And these, even these things at the time called Gators that covered your shoes because you're going to be running on the trails and they covered your shoelaces. So you didn't get pokey stickery things in your socks or shoelaces as you ran. So this guy ended up chafed to the point of seeing those two round circles of blood in the front of their shirt. They are, their nipples are rubbed raw. And they were sunburned and they ended up having blisters on their feet from the thick cotton socks and not the type of socks that were made for ultra running. And they were cramping from dehydration and that men's centra multivitamin was still solid as could be in the bottom of that water bottle that he clutched in a death grip as we neared the halfway point of our run, which was an out and back. So thankfully that was at a particular town that we had run to. 

He still had so far to go. So we ended up calling it quits halfway and had somebody come pick them up. But my point is you can't cram for the test or the long run. Or the parenting evaluation. If you haven't already done the work and reading an evaluation or two in my day, it's clear when one parent just shows up with the kids and has things that they normally have with them and the kids do the things they essentially normally do with that parent. And then if a parent has been less involved and I'm not talking about one of the parents, so it works and the other parent doesn't. Because even if you're gone and you work, there are still ways to be intentional about building your relationship and a bond with your kids so that you have a more genuine, authentic relationship with them. So in those reports, it's almost as if the parent who cannot cram for this test. Thanks. Well, what would a, what would a good dad or a good mom do when they're going to be in front of an evaluator so that they look their best? So that evaluator will think the best of the parent. So they go out and they buy coloring books and they buy these fruit snacks and they give them to the kids during the evaluation. And then the kid says out loud why did you get me a coloring book for a five-year-old when I'm eight? Or they say, they hold up the fruit snacks and say, what are these? And then the parent is saying, oh, you know, to the evaluator, you love fruit snacks, kids, and then they look awkwardly at the evaluator saying, you know kids, they're just so nervous around strangers. 

Not knowing what they don't know, not knowing that when their spouse was viewed, interacting with the kids and the evaluator, a couple of days earlier, the son's waving a foot-long beef stick around, like it's a lightsaber and the parent just looks over at the evaluator and said, give them a second to defeat the evil emperor reserve before he eats that bad boy in five bites. No, not four, not six but five. So hopefully you see my point. I want to help you start learning how to create that attachment, that bond with your kids. Not so that you can be more prepared so you eventually go through divorce and you'll know the right beef stick to bring to the psych evaluation, but so that you won't feel like you're ever in a position to be cramming for this parenting evaluation of life. And what comes with that, thank goodness, is an actual relationship with your kids and they start to develop more emotional resilience, or they might even learn concepts around empathy. And you're starting to learn some things yourself, maybe starting to even heal that inner child wound of your own. 

So my muse today is an article. It's a pretty short read, but it's a really good article. By Jonice Webb, who is a licensed psychologist and author of two books: “Overcome your childhood, emotional neglect”, and “Running on empty: Transform your relationships with your partner, your parents, and your children.” And I have a link to both of those in the show notes. And I'm familiar with them. I can be honest and say that I have not read them. I do not own them. But I have been told that these are wonderful books when it comes to talking about ways to heal the emotional neglect or abandonment from your childhood. And this is an article, this is from Psychology Today and I will be reading and commenting on this is why emotional neglect can feel like abandonment. So prior to getting into the meat of the article, she has some key points. She says emotional abandonment can happen silently. And it's not always easy to see because it's something that's happening internally to the child. But ultimately childhood emotional neglect teaches you as a child not only to abandon your emotions, but also abandoning yourself. And she says that many emotionally abandoned adults describe feeling alone or flawed or different from others. And as I'm getting more into helping people through trauma, it is pretty fascinating to see that you can have somebody start to feel where they feel their emotions, this tightness in their chest, or this just churning in their stomach. 

And if you really stop and say, okay, when have you felt that before, often you will recognize that man, I had that feeling when I was a kid and you work through what that memory was about in childhood and you'll find out that, oh, wow. Yeah, my body has been again, my body's been keeping that score my entire life. And so now I ignored that feeling as a child, that gut tummy twisting feeling when I didn't feel like I was heard or seen, or when I felt like I had to be less than, or play small. And now here I am in my adult relationships and oh yeah, that one's familiar. Because it's something that hasn't been worked through. And I know it's not as simple as then just having this aha moment where you say, oh, okay. So I didn't have the support I needed as a kid. And so my body is telling me, hey, this is still an issue. So if I'm seeing that come up in my adult relationship. What an opportunity to work through that. So self confront and then be able to realize, oh, okay. Those feelings made me feel unsafe when I was a kid. But I'm actually an adult now. So if I can get myself into this present moment and know that it's okay to have my own feelings of my emotions, we'll let the healing begin. So Jonice gives an example about abandonment and I really like this. 

She says a rundown building or an old car on the side of the road or a father who hasn't seen his child in years. These are the things that typically come to mind when we think of the word abandonment, but emotional abandonment is very different because it's not noticeable like a rundown building. She said to understand what emotional abandonment feels like. We have to first talk about the inner workings of emotional neglect. So childhood emotional neglect is far more common than you might think. And it happens when parents fail to respond enough to their child's emotional needs. And this is where I just so want right now, if you are a parent and you're thinking, oh, this one doesn't feel very good. This is why I say that we all don't know what we don't know. So rule number one for me is please give yourself grace. Because we don't know what we don't know. And so then how could you possibly know what you don't know? You know? And when you don't know what you don't know, the next thing that you can do from there to grow is now you start to find out things that you didn't know, and that feels uncomfortable. And we are so conditioned to get rid of that discomfort. I don't want to think about this. So I need to hurry up and create a quick narrative of that. No, I don't, this isn't happening in my family. Or well certainly my kids don't feel that way or, well, my parents were good and nice and everybody liked them. So they couldn't have been bad parents. 

And that's where I'm not talking about bad or good or anything like that. Right now we're just talking about, hey, let's get this information out there and let's start to think about it. And then as we think about things and we start to become more aware, we can start to take action on things. So she said that even though it happens in a real simple way, it's not very simple to see. Childhood emotional neglect goes easily undetected. So an outsider might see a kid living in a nice home attending a nice school. Maybe they dress nice. Their parents look the part. But what they don't see is an emotional void creeping through every encounter and experience that a child might have with their parents are all add their caregivers or their teachers or their, anybody that they're interacting with. So she said, even though your emotions may be invisible, they are no less important than your basic needs for food and shelter. In fact, emotional connection is a basic human need. Everybody requires this to thrive in the world. And children need enough emotional response and emotional validation and emotional education to grow into adults. And I like where she goes next. She says that emotions are the biological essence of who you are. Your emotions send you important messages about what to do, when to do it, and why they engage you. They motivate you, they connect you and they guide you to live your life aligned with who you are. And what you value. 

And I think one of the biggest challenges in my opinion is that we form these emotions based off of these experiences that we have in our childhood. And I like the concepts in acceptance and commitment therapy that are saying in essence, things just happen. So you could be really, really good parents. And your child is having their own experience. And it isn't just based on the things that you say or do, although that plays such a major role. But they're also, this is where I go into, it's their birth order. It's their own DNA, their genetic makeup. It's the places that you live. It's the sounds that they hear, it's the people that they interact with. It's the friends that they have. It's the school that they go to. So much goes into making you who you are. Again, that concept around implicit memory or what it feels like to be you is based off of the slow residue of lived experience. And those lived experiences are happening every second that you are alive. And so they are making an imprint on what it feels like to be you. So these emotions, especially as a kid, are there to guide us, but so often we stuff those emotions and we're teaching ourselves that I can't express my emotions. And as a matter of fact, I need to start managing the emotions of other people. 

So if I'm a kid and I grew up in a little bit of a chaotic home or one, or both of my parents are really struggling with their own mental health or financial issues or, you know, faith journeys or crises or job loss and any of these things, then they're putting out an energy or a vibe in the air. And so when a kid is wanting to play, explore and to grow. And to just be, oftentimes that might be, for lack of a better word, it might come across as somewhat annoying to a parent that is going through something in that moment. And so instead of turning to that kid and saying, man, here's my chance to give them the external validation they need so that they know that I'm a safe, secure place. The parent might not be aware of what they're not aware of and they might be withdrawn or shut down. And then the kid comes to them and says, in essence, do you see me? And if the parent says, hey, not right now, champ. Then it's, it's not a stretch to think that the kid may start to feel small or less than, or like, okay, well, I need to figure out when am I allowed to show my emotion and when am I not? Or this is the part where sometimes if we, as parents, think that we're doing the right thing. We could actually be telling our kids that, hey, suppress that emotion of yours. Why don't you? So if a kid is angry or frustrated about something at work, if a kid is frustrated about something that they've experienced at school, they come home and they're angry and the parent just says, man, not right now. I've got enough on my plate. So, you know, you need to, you just need to get over it. Or you need to think of others, or you need to realize that that anger is going to get you nowhere and you just need to, you just need to not worry about things. 

So many of those things that we say somewhat impulsively when we're not as aware as we need to be, are basically communicating to a kid, hey stuff those emotions. And again, those emotions are there naturally as a guide. So then if we grow up and we're stuffing those emotions and we're questioning those emotions and we're trying to figure out how to manage other people's emotions, then it can lead to things like not being able to set boundaries or not being able to just stand up for oneself. And we find ourselves often just caught up in these emotionally immature relationships, because we don't feel like we can be ourselves or we don't want to make anybody else uncomfortable. So back to the article from Jonice, she said, and again, I'll repeat this, emotions are the biological essence of who you are and they send you important messages about what to do when to do it. And why. So she said, when you experience emotional neglect as a child, you are kept in the dark from this rich and engaging emotional world. You incorrectly learn that your feelings aren't important. So let's start even looking at you in the present day as an adult. Then, have you experienced this emotional neglect, whether it's in your childhood or whether it's in your relationship right now? Because if so, and if you are trying to manage your spouse's emotions or your, the person that has to just control the environment, you're missing out on what she says is this rich and engaging emotional world when you can really embrace your emotions, listen to your body, let your body not just keep the score. But trust your gut. Let your body guide. 

Then what it starts to feel like to be you as somebody who takes action on things that matter, because you start to figure out what matters because you are the only version of you. So what matters to you is actually what matters to you? So she says ultimately, childhood emotional neglect teaches you to not only abandon your emotions. But also abandon yourself. She said three emotional needs of every child and adult. First an emotional response, and I love this one and the nurtured heart approach, my parenting approach of choice. I feel like this is the concept they call active recognition. If one of my kids walks in the room, it’s as simple as saying Jake, you know, or say, hey, what's up Mac, Alex, what's going on? And because you're literally just sending this message of I see you. And that leads to an even deeper emotional response, because if all of a sudden you don't even acknowledge your kid, but then you out of the blue say, hey, I noticed she got quiet. Are you sad? All of a sudden, it feels like, oh, I'm being interrogated. The spotlight's on me. Hey, why do you care, old man? You know, you don't even know I exist half the time. So that act of recognition, that emotional response, I see you as so important to get to that point where, hey, I noticed you got quiet right now. What's going on? Tell me more. Are you sad? 

Because you're trying to start to develop this secure attachment with your kid where they really can open up. Or feel safe enough to share, because again, we so often as parents say, hey, you know, you can come and talk to me about anything, because that feels good for me to say that boy that alleviates my discomfort. I'm already filling out my application for dad of the year after that one. But if they show up late for curfew or they get caught stealing something or they get a ticket or they're smoking pot or something like that, then they want to talk to you about it. And you're like, oh, really. Are you not disappointed? I am. So what a mixed message I just sent there. You know, hopefully now we're ripping up my dad of the year application. Being able to say or provide that secure attachment and that emotional safety starts with that emotional response. I see you. I see you're disappointed, man, I can see that you're angry right now. Jonice says it's crucial that parents notice what their child is feeling and communicating it to them. 

This teaches a child that their emotions are important and that other people see them and notice them. Responding to a child's emotions sends the message that their feelings are real and they deserve attention. And this sets a precedent for how your child responds to their own feelings in the future. Now I want to take a quick side note here and talk about what we do with our discomfort. So when our kids are sad or when our kids are angry or frustrated, even if we are not experiencing some traumatic event at that moment, we often, though, want to get rid of our own discomfort. We might not even be aware that it's discomfort by saying something very motivational. Hey, bud, you know what. Things are gonna happen in your life and you just need to learn how to deal with them. While that may sound like solid advice, what we're saying is, hey bud, stuff those emotions and feelings down and only come to me when you're saying things that make me feel better, when you're saying things that make me go, that's my boy. Instead of things that, where you say, oh, man, tell me more about that. 

So that leads to number two. She says, this is again, I'm emotional. Three emotional needs of every child and adult emotional validation. Saying things like that makes so much sense that you're sad, I can see that. And I'm here for you while you're feeling this. Or man, I would feel disappointed too. Of course you're feeling disappointed. It's a bummer when things don't work out the way that we want them to. Now did you hear that? I didn't. Didn't say, but you just need to know. No, that's it. That is a bummer. Or I can, I feel like I can, I hear you. I feel like I can understand why you're angry. Um, tell me more about that. And boy, yeah, that doesn't sound very fair that that happened to you. And that doesn't mean that now queue up my old high school story of where things weren't fair for me either. Because this is a moment that we're not going to make it about us. We're going to sit there with that discomfort and sit in that pain. And that emotion and those big emotions with our kids, I'm here with you. I'm here beside you. And it may feel just natural to say, let me guide you out of this. And there might be a time for that after the person feels heard and understood. Jonice has said that children need to know that their feelings make sense and that they're valid. Again, a kid gets their sense of self from external validation. Not from being told what to do, how to think and what your experience was. So they need to know that their, they exist that their emotions are valid. So when you affirm a child's emotional experience, let them know that what they're experiencing makes some sense. It's understandable. I can understand. And this is a little bit, I get that. 

This is a little contrary to when I talk about adults and emotional relationships where we may say, I know exactly what you're going through and you don't, and it can feel very invalidating when you're starting to teach a kid emotional validation and that their feelings matter. Then that's when we, where we are going to be a little bit more of a guide in that sense and say, man, I hear you. And that makes a lot of sense. I appreciate your sharing that. And so that would be hard. So again, she says, when you affirm a child's emotional experience, you let them know that what they're experiencing is understandable to others. Because she says, since emotions are the deepest, most personal expression of who a child is validating their emotions confirms that they are there to guide and that you are there to guide them. And they should be listened to. So they'll let the third thing, the third need she talks about is that emotional education. You know, you seem sad. I can tell by that look on your face. So let's talk. Because I want to understand what's going on. And who knows you might even feel better after talking this out. Or saying things like, I know you had your hopes up and it can be really disappointing when things don't work out our way or work out the way that you want them to. So it makes sense. It's okay to feel this way right now. And, you know, I feel like these hard feelings will pass. But boy, you got to give it some time. 

Or I know you're angry. I would be angry if that happened to me too. And here's where we can start to do with that emotional education. You know, I feel like anger often gives us energy to take action when something isn't right. Let's talk more about your anger, what your anger feels like. And I don't know, what do you want to do, take me on your train of thought. Let me understand. What do you feel like doing when you're angry? Jonice says that children are not born understanding emotions and how they work. I would add to that. I don't feel like many adults really understand their own emotions either. So she said just like going to school and learning about anatomy or history, for example, we also need to learn about emotions. And she says, well, the school system can be a great way to increase the child's emotional knowledge. The best place for learning about emotional resiliency is in your own home. From the people that the kids interact with on a day-to-day basis, their best models and teachers, their parents. I threw in my notes that just referencing an article attachment was between anxious and avoidant partners by Darlene Lancer, this is a Virtual Couch episode I did quite a while ago. 

And it might seem like I'm just cramming this in there. But I think that if we just keep in mind what if we are telling our kids to stuff their emotions, how that can show up later in life. I'm gonna read a couple paragraphs from this, Attachment woes between anxious and avoidant partners. Darlene said that attachment theory is determined that the pursuer has an anxious attachment style. And that the more emotionally unavailable partner, which maybe we would call the withdrawer, has an avoidance style and research suggests that these styles and intimacy problems originate in the relationship between the mother and infant. Babies and toddlers are dependent on their mothers, empathy and regard for their needs and emotions in order to sense themselves or to feel whole. Now I would, of course, add that a dad plays a role in this too. But to an infant or toddler, physical or emotional abandonment, whether through neglect and this is what I appreciate about this article, illness, divorce, or death threatens its existence because of its co because of its dependency on the mother for validation and development of wholeness. So later as an adult being separated in intimate relationships, that experience is a painful reminder of this earlier loss in childhood. 

Darlene said that if the mother is ill or depressed or lacks wholeness, and self-esteem, then there are often no boundaries between her and her child. So rather than responding to her child, she projects and sees the child only as an extension of herself. And as an object to meet her own needs and feelings. And let me say that as a person who works in the world of emotional immaturity and narcissistic traits and tendencies, all the way up to full blown narcissistic personality disorder. I'm going to add, I feel very strongly that the dad is playing quite a role in this as well, because that line, if the rather than responding to the child, if the emotional immature male then projects and sees the child as an extension of himself, or as an object to meet his own needs and feelings, then the kid can't value themselves as a separate self. The child's boundaries are violated and their autonomy, their feelings, their thoughts, their body, or disrespected. So consequently, the child does not develop a healthy sense of self and instead, he or she discovers that love and approval. Come with meeting the mother or I'll add the father's needs. And they tune into the parents' responses and expectations. Again, trying to manage the emotions of a parent. That's not fair for the kids. 

This also leads to shame and codependency because the child learns to please or perform or rebel. But in any case, gradually tunes out their own thoughts and their needs and their feelings. So then later, intimacy, emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, verbal intimacy. Any of those may threaten that adult sense of autonomy or identity, and they may feel invaded or engulfed, controlled, shamed, rejected. So the person might feel both abandoned if his or her feelings and needs are not being responded to. But at the same time and engulfed by the needs of his or her partner. That's the part I thought was so deep where we can grow up saying no, of course I want to be heard. Of course I want to be seen and known, and I want people to be curious about me. But if we didn't have that relationship with our parents growing up, all of a sudden, our partner does turn their eyes toward us and starts to become very curious. It can feel overwhelming. Darlene said in codependent relationships where there aren't two separate, but whole people coming together. This is where I love saying that we are trying to become two interdependent, differentiated people with our own styles and our own experiences. And now we can come together in a way of being curious about each other's experience, but that isn't an all or nothing either, or right or wrong sense. It's two people that have their own experiences in life. Because again, she says in codependent relationships where there aren't two separate whole people coming together, true intimacy is not possible because of the fear of non-existence. And disillusion is so strong. 

So back to Jonice, she comments in her article talking about emotional abandonment. So how exactly does childhood emotional neglect feel like abandonment? She said the many folks who have experienced childhood emotional neglect say, but I had everything as a kid and they described having things like a home and food desk and school supplies. But the, and even the latest toys or perhaps a bike and eventually a car to drive. So their physical needs were met and they might've been met well, and this world of emotional immaturity or narcissism, I find out so often why physical things and in particular money holds such value. You know, if you leave you'll, you know, you'll never have another truck like this, so you won't have a home like this or you won't be able to afford the life that you want. Because to that person growing up, those physical needs were met. So those physical needs sometimes are in the same frame as love. So to the emotionally immature person, that's how they then start to communicate I love you by providing the gifts, the money, the physical things. I find myself doing this as I wake up to my own emotional immaturity, where, when I am just feeling like, oh my gosh, I just love these kids so much. I might even express it, but I still find myself going into my wallet almost to say, here's what love looks like. 

So Jonice said, though, did your parents meet your emotional needs that they teach you how to identify, name, respond to, validate, and express your emotion. Emotions talked about many times the emotionally neglected people that described their physical needs as being well met, have trouble remembering deep and meaningful memories from their childhood. They describe feeling alone or different from others as adults, even if they had positive childhood experiences. So parents may be fine at fulfilling the physical needs of their children, but sometimes without even knowing it. They may fail to fulfill the emotional needs that are necessary for life. Let me go through this quickly. She talks about why emotional neglect can feel like abandonment. She said, number one, lack of response, children, experience their emotions in an unfiltered raw, and sometimes overwhelming sort of way. And that's because they are new to developing their relationships with their feelings. They don't understand what their feelings are there to tell them. Or what they want or what they need, and that those are essential tools for life. So when parents don't respond to the emotions enough, their lack of response can start to feel like abandonment. The kid starts to put themselves out there over and over again. And then if the parent is just inconsistent in the way they show up, or if they show up at all, then as a kid, you're left feeling alone and confused, and you don't really have this chance to develop a healthy relationship with your emotions because you're not sure if they're okay to have or not. The second thing she says is lack of validation. The children need their experiences normalized. When your child grows bigger, they receive confirmation from others around them. All your kids are getting so big. Pretty soon, you'll be a big girl in middle school. So this child then understands, oh, it's okay to grow. That's to be expected. I loved Jonice’s example here. But parents don't communicate to their children that their feelings are normal and okay. Then it might be okay to grow in size, but it's not okay to express your feelings and emotions. So then the children start to assume that their feelings don't make sense. And I hear that every day in my practice where people will say, I don't know if that makes any sense. I don't know how to express this. 

I don't know if this makes any sense at all. If you're understanding what I'm saying. And that's where I just often will say, oh, hey, don't invalidate yourself. This is how you feel. This is the way you were expressing it. Often the kids without validation, just hold this belief that their feelings are bad. Or perhaps that you're bad, we're having the feelings and that sets you up to feel inferior to others, in comes shame, that I am a bad person. The last thing she says is lack of emotional education. And I feel like this is the thing that we just don't do well at all, but it's because I don't think we know what we don't know. She said children aren't born with emotional knowledge. They need help. They need help understanding where their feelings come from and what they mean, how to identify them and their bodies, where they are in their bodies, how to interpret and express them to others. So without education and guidance from parents, they aren't equipped with emotional intelligence. Again, I go back to, I don't think most parents have emotional intelligence. So emotional intelligence, emotional intelligence is something that can help you build healthy relationships with yourself and others and adulthood. The world of emotions to the emotionally neglected feels foreign and absolutely unsafe. So we may try to get her emotions out there in little bits and pieces. 

But especially if you're in an emotionally immature relationship, when somebody responds with even just a furrow of their brow or a sigh or an eye roll. Oh, you know, I'm not going to express that it looks apparently like that's wrong. So she says, what do you do from here? If you're identifying with childhood emotional neglect and you recognize these feelings of emotional abandonment, you are absolutely not alone. And this is where she's saying it. And as a therapist, I will say it. Recovery is possible. Get help. Go talk to somebody that can help you sort through these things. Start paying attention to your feelings when you listen, you'll soon hear that you're feeling, send you messages from your deepest self messages that are incredibly useful. And oftentimes when we're trying to just express those as an adult, and they come out of nowhere and our partner is not somebody that we necessarily feel safe with. And if they say, whoa, I did that that's crazy. I never knew you felt that way. Then we don't know. We, I want somebody to say, oh, well, you've just said, that feels crazy, but that feels crazy to you. I'm expressing my emotions. So, yeah, I do feel this way. So remembering these messages, these emotions, these feelings, they inform you about your likes and dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses, your ability to make decisions, what you want, need, what makes you happy or what hurts you? And that is how you feel. And that is okay. So when somebody else says, you know, you don't actually think that way, you don't really mean that because I know you better than you know yourself. 

Let's say it's a load of crap. I don't know if that's a psychological term or not. That is not helpful. We'll put it that way. So even though it might be scary when you turn your focus inward to your emotional world, your feelings of abandonment will diminish. You'll no longer need to ignore or discredit yourself. When Jonice says, when you choose your feelings, you choose yourself and you won't regret it. So I hope something resonated here and that this wasn't leaving you feeling like I'm a horrible parent or person because give yourself grace again, we don't know what we don't know. And the only thing that you do not, the only thing sounds so dramatic. But something powerful that you can do is start to be aware, even if you don't feel like you know how to take action yet and validate your kids and say, tell me more and sit with that discomfort. You're aware and don't I hope you won't look at that as, man. I don't know what I'm not doing. I'm not being consistent because we go from, we don't know what we don't know to now we know, but we don't really do a lot about it. That's normal. And eventually we do more about it than we don't do. And finally, we just become, we become this better person. We become somebody who expresses our emotions. We become somebody that can sit with their own discomfort and validate what's going on in our children's lives. And sometimes people even have to get out of unhealthy relationships in order to be able to breathe and to be able to express themselves and feel like it's okay to be them. 

And that's okay. Because this is your life. This is your world. This is your experience. And as we get out of these enmeshed codependent relationships, that's part of the emotional maturation process. That's part of, I feel like why we're here on earth to grow and learn and become, and do, and be, and let our light so shine so that others around us won't feel small, but they'll also have the, they feel like they have the right, I guess, to be able to express themselves as well, we have that opportunity to model that to people around us, if we can find that from within ourselves. 

Have an amazing week. Let me know if you have questions, thoughts. I'm grateful as always for those who are continuing to listen, however many, seven years later. Taking us out per usual, and this is so, so appropriate for today. The wonderful, the talented, Aurora Florence with her song, “It's wonderful” because man, when you start to tap into all this stuff, it really can be pretty wonderful. Have a great week. We'll see you next week on the Virtual Couch. 

Tony gives a "state of the union" address on working with people struggling with turning to pornography as a coping mechanism. He then interviews Chandler Rogers, CEO of Relay, an app that helps people stay connected and accountable on their recovery journey. Relay makes it easy to connect with a shame-free support group, an essential tool helping access recovery tools. 

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Chandler Rogers Relay Transcript

Tony: Chandler Rogers, welcome to the Virtual Couch. How are you doing?

Chandler: Great. Happy to be here. Thanks, Tony.

Tony: Yeah, and Chandler and I were talking off the air. That's the official term, right? Like what the kids call it. And I, and the platform I'm using right now, which I'm not talking about openly just yet, because I had one bad experience, but other than that it's been amazing and Chandler has been a part of one experience where it didn't go so well. So, there's a part of me that is gun shy. We're gonna probably spin some gold and then the file's gonna be corrupt. 

Chandler: Let's pray for some good luck today.

Tony: There you go. Let's just go for it. So Chandler, I think it's kind of funny, the way that you and I met was through the co-founder of the company that you work with named, Jace. And then Jace, talking about the way back machine, I think is like a nephew or something. To some friends of mine from high school, and I'm a very old man. So when they reached out to me and said, hey, we want to put you in contact with our nephew, honestly, I'm so used to people saying, because he needs therapy, right? And so then I half read the message and I think that's why I didn't get back quick because you know, I thought, oh, bless his heart, I don't know if I can help, but man, once I started reading why we're talking, it's kinda exciting. So maybe, why don't you tell my listeners, why are we talking, what are you guys, what are you doing?

Chandler: Yeah, so, you know, struggling with pornography was something that was always kind of a theme for me growing up, and one of the big lessons that is key to my story is realizing that not only was I not alone, but it is so much more effective to work through this not alone, to band together with other people who are in the same boat and to find a strong support system. We can talk, you know, more about this later in the episode, but Jace and I served, you know, in the same mission together for the LDS church. We went to New York City, we were out there and actually a big part of what we spent time doing those two years was helping a lot of people overcoming various addictions. And so it resonated with me a lot with my personal story and he and I came back to school and we were both in a coding class together, and I basically pitched him on the idea, like, let's build an app. And everyone was building kind of these random things that like no one was gonna use whatever people were building. It was just a project. But I was like, hey, what if we build something that actually could be meaningful? 

And then built something actually totally not related to addiction. So we were like, maybe it would be, maybe it'd be cool to have an app that makes it easier for long distance family members. So kids that have gone off to college or moved outta the house, or even extended family, like grandparents. What if there's a platform better than other social media that was tailored towards families, helping them stay connected. And I think it was an interesting idea, but just didn't really get any, you know, traction to it, but I continued to think about some of the pain points and things that I had experienced and talked to a lot of friends who had experienced with overcoming pornography and continued to come back to a few themes. And we just realized we wanted to try to help make a difference, particularly in making it easier for people to find a good support system. That's what we ended up doing. 

Tony: How long does it take to, this is kind of cool, how long did it take to build?

Chandler: Yeah. So we were total noobs at the beginning. We had no idea what we were doing. We were not like these engineering wizards going into this. Okay, I won't say we're engineering wizards now, you know, hopefully the users on the app don't know that, but no, it probably took us six months to get the first version out there, so it wasn't terribly long. But we learned a ton along the way. Tons of fun from a learning perspective, but meaningful at the same time because we were trying to actually get something that worked and actually worked really well into people's hands. 

Tony: So was this the classic, this was the project that you were doing for school and then you end up getting a bad grade, but go on to make millions of dollars? I mean, are you starting with that? 

Chandler: Well, the end of the story still has yet to be written. So millions of dollars, definitely not, you know, haven't paid ourselves anything from it yet, but, it quickly transitioned from just a project to, we were graduating and we had other job offers, like Jace was gonna go to Apple and do much cooler things there, probably. But, you know, we had started to actually see some really good signs of traction. And we had launched the app like six months before we graduated, and I think we had five or 600 paying users on the product that were interacting in these small, tight-knit teams. And they were getting, you know, results.Like we weren't necessarily, you know, nailing every aspect of it. And the way we look at it is like, we wanna continue to improve this thing for years, so it's not done, but we were really excited about what we were seeing so far, and we realized that we care a lot about helping people more than going and, you know, working for big tech companies. And so we decided this is what we wanna do. And so we didn't show up to our other jobs and instead we're doing this now full-time. 

Tony: Okay. And so then the, and it's funny, full transparency, I didn't read the material initially and then I had a client where he was looking for something from an accountability standpoint, and then I was trying to sound really cool and I said, oh, I think I've got like a really cool, brand new thing that nobody knows about. And then I, and then when I started reading about it, then I really did feel like I could see how interesting or important this could be in the world of addiction, because the connection is so important. And I feel like I've facilitated 12 step groups forever. You know, I've worked with, I don't know, I think 1500 plus individuals trying to overcome pornography or other unhealthy coping mechanisms. And I feel like there's that part where the one-on-one concept of an accountability partner sounds great, but then I find that, man, it's one of those things where it sounds good until it doesn't, until they can't get ahold of somebody until they feel like the person's gonna, you know, they're just checking a box until they feel like they're bothering somebody. Or, I mean, so is that kind of some of the things that you guys ran into? Or why you created it?

Chandler: I remember from my story growing up, like I, you know, for many years thought, you know, let's try to do this on my own. Right? And so this is even a step before what you're talking about and quickly realize, I think that it just, A, sucks to try to get through this alone, it's really miserable. And then B, I just realized that it wasn't very effective. Like they, there's a, I think things about trying to work through a personal challenge like this and, and even other, you know, challenges not pornography, I think human beings I don't believe are designed to just navigate these personal trials alone.I think even like between us and God, like from a faith perspective, I think God wants us to leverage each other and work together. We're placed on this world together for a reason, I believe, but yeah, I think, you know, when I started adding just my bishop, my church leader as my one accountability person, just my therapist at another point in time, or just my wife, you know, in our marriage. None of those setups worked very well, and all of them actually were really tough for me personally because I had an existing relationship with them. So for me, the shame factor was magnified. Because I was like, yeah, it was, it was either kind of checking the box or there was a little bit of extra barrier to be honest, just because I hated letting them down and I felt like I was letting myself down when I let them down. 

Because I think what I struggle with internally really with this challenge growing up was like, from the outside, people saw Chandler Rogers as this kid who was like doing well in a lot of things and did well at school and sports and like, and career stuff, right? And, at least I thought like no one would know the side of me and think that I'm the same person. So I struggle with this concept of self-worth, but I think a lot of people can struggle with this and still be a good person, still be a good follower of God, husband, like whatever it is, career professional. And, I think I had this light bulb moment as I realized I needed to expand my support system. Like at the same time I realized that it's not how many days in a row that I haven't looked at pornography that defines how solid of a person I am. We're all struggling with really difficult things and it's okay to be working through compulsive behavior and it's okay to need a wider support system to help them through it.

Tony: So tell me about how, I mean, I really am curious, I was joking with you beforehand of okay, I really wanna hear your story, I won't get into the nitty gritty of the product, but I really like this a lot because I do feel like, I always talk about, you know, you got your trigger. And with porn, I think it's more, it's typically, I call it crimes of opportunity. Somebody's bored or they just can, and so then, you know, you have the thought I could do this, and then the action, and I always say it's putting distance between thought and action. So I feel like that's where this could really come in handy of just to try to make a connection period that it isn't, hey, I'm struggling or, so what does it look like? What do you do? What's your group look like? How do you reach out to people within the app?

Chandler: Yeah, totally. So when I come into the app, the first thing that it will help me do is get matched with four to eight other people that are in the same boat as me working through the same thing in a way that's not scary and awkward. So it's not me having to go to my roommates or my buddies from work and having to open up. But these are people who are actively working towards the same goal. So I go through a little questionnaire and it helps first, find a team for me. Or if I'm already with an existing group, we have a lot of people in the app that are meeting, you know, Wednesday nights and they're using the app with their existing group because they realize, and this was my experience with the 12 step group or other programs that our group based the other six days of the week, we largely did not leverage that group and it was super dumb on us.

Tony: No, I think, and I think this would be amazing because the group, I do have my Path Back men's group is just growing and I feel like we all dig each other so much, but then people talk about, they look forward to yeah, the one hour on Wednesday and then there's this just, exactly.

Chandler: Yeah. It's like unsurprisingly, you know, WhatsApp and GroupMe weren't built to help recovery groups stay connected and accountable in an effective way. You know, they're good chat, you know, messaging platforms, but so, so this theme of like, what, what really is, it's more than a group chat. There is the group chat component, but once I'm in the group, we actually, on the connection component, we try to help make it easier for you to stay connected with your, whether it's like more than just that Wednesday night group or if it's a group that you're, you know, not meeting with live, we just help facilitate connections. So for example, we have some guided conversation prompts that will get auto generated or, or we'll help people select meaningful conversation prompts that we've worked with other clinicians to help, you know, generate different ways in which we can help people go deeper and form connection that's not just based around guys talking about how are you doing with porn today, but actually like what we were talking about, like, more substance than that. And also focusing on, you know, higher up the chain, I think on what's helpful. 

But then what's really helpful, I think a lot of people have found about the app is this red flag feature. So a lot of people, I remember we'd come to group and we'd be like, hey, I had a setback or relapse this week. The guys are like, why didn't you reach out in the group chat? And I'm like, I have no idea. And so we tested this out early on and we didn't actually think this would be the thing people loved about the app, but it's really simple. It's literally just this button that's a flag that you press with one tap instead of having to type out a message and say, hey, I'm not doing well, or I'm feeling tempted right now. It can send a notification and it just lets the group, it doesn't even have to be like that you're tempted right now, we're trying to help train the emotional awareness piece like you were talking about, like I'm feeling bored. And I'm feeling stressed or anxious or whatever it is. That'd be a red flag. And then what's really cool is people want to respond to the red flags. So people I think are just as excited about how do I give support through Relay and not just get support. And I think that's helped a lot of people too, as we're trying to reduce the friction so that, you know, I can turn outwards a little easier than having to, you know, go through my phone and text people and ask how they're doing. There's a little bit more visibility in the app there. And so there are kind of like these daily check-ins too that I can schedule and customize that are more emotional oriented to help me understand that I am feeling bored in the first place so that I can raise the red flag and even if I don't raise that red flag, we have kind of some transparency and we're still maintaining user privacy and making it so it is, it is your personal journey, but for example, let's say, Tony, that I log this morning that I'm feeling stressed or tired cause I didn't get good sleep and you're in my group, you could actually come in and see, even if I didn't throw that red flag, that I was feeling stressed and tired and you could reach out to me and be there for me.

Tony: So could you even say, hey, what's the, what's up with the sleep? I mean, is it literally like, you can see, it looks like Chandler slept three and a half hours? 

Chandler: Not that level of detail. Just like it's kinda logging, I'm feeling tired, I'm feeling bored. And usually, that's sparking conversations like, hey man, you've been putting that you've been feeling bored every day for the last few days you know, do you, do you have anything meaningful going on with work right now? Getting engaged in these different areas of your life. It's helping draw that awareness for people. The other component, kind of on the flip side of the coin is maybe you already have some things that you are trying to work on. So I am trying to spend, you know, time journaling every day to help me, you know, be more aware or I'm trying to exercise to be engaged in that area, my physical health, users can track that in the app. It's not just logging your sobriety with pornography, it's tracking those types of things. And then we're helping also surface that as a group so they can hold each other accountable on those types of things. And I can say, hey man, like how's your exercise going? I know you've been wanting to get more engaged in that area. 

Tony: So okay, I'm thinking through this from the therapist lens of, we need, you know, I tell people all the time, all right, we need to go from not needing external validation to validating yourself internally, but then the reality is we still want, we sometimes want the attaboys, the kudos, and I feel like this is the challenge when somebody's accountability partner is their spouse or their bishop or somebody like that of where, I don't know it, sometimes it can almost seem pretty clingy or needy to then say, hey, I'm, you know, I'm exercising, you know, and I know that if the spouse is having a struggle or if they feel like if I don't give him praise and then he acts out, then he's gonna turn it on me, or, so I like this concept of we got a group of people and maybe it's a little easier to say to a group of guys, hey, I need some, I need some attaboys today. Because I feel like if you got a bunch of guys that want the words of affirmation as a way to connect that they're probably more willing to give it in other than a spouse that's saying, okay, if I don't respond or I respond the wrong way, for some reason, you know, maybe in the past it's been turned around and put on that spouse because you know, I think I see that all as a therapist.

Chandler: It can be super hard. I think, you know, tons of therapists that I've talked to have all sorts of thoughts about why the spouse is kind of the primary accountability is hard for both people. And so I think spouses actually have loved Relay, maybe even more than the dudes themselves, because they're like, okay, because I remember my wife asking me early on, she was like, so you've been open and like went to groups and stuff. She's like, you have all these people in your phone as contacts that you could be working more proactively with staying accountable to just connecting with more. But it sounds like I'm like your only accountability partner. Like I was being open with her, you know, what she wanted. And we talked about what was gonna work for us, but she kind of nudged me and she was like, why are you not like, I need it to not just be me essentially. And I think that's been really helpful for a lot of spouses.

Tony: It's funny too, part of when I started my group and no, I mean, 12 step groups work for so many people. They've been around for such a long time. But the part with the no crosstalk, and I understand that that's protecting people from the, you know, the grizzled sea captain in the corner that's saying, you don't get a kid, you know, or that kind of thing. But I feel like I kind of want some crosstalk from time to time with people. What's working for you? What's not working for you? And I even feel like in my, in my men's group, I've got some stuff I want to share. We've got some questions or prompts. And so I even feel like at times there's not enough of that, tell me about a victory or tell me what's working for you. So I'd imagine this would probably give a way to facilitate more of that too. 

Chandler: Yeah. Maybe we're a little rebellious, it is more of the latter and not kind of the traditional avoiding crosstalk. But I mean, those are things that for me personally and as I've talked to tons of other guys, I think they feel kind of energized having that. And I don't think it's absolutely, it's not a silver bullet, right? Like it's not, you know, it's not something someone's gonna say as a brilliant idea of what's working for them. That's probably gonna change the game for me, but I think having that environment can be really helpful. 

Tony: No, I like what you're saying because I do, one of my go-to lines is when somebody comes in and they've worked with other people in the past and I will often just say, hey, are you expecting that I've got some magic pill or secret phrase that once you learn and this thing's gonna be easier. And I've been talking a lot lately too, Chandler, about, I feel like it's, I've been calling it an individualized customized treatment program for each individual because I feel like my path back program is gold and if people adhere to it, then it's gonna change their whole life. But, I know that everybody's got their own stuff they bring to the table. And so anyway, I'm now, I feel like I'm now singing your praises, I just like that idea of a connection with a small group or even a larger group of people. I like the idea of hitting a red flag instead of even saying I'm struggling. And then I like the idea that you can have a variety of ways to respond because I like, and so I'll have clients from time to time. I'll say, you can text me, I might end up just sending you a meme or something. And I dunno, so can you guys do that within the app? 

Chandler: That’s been one of our most requested features, Tony. I didn't realize that the memes were gonna be a huge part of it, but they were like, hey, we need to send these gifs, however you pronounce it, right? We're working on that right now actually.

Tony: Okay, so then do you guys have, and not that you have to have data or results or it shows that it helps you know this much more, or do you have that kind of data behind this as well? 

Chandler: One of the things that we've actually been tracking that we are interested in is people's perception of how they feel like things are trending because we can't see and they're logging, you know, if they are logging it, there's sobriety data, right? Like how are the results going from an outcome perspective? And then we can see, which I think is even a little more interesting, how are people doing at those input type goals and systems and habits? Like I'm tracking my exercise, my sleep, my journal, spiritual habits, whatever it is, but we're asking people in a weekly reflection how they feel about the level of connection with their group because really one of the main outcomes we want is to help people feel more connected. And then we're asking them how they feel, do they feel like things are getting better, staying the same or getting worse? And 79% of our users report feeling like things are getting better within the first month of using the app. So that's kinda the main, you know, data we've found so far. And it's still early. Like we launched this thing a year ago but we're really excited and one of the things that I believe in to keep improving the results there is I want our users to talk to me. And so I make my phone number and my email very available because I just want to understand what people find really effective in the app and what they wish was different. And that's how people are like, yeah, I wanna send memes. And we're like, okay, we can go add that. 

Tony: I noticed on the website too, Johann Hari, I dig, yeah, that, so that Ted talk, I mean the connection's the opposite of addiction. So is that a lot of what this, the whole concept is based off of? 

Chandler: Yeah. And it, I would say too, like that that talk was one of the things that really connected the dots for me. And he really just talks about a few studies that they'd done. Even with substance abuse, so not just pornography addiction, they found that connection.

Tony: The rat amusement park, isn't it? Do you know that one off the top of your head, Chandler? I was just telling this in one of the groups. 

Chandler: I’ll try to summarize this so I may butcher it. 

Tony: I literally just had somebody text it to me a couple days ago, so no, let's talk about this before we wrap up.

Chandler: So I believe what happened, they had these rats in a cage, right? And I can't remember what the substance was. It was essentially they laced the water with…

Tony: They said it was cocaine, I believe it was. Is that what it was? 

Chandler: Yeah, that sounds right. So they laced the water with cocaine and of course, essentially they found the rats wanted the cocaine water but the thing was that these rats were alone. They were individually contained like in their own cages. And then they set up the second test essentially with the rats together. So they had companionship, they had other rats with them. And what they found is actually that they stopped choosing the cocaine water and then said they essentially were choosing socialization and connection. And they reviewed the study multiple times and concluded there was something about connection that helped. I don't know if it is, you know, scientifically rewiring or just helping the healing process of overcoming compulsive behavior, and so that, you know, whether or not that's kind of a, I don't know, like a really clear cut principle or how that actually applies or what exactly that means for it to work. I don't know. But generally I think about the principle connection, helping and actually being central to the healing process. Not just trying to figure out, how do I stop a behavior? How do I get more meaningfully connected in my life and in my relationships and I think even connected with the things that I'm doing in a good way. Like you were talking about, whether it's my work or my family or other things.

Tony: Well, I was gonna say before, and that was before we jumped on, I told Chandler, and I think most of the people that listen to my podcast, if I tell them I don't do enough, I don't talk enough about this, but, yeah, I say that turning to porn is a coping mechanism when you don't feel connected in your marriage or your parenting, your health, your faith or your career in a nutshell. And I pulled up this study and I do, I love it. He says, Rat Park. They don't drink the drugged water. It was everything the rat could want food and other rats to befriend and colored things, shiny things. And then both water bottles are there, one with water and one with the drugged water, and they don't drink the drugged water.They hardly used it. None of them overdosed and so he talked about how addiction is largely an adaptation to your environment. And so I just, I think that's so fascinating because I often say even when people accept the fact that they can maybe drink the water or they can turn to porn, they would rather make a connection or do something that is of value because then they feel a greater sense of purpose. I like that a lot. Okay. So where do people find you? Where do we go? 

Chandler: It's join

Tony: Join So, okay. Chandler, anything else that you want to share? I mean, I just, first of all, can I ask you, can you tell if you or Jace are the better coder? I mean, is that, is that a thing?

Chandler: Well, I'll give that title to Jace for sure. He has a lot more of it these days than I do. I've, you know, I stepped away from doing that a ton. Jace is great.

Tony: I was gonna say real quick, I just remembered, any on the streets of New York stories? I mean, did you guys have to get scrappy or throw it down at all, or did you get really good at, I dunno, what'd you see there?

Chandler: Man. I love New York. We didn't see too many sketchy things. I don't have that many funny stories. Some kind of wild things that just, you'd expect to see, you know, people peeing in random places and stuff like that. But Jace and I, I remember, we had a really fun day together out in the Hamptons, like the end of Long Island. So it's not probably what you're thinking of with like the city. We did both spend some time there, but yeah, I remember even when I met Jace that like, I don't know, we just clicked really well together and we were both just really passionate about trying to help the people out there, and I think we, we were both Spanish speaking, and so we saw a lot of people who were very isolated. So it again ties back to this theme of connection. We're trying to work through all sorts of personal challenges and just like realized how important, I guess that theme was as we were out there in New York together. So, no, no crazy stories. I kind of wanted more, I remember leaving being like, I hope, like I get shot at, but I live like that would be cool.

Tony: And do you miss any of the food?  

Chandler: Yeah. I was telling my wife I'd love to move back there for the food.

Tony: What do you miss in particular? What was your favorite food? 

Chandler: I mean, the Dominican food is really good. Just all, all of that, all of their types of food is really good. I also love Pupusa from El Salvador. It's hard to describe. They're like these little tortillas, filled with beans and meat and cheese, but it's a little thicker, like, okay. Anyways, it's super good. You're in California, right? You should go, they definitely have them there.

Tony: Oh, I'm sure they do. Okay. No, that sounds good, alright, Chandler Rogers, thank you for coming on the Virtual Couch, I look forward to seeing you maybe in the app and we can share a meme or two. 

Chandler: For sure. Let's do it. Thanks, Tony. 

Tony: Okay. All right. Thanks Chandler. 

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,”

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

Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorder Course is Open! Visit 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

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

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

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

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


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 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

Did you know that more than 40 percent of everything you do is habitual? Are you addicted to your phone or social media? Or are you simply responding to a well-worn neurological cue/reward pattern? Tony discusses the latest in habit research from the article "How to Conquer Your Primitive Brain" by Adam Piore.

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

Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorder Course is Open! Visit 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

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

Virtual Couch Episode 363 Transcript

Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 363 of the Virtual Couch. I'm your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified mindful habit coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four, ultra marathon runner, and creator of the Path Back, an online pornography recovery program that is helping people reclaim their lives from turning to pornography or any unhealthy coping mechanism. So go to Find out more about that. Or you can actually go now to Tony Overbay underscore LMFT on Instagram, link in the bio and there's a link tree that has everything you need to know, latest podcast episodes, how to sign up for my newsletter and also that link tree is going to be in the show notes. So we're just trying to make things easy, but I really would recommend that you go sign up for the newsletter and you'll find out so much exciting stuff that is coming soon to earbuds or monitors near you. So I'm going to jump in. Oh, one thing, this is a really cool thing. I had the, I want to say world renowned and he really is, Michael Twohig on at the end of last year, he's done so much research in the world of acceptance and commitment therapy. And that episode was one of my favorites and I still take quotes from that almost on a daily basis in my practice. 

And he had an ACT for OCD and anxiety online course that it launched and it was there for a little bit. It was taken away, but there is a relaunch of that. And I will have the link in the show notes on how you can get access to that course. If you have a pen or a pencil, I guess that sounds kind of old school, you know, then stop your horse and buggy and scroll this down with some charcoal on a tablet. Or you can just jot it down in the notes on your phone, or it'll be in the show notes. But the direct link is HTTP colon slash slash man, I sound like I am coming right to you from the year 2003. But it's Praxisce, which is And you'll find that ACT for anxiety disorders course, and it's, it really is amazing. I was able to take it myself when Michael was coming on the show. And ACT is just, it's phenomenal. I cannot say enough about what it can do to really help you realize that you have all the tools you need right there built within you. And it's a matter of unhooking from these the thought a thought is a thought and just unhooking from the ones that are not really serving you much of a purpose and getting away from those socially compliant goals of what you think you're supposed to do to make everybody else happy around you. I find out what your true values are and then just start living, living a life of value based goals and actions. And yeah, you have the ups and downs, the bumps, the bruises, but as you start to really live a more value based purpose filled life, it is phenomenal. It is. And you get away from that, what is wrong with me? I must be broken. I'm a human. The very first version of me that's ever been on the planet. And when you really unhook from those unproductive thoughts and really figure out what makes you tick. 

And not need everybody else to tell you how you're supposed to think or feel. Again, I cannot even describe how amazing that is. That is acceptance and commitment therapy in this ACT for anxiety disorders workshop is amazing. It really is. So go click on the link in the show notes and get there. But today we're going to talk about something I just love. I really do. And I was sent an article about, I guess it's two or three days ago and just asked if I had comments on it and I love getting those emails. And so I hadn't planned on talking about conquering our primitive brain or talking about habits at all today, but then I thought there was a pretty funny spin on it. As somebody sent this to me, I guess I had made a joke at some point. That you wait till about the third week of January, and then you can pick up exercise equipment for cheap when people have moved away from their new year's resolutions. And I let that slide. I really thought about doing something funny about a month ago, talking about how your, how are your new year's resolutions working, not in a guilt or shame based way, but just being able to have some acceptance. And then was that really a goal that you felt passionate about? Or was it something you thought you were supposed to do? But then I was sent this article and it's from Newsweek and it says “How to conquer your primitive brain.” And it's that subheading that I think is so fascinating and why I really wanted to talk about it. I'm gonna read a lot from this article today and I'm gonna make some comments based on my own experiences. 

But this subheading says “More than 40% of everything we do from washing dishes to spreading misinformation is habitual.” Science has some ideas about how to do better. And this is by a gentleman named Adam Piore. I could have mispronounced that. And the article is really neat. Has some great illustrations. It's so neat. I really did not realize that I sound like someone's great-grandfather talking at times, it's really swell. This thing is it really is. Trust me. But there's a lot here that I feel like plays on a lot of the things that I've talked about from Charles Duhigg's book, The Power of Habit. As well as James Clear's book The Power of Habit, and I want to tell a quick story that I told them on a Waking Up to Narcissism podcast a few days ago that I just want to set the stage because I say a lot of things. I feel very passionate about it. 

I am standing in what I like to refer to as a healthy ego and healthy ego is based on real life experience or the things that we know. And part of being able to stand in your healthy ego is recognizing that you don't know what you don't know. So as simple as that may sound. And when we're a little bit more emotionally immature brain, we often feel like we have to have an opinion on everything and anything. And then if we have a good idea about how something may work, then we often subconsciously go big and then we start to confabulate or create a narrative or a story that backs up how I feel like things probably are. So now over in that world of narcissism, narcissistic confabulation can be incredibly abusive because to the narcissist who is incredibly emotionally immature when you look at that comes from deep childhood abandonment and attachment wounds or neglect that then the concepts around confabulation or changing a narrative to fit what that emotionally immature person needs it to be in that very moment is a survival technique. And that's why gaslighting, if you really are around somebody that you are opening up to, and then all of a sudden they turn what you're talking about. And they make you feel crazy about that. That is true what gaslighting is in a nutshell. That if it's somebody that is incredibly emotionally immature or narcissistic and they are confabulating the narrative, it means in their brain. Well, it can't be that way. If you said, hey, you kind of hurt my feelings. If the gaslighting comes across, then in return, really well, you hurt my feelings all the time. As a matter of fact, I'm glad we're talking about feelings because I don't think you pay attention to mine at all. And as a matter of fact, the more I think about it, I really, I mean, you claim to be this person that is so emotional and empathic, but yet I don't feel like you ever validate my feelings. So here's this person that had just opened up and said, hey, that kind of hurt my feelings. And before, when the conversation is done, the person who had expressed that and all of a sudden feels like, oh my gosh, I didn't even know that I hurt this person's feelings so bad. And in the world of confabulation to that emotionally immature narcissistic person, they have had to create that narrative. And it happens in just a millisecond because it's a survival mechanism from their childhood, if they took ownership or accountability of something, first of all, they didn't see that modeled, which is part of the problem. But if they did, they would get in trouble. And if you get in trouble as a little kid and you don't have a secure, attached relationship with your parent, then you feel like, man, this might, I might get in trouble and they're going to kick me out of the house because we're thinking with little kid brain. 

And so that narcissism or gaslighting becomes a childhood defense mechanism. Now, the reason I talk about this is that concept of a confabulated memory or changing the memory is just an amazing, fascinating thing because as I talk about what I know today about habits and things that I talk so passionately about on the podcast, I now recognize that I could have confabulated many of the stories or the data that I've just come to rely on. What I love now is being able to check in with an article like this one today. And to see him where the latest in science, a habit science is. And so this might just be a moment for me, but I'm going to be really open and honest. If there are things that go against or contradict the things that I've always believed to be the case and because the more you're aware of this concept around confabulation, I think it's a really great way to self confront but we create, we habitualize, there's so many things that we don't even recognize. I hope that as you even go throughout your day after hearing this episode, that you may notice or give yourself a benefit of the doubt of maybe, maybe I don't remember it exactly the way that I thought. And if somebody is saying to you, oh, I know exactly what happened then that, that may be the case, but then I will give them grace as well and say, well, maybe, maybe not. But I love their passion. So back to this article, more than 40% of everything we do from washing dishes to spreading misinformation is habitual. 

Adam says, “Science has some ideas about how to do better.” So he says that most people associate bad habits with the kind of activities that wind up on a list of new year's resolutions, eating and drinking too much, spending too much time on their smartphone and avoiding the gym. But he said that bad habits are often more than just these little personal issues that we have and he talks about the neural machinery of habit formation. Which I love now, we're talking about how the brain works is also the root cause of many of the worst collective behaviors. Texting while driving. I haven't even thought about how that slowly becomes habitualized. That then that's something that we just start to feel comfortable with. When I think it first came out, texting, there was a thought of, I will never drive and text. I honestly remember having my Blackberry, I guess the theme of today is Tony's an old man. But I remember having my Blackberry and getting the first text plan that had, I think 200 texts in a month. And I thought this was crazy. Like I'll never go through 200. I mean now, boy, if you look at how many times you text throughout a day or a week or a month, it is a lot more than 200, maybe throw an extra zero, maybe even two onto there, but texting while driving, gossiping about coworkers, littering, mansplaining, he says farting silently in public, making a racist or unfair assumptions about strangers, even spreading the kind of misinformation online that some experts warn is threatening our democracy. He said that those are things that are actually beginning to become habitualized. The more that we look at the science of how the brain works, he says that many people who are aware of bad habits and recognize them to be potentially harmful, blame themselves for being weak or lacking the willpower needed to resist them. 

But over the last few years, scientists have used advanced imaging technologies. So we can literally look inside the brain as habits are being formed. And then, these experts can even map out the habit formation all the way to the very structures in the brain structures that I love, how he says were formed so long ago in the blacksmith evolution. So we're talking about the blacksmith, the iron that was pounded in our brain in essence in the Smithy of evolution that humans share with other mammals. So research suggests that habits, which operate below conscious awareness usually cannot be tamed simply by resolving to resist them. And I love that concept so much. So just telling yourself not to do it, if anything, your brain is going to say, I will do it more. So I have to realize, first of all, I have to be aware of something that I'm not even aware of. He gives some examples where he says, okay, so again, research suggests that habits which operate below the conscious awareness can't be tamed just by saying I'm not going to do them or trying to resist them. Because he says, by the time you realize you're munching on a bag of potato chips, picking your nose, fighting with someone on Facebook, or veering into oncoming traffic while texting, it's too late. So, he says, if we want to change our habits, research suggests we need to understand how they work and we need to anticipate the cues that trigger them. And find ways to break our habit cycle before it starts. So taming a bad habit requires a lot of planning. And I love this concept. We need to reverse engineer the chain of behavior that precedes them. And then either remove the queue that sets us off altogether, or take the time to build new habits that will replace them. 

And one of the key things involves acknowledging that much of what we do is habitual and not the result of our own decision-making. And that setting goals in a way that drives new behavior patterns. Let me talk about that. So in my Path Back recovery program, and I work with a lot of people that have struggled with unhealthy coping mechanisms. And I know that I talk so often about pornography, but it could be turning to your phone. It could be turning to food, work, or even exercise as a form of habitualizing something that we just, we begin to have this habit cycle and I say in my program, there's a trigger, there's a thought, and there's an action. And one of the go-to examples that I'd like to talk about is working with someone who was struggling with turning to pornography as an unhealthy coping mechanism. It was amplifying up his objectification of women. And caused him to be less present with his intimate relationship with his wife and we had identified that there was a two hour gap after he took kids to school and his wife went to work before he had to go into the office. So in those two hours, there were times and days where he would go and work out at the gym. There were times where he would try to get things done at home. But over the course of time, that two hour block became the trigger of when he could look at pornography. And so this was something that he wanted to move away from because he felt like he was wasting time. And again, dulling out the dopamine neuro blasting, his dopamine neuro receptors, and just, he had all these reasons of course, why he wanted to get away from looking at pornography. But then he would feel like it just continued to happen. And over time, as he even drove home, his brain was saying, well, we got, we got time. And I often say that one of the biggest triggers is what I call the crime of opportunity, or just being able to do something. If the bag of chips is in the pantry, that is a trigger that is a crime of opportunity. If you have to go buy a bag of chips at the store, there's a lot of opportunities for you to not. You can come back to the present moment or turn back around or stop wherever you were heading mentally, or even literally physically in your car. 

But if the chips are in the pantry or if no one is at home and you know that the coast is clear. Over time that becomes the trigger. And so the trigger leads to the thought in this scenario, the person says I could act out, I could look at pornography. And then there's the behavior. Or the action. So we got the trigger, the thought and the action. That is the habit cycle. And so we can look at this a few different ways. Number one, ultimately we want to be able to put distance between thought and action. So if the triggers there he's at home alone and he has the thought, well, that's a thought. And I can breathe through the thought I can bring the thought of wanting to look at porn with me while I do other productive things, but that is an advanced level skill and advanced level mindfulness skill. Where at first, often what we have to do is I like what they say. Here we go back to that, we have to reverse engineer. And then we have to recognize that oh, okay I need to not be at home. So on the days where I go to the gym and then I even shower at the gym and go to work, nothing. I don't look at porn, but on the days where I go to the gym, go home, then my brain says, oh, remember home, what we can do. So you can reverse engineer and in this one and what is so fascinating about this example is that I believe there's also, if I go back to that whole path of enlightenment where he wasn't aware of what he wasn't aware of. Then he was aware. Okay. That is my trigger, but then he still didn't do it, he didn't take action as often as he would like, and that's a hard place to be because he would start to get angry and frustrated with themselves and say that he's broken and what's wrong with him. And so eventually though you go from, I didn't know what I didn't know to now. I know, but I don't really do what I need to do. As much as I would like to, then I do what I need to do and what I've set out to do more than I don't. So that would be where now I recognize this is my trigger and there is my thought that I want to act out, but now I take action. I put that space or I leave the house. 

And then eventually it's just what you become. And you become someone who is aware of all kinds of thoughts and you entertain many of them, but you still take action on the things that matter. But in reverse engineering in this scenario, the person eventually found himself just going straight into the office or he would go to the gym and shower there. So we have to be aware of that habit cycle. But what I thought was really interesting too, though, is that I was talking with someone not very long ago and I'll change some of the details because this one, I really like this as well. 

This person was really struggling if they would, if they were struggling with a particular unhealthy coping mechanism when they would leave work. And so in that timeframe, they were now aware that is what I need to just get home. That's what I need to do. But then there were times where they didn't and they would still struggle with that unhealthy coping mechanism. So as we broke down the game film, we said to this, let's say this was a female. And we said, okay, she could reach out to a friend. She could call, she could have somebody talk with her on the way home. And that's where she said, okay, I know I don't need to do that. I'm aware now, but then it continued to happen. As we continued to reverse engineer that entire habit cycle, she was able to recognize that it was when there were these particular things happening at work that were overly stressful, where she felt like there was a lack of guidance and direction. And then she would start to feel stressed and then on the way home, then she would just feel like, okay, I can't handle this. And so it sounds like one of these Disney endings, but in that scenario, we were able to reverse engineer what led to this trigger and the thought and the action to the point where she was able to speak up to someone at her place of work and they were able to change some things over time that helped her. But wherever we are, if we have to reverse engineer all the way to, when I walk in my office, I already am triggered because I don't like what I do when my brain starts to think of. I can't wait to tune out with an unhealthy coping mechanism. Then we really need to take a look at even the workplace itself. 

So reverse engineering becomes such an important part of changing that habit, but Adam, back to the article, he says still, it's not easy to break a habit. And he said, nature has made sure of it. And that's what habits are. An essential tool of survival. Without them, the simple task of everyday life would overwhelm us. And he said, Americans spend an average of 43% of each day engaged in tasks that are largely unconscious, that it becomes so automatic that we're able to think and talk about other things while we're doing them. According to research by Wendy Wood, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California. And I think what's really interesting is right now, as I am talking and recording this podcast, I have this forearm grip strength thing that sits on my desk. And I did not even notice that I was picking it up and I don't even know how long I've had it. But I already can imagine I've switched hands and I'm using this strength device just because it's there. It's more of like an ADHD, fidget cube, but gives you a little bit of strength in a sense. But as I'm reading that, I realized that was completely unconscious. I don't even remember where it was on my desk. I don't remember picking it up. And I can tell by the, I guess the pump in my forearms, that, that has been, I've been doing it for awhile. And I've been recording this podcast for a little while. 

So it could have even been right from the start. Habits are a unique kind of a learning system. They're unconscious. So we don't have access to them. And the way that we have access to other decisions, Wendy Wood says, and she said, I think that's been overlooked in the popular press and that gets people into trouble. And again, why I love it. I really enjoyed this article. And here's another reason is because that sentence alone, that I think has been overlooked in the popular press and that gets people into trouble. What has been overlooked is that habits are happening at an unconscious level. So we may not even have access to them the way we have access to other decisions. 

So I go right back to my favorite therapeutic modality, ACT. Where instead of saying, oh man. What is wrong with me? I can't stop doing this thing that I don't want to do. We now say, oh, check it out when this happens. Here's how I react. That's interesting because I can look at that with curiosity. But when I'm beating myself up. I'm still coming from this incredibly. I feel like, emotionally immature way to think I'm going to change is to get mad at myself and then maybe I'll change, but that's not a way to lasting change. I can control my behavior a little bit, that concept of white knuckling through something, but that is not going to lead to a sustained view of change. So understanding habits and learning how to gain some control over them creates possibilities, he says, for making the world a better place, we could all be healthier, happier, less distracted. And he says to hear Wendy Wood tell it, we might even be able to improve the state of our democracy habit hackers. So he says one demonstration of how the neural machinery of habit formation can work against us and how difficult it is to control is the phenomenon of new year's resolutions. So here we are, it's almost the end of February. And he did say it. He says last year, an estimated 40% of Americans resolved to change bad habits starting on January 1st. By the end of the month, roughly one third had already given up. And four fifths will eventually fail, says Katy Milkman, a professor of the Wharton school and author of the book How to change the science of getting from where you are to where you want to be. And what's more, technology has become a potent tool of exploitation in this. Oh, this one gets me, but he says that technology's become a potent tool of exploitation in our consumer culture because of social media, social media companies would use have become so successful at hacking the primitive unconscious parts of your brain involved in habit formation. That much of the world's population is now habituated to checking in with Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram, and their smartphones multiple times a day. 

And I have to tell you, this is one of those things that can just come out of nowhere. I have my daughter Sydney, co-host of Murder On the Couch, soon to be released, has been uploading a lot of video content that I've been creating on Tik Tok. And I have told myself that I will look at Tik Tok on occasion. But it can just suck up hours of your time. The algorithm is, I want to say, so fascinating, but It's addictive. It really is. And now that I have videos on Tik Tok, I told myself, yeah, we'll put them up there. It doesn't really matter. I just like creating content. Maybe it can help some people. And one of them I think is pushing a million views. And so I went from this place of thinking, I don't care to, oh, really? I better go check that out. And so the more I look at that, now I'm commenting or answering some of the comments and people are being hilarious and fun and I'm glad that it's resonating. And then while I'm there, then when you open up Tik Tok, then all of a sudden, I'm watching the videos and I'm scrolling through. And before you know it, I've got my whole feed full of little kids saying hilarious, funny things. People breaking out into spontaneous dance and animals that are doing hilarious things. And now I can't get enough of that stuff. And now I go there, my brain just tricks me into saying, well, just go see if there's any comments that you can answer on one of these Tik Toks. And I even found myself joking the other day, joking. I promise you, joking, but saying to myself, I mean, it's been three or four days since I had a viral video. You know, what's going on here as I'm scrolling through Tik Tok and then forget if you pause on an advertisement. I think I finally stopped getting advertisements for men's soap from the holidays where I made the mistake of looking. And I think I probably fell asleep with one of the articles, the ads for soap, just playing over and over again. 

But that algorithm is just so conditioned to then hit on that subconscious and now we're going back and we're looking and we just feel like we have to now be aware or mindful of not looking. Back to Wendy Wood, she says social media sites are set up to form habits and they do it so effectively that people are responding to cues on social media often without thinking. And again, it says Wood, author of the book, Good habits, bad habits, the science of making positive changes stick, she said they aren't thinking about the consequences of what they're doing. As a matter of fact, they're really not thinking at all. And one of those consequences, Adam says, is the rapid spread of falsehoods through social media networks. So now misinformation has been attributed to growing partisan bias, tribalism, polarization, and other factors. But the true mechanism, says Wood, may in fact be habit, the mindless sharing of sensationalistic fake news automatically often without considering the impact of what we're doing. That's the premise of Wood's new research. She and her colleagues found that habits are highly predictive of whether a user of social media will post misinformation more so than whether or not the poster agrees with it, or even believes that to be true. And they published this work in January and the proceedings of the national academy of sciences. So in four studies, colleagues presented a series of 16 news headlines, some of which were false to thousands of volunteers and offered them the opportunity to share the headlines on social media. The authors assessed partisanship, critical thinking, and the strength of the social media sharing habits. By analyzing past sharing on Facebook and whether they're sharing behaviors seem consistent with automaticity. So in the process of being automatic. So on Facebook, the act of sharing information is reinforced and becomes habitual because users get recognition from others for doing so. Here we go. Now it is that thing where we just crave validation, we still build our sense of self off of external validation, where we need to be able to find what matters to us and not rely on that validation from other people. 

But then she and I think this is so true. She said, once this reward based learning system has formed a habit, the authors conclude then information sharing is automatically activated by cues on the platform without users considering critical response outcomes. So when something becomes habituated, then now it just happens. And there are certain cues that happen on the subconscious. And now you just lean into that habit. Misinformation, she says, is one symptom of a far larger problem intentionally or not. Smartphones seem to be optimized for habit formation, offering a cue in the form of a notification, followed by a reward in the form of an email or message offering a social contact for giving it attention. And many of us are now controlled by them. Many people automatically reach for our phones the minute they wake up or shortly thereafter, and then they check them for email or news. 

So Wood says, you know, it's common these days to attribute these behaviors to addiction, but she said that is inaccurate. She said the habit system is so much broader than that. She said it doesn't require a craving. The habits are a very common learning system that they're not necessarily addictions. She said we couldn't get through our day without habits. So I love the breakdown of that. Something becomes more habitual because I just did a podcast interview on unashamed and unafraid about pornography. And I loved it. I loved those guys. It was so much fun. But right out of the gate, they just hit me with the, so do you feel like, pornography is pornography addiction, and I said, man, I'm gonna meet somebody where they're at, but I feel like if it's an unhealthy coping mechanism or somebody, someone wants to get away from. Then whatever, if they feel like, okay, calling it a habit helps them feel like there's hope. Or if they feel like calling it a habit makes them feel like a less of a person then whatever, whatever works. I just want to help somebody move away from this unhealthy coping mechanism. And I don't feel like I've ever put it as well as obviously these, these wonderful studies. 

But it becomes a habit. That is that it is the habit cycle. Whether we want to call it addiction or we call it, I mean, why this habit, but things are happening based on these cues. And then from that queue, we do things unconsciously. And if you’re like me, you like to nerd out a little bit about the neuroscience of things like habit making, then this next part of the article is pretty incredible. They reference 19 or no, I'm sorry. They referenced an 1890 article. “The principles of psychology.” Where someone named William James introduced the idea that is still at the heart of how habits are formed. So we're talking 130 years later, but it's the study of habits that says that once a habit is formed, a single cue, an idea, or a perception can serve as an unconscious command that kicks off this basically an automated chain of associated movements, which takes place outside of your awareness. Again, this was 1890 when William James wrote about this. So the brain groups multiple complex actions together into a single habit that can be performed automatically. James observed, for example, many people have had the experience of driving home from work and pulling into the driveway without consciously paying attention. And later they don't even remember driving home at all because their thoughts were elsewhere. 

And that's a thing. Now that psychologists call it's storing multiple actions or ideas or thoughts into a single mental file folder in memory. Which they call now chunking. But in this article Adam talks about how the brain can not only perform these complex tasks without our conscious awareness. But it can also learn unconsciously to remember new information. So for example, if you are just walking home from the store, or what is or associated with a weather pattern. And these are things that are just happening at an unconscious level, but you still react to them. But here's where I start talking about the basal ganglia and I purposely held back on even reading more about this because here's where I feel like that concept of what I thought that I knew. And so here's my take or what I like to say about the basal ganglia, which is called the habit center of the brain. It's this little walnut sized part of the brain where when things become habitualized, they're moved into the basal ganglia. And here's the parts where I realized that I think I've put some pieces together that I assume are correct. And that is in the world of acceptance and commitment therapy that we operate from a point of view of the brain as a don't get killed device. And that the brain works in essence off of this fallacy, that it has a finite amount of electrical activity. So as everything it wants to habitualize things, because it will take less effort, less electrical activity. And if you use less electrical activity, then you will live forever, thinks the brain, and the brain in essence is again, a don't get killed device that wants to do whatever it can to live. 

So in that scenario, the more we habitualize things, the more they go into this basal ganglia. And I think that those are the things that happen underneath consciousness, the things that we don't even really have to think about. So with that said, let's talk about what this article talks about with the latest in the brain science of habits. So they say that advances in neuroimaging and other neuroscience techniques have in recent years allowed scientists to watch the way this unique form of human learning operates in the brain in real time with increasing resolution. And then they've also mapped out the process with increasing precision to different parts of the brain structure. So explicit memories, which are the ones that we consciously make, are stored in the seahorse shaped part of the brain known as the hippocampus. But humans are also capable of implicit learning or implicit memory, which is what I quote from the Buddha brain, which is built off of the slow residue of lived experience or what it feels like to be you. And in this article, they say that the brain structures responsible for storing implicit memory, these types of memories and associations reside deep in the primitive center of the brain adjacent to the hippocampus known as the basal ganglia. So our old friend basal ganglia is back. So they go on to say the basal ganglia is the part of the brain that allows us to chew food, brush your teeth without thinking, and ride a bike. That it's also the instinctual quick thinking part of the brain that allows us to make snap judgements in response to sensory perceptions that signal danger. It's also what makes the hair stand up on the back of the neck or a seasoned soldier who unconsciously associates the sudden quiet in a Vietnamese jungle with enemy soldiers about the spring and ambush. And enables a soldier to dive for cover without being consciously aware of the impending ambush. 

So it's a survival tool that evolution has given not only to humans but other animals as well. And this is where I remember one time hearing that things like squirrels and fish are all basal ganglia, that there is no other part of the brain. So they are just acting instinctively at all times. So the basal ganglia is also part of the brain where established habits reside, neuroscientists have observed. That it's activating when animals and human subjects engage in these habitual behaviors. So they say that although fully formed habits are unconscious, conscious thought is initially involved when we form new ones. So you have to be conscious of doing something in order to then habitualize it. Most people, for instance, don't think about how to ride a bike, but they remember where they were when they first learned. And the reason many of us associate habitual actions with conscious thought is because often we remember making the choice at some point in the past to perform an action. So then we put that we associate the choice of when we decided to, when we were riding a bike. That is this conscious thought of that as we were very intentional about that. So then brain imaging studies in recent years have consistently shown that conscious executive control systems of the brain located in the prefrontal cortex are often active in the first stage of habit formation when we perform a new task. So the conscious thought is there when we perform something new. So when we focus the spotlight of our conscious attention on learning to ride a bike or typing in a new locker combination at the gym or area, these areas of the brain become involved in conscious thought intentionally. 

There's this intentionality and complex reasoning. They're all active. And this is according to a person named Elliot Berkman, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon who co-directs the center for translational neuroscience. So then for a habit to take root, not only are we consciously aware of our actions, but then those actions also usually bring a reward. So if you see a bag of potato chips, there's the cue. And you start shoveling them in your mouth. There's the action. And you get this flavor explosion going on and all the pleasure centers of the brain activating. There's the reward. Or then if a headline pops up on your newsfeed, which they refer to as the queue, you repost a new story on Facebook. There's the action. And receive a flood of positive comments, likes and re-shares from long lost friends. There's the reward. So in this first stage of habit formation. And then in the second stage, when we repeat the action, this is what Birkman calls consistent reinforcement. The experience of reward causes our brain to release the neurotransmitter dopamine in the basal ganglia. Now all my friends are together. Dopamine, the basal ganglia. So the dopamine kicks off a chemical cascade in the brain that causes the basal ganglia to forge new connections between neurons that over time form into the brain circuitry required to automate a habit. I think that's so laid out beautifully. So there is conscious thought when there's that cue and then you take action and then you get the reward and then that is all then solidifying in that basal ganglia when that reward hits and you get that dopamine bump. And so then the brain says, I like it. Let's keep doing this. 

So then once a habit is fully formed the services of the conscious executive control areas of the brain, they aren't even needed. This stuff's happening now under the surface. So now we can, they say that we're free to direct our limited attention to new things. They say things like the plot of a new TV show we're watching or as we eat the potato chips. So at this point, all the brain structures, the neurological structures involved in the habit shift to what's called this sensory motor loop, which includes the different parts of the brain, the basal ganglia, the areas of the cortex involved in motor control. So what you're doing with your hands, your, your face, your all these. So anytime the neurons are associated with a cue or activated, an example begins with the sight of that bag of potato chips. Or the appearance of a bold face news story on a Facebook feed. They trigger the firing of the neurons involved in the chain of action that bring about the desired reward and that is happening. Deep in our subconscious then, Berkman says the basal ganglia they're well-positioned to form habits because they're connected to the reward regions. But they are also intimately connected with the areas of the brain involved in motor control. So what do you do? This is my take on it then. So then what you do. That's the motor control area of the brain tied with the reward. So if we do things that bring a reward, then that becomes ritualized. He said, if you wanted to have a brain circuit that basically said, oh, this behavior just earned me a reward. Then it is perfect. It's ideally located and that's essentially what the basal ganglia does. So neuroscientists are still characterizing the exact locations of the phenomenon zooming and with increasing precision and resolution on how brain activity in the basal ganglia changes as habits take root. 

They had a paper that they published in March, this behavioral neurologist or neuroscientist Ingo Willem, and his team at the Netherlands Institute of neuroscience precisely tracked the location and the release of dopamine in the basal ganglia during different stages of habit formation in the brains of rats. So it might be someday possible to develop drugs that help in breaking pathological habit loops associated with addiction and things like obsessive compulsive disorder. That's what he told Newsweek. So in his lab, Berkman's been studying personal values. And this is where I think that the ACT stuff kicks in a little bit. But the way personal values and abstract thought might be used to help change habits such as smoking or bad eating by developing techniques that keep personal values. And large concrete goals at the front of the mine. So they remain as salient and powerful as the unconscious cues that activate bad habits. So he says, for instance, if you have a goal like climbing Mount Everest, and the goal feels tangible and salient, he says, then you have a better chance of noticing when you're triggered to say light up a cigarette. The goal in other words, helps break the habit cycle. And that's what I, you know, when I look at things like for the heart or the height of my ultra running career, when I think I did, I'm running a dozen, maybe half a dozen or more races, a year of distances of over 30 or 50 miles. That the training schedule was constant. And I feel like that reward was there almost on a daily basis, not just from the daily exercise, but also thinking about completing one of these ultra marathons, because that gave me the most amazing euphoric dump of dopamine at the finish line. And then even the fatigue or the next few days, the soreness, it was all this odd reward system that made me feel like I'm alive and this is a purpose and values. So I love that description that they give of that if the goal does feel salient. 

And that's where I feel like it's working with a value. If I had a value of fitness, which goes deep in my what it feels like to be me based on me wanting to be around and live and enjoy my kids and maybe seeing some of the people in my family, extended family that have had health concerns, so those are all those things that are part of what my implicit memory is or what it feels like to be me. But he says for run of the mill habits, we don't have to wait for a pill or even Berkman's new techniques. Wood, Berkman, Milkman, a whole host of others who study the phenomenon habits have had plenty of advice that has already been proven to work. So they say that basically to change a habit, the first thing you need to do is rethink your assumptions. So in the lab, they found that not only people tend to overestimate their ability to make decisions, but also they're resistant to the idea that they're operating out of a habit. And that's what I found in my office. There are some people that when they recognize that, oh, this is just a reaction that it's empowering. And there are other people that say, wait, this is a reaction you're telling me that I don't have control. And then they don't look at that as with acceptance of oh, okay. So if I don't, now I need to reverse engineer this habit cycle. And how far back can I go to then start to change the whole process? So in one study, they found habitual coffee drinkers consistently recognized that their coffee drinking was a product of both habit and fatigue. But they consistently overestimated the role of fatigue and conscious decision-making in their choices. What caused them to drink the beverage? They found that habit played a far greater role than the subjects reported. So they may have been associated with fatigue, but in essence, they just were drinking coffee a lot of times because they drank coffee and that's what they do. So people tend to interpret their habits as decisions that they've made, even when we can demonstrate that they're acting automatically on a habit, Wood said. So we found that people are a little resistant to that message. 

And she just said, we all want to believe that we're in control of our behavior because most of our habits work for us. So then we tend to believe our habits are what we would have done if we were making decisions. But then with habits, they're not. That's why we often tell ourselves that if we could only rely on willpower, maybe we can just resist reaching for a cigarette or a cookie, or we would read a book rather than watch TV, but we mistakenly believe that habits or actions we consciously watch unfold in real time. And he hears the meat of this whole thing. I mean, that's if we can accept the fact that this is a reaction to cues that have given us a dopamine reward. Then we can start to recognize that, okay, thank you brain for doing what you thought was best for me, but now I actually have to consciously do something else in order to then change this whole neurological process. So in fact, what it says would often be that by the time we realize we're smoking a cigarette or eating that cookie or watching TV it's too late. Because we've already unconsciously fallen into a well established habit loop and then we've acted. So the most direct and effective way to change a habit, what our use is not to change or police your conscious thoughts, but to change your environment and then attack the cues that set off the habit in the first place.

If you don't have a cue again, if you don't have that bag of chips, if you don't have that opportunity, then you won't set off an unconscious habit sequence. So they, he said, take one common example: many of us by now have developed the habit of mindlessly picking up our mobile phones and checking our emails or texts. So the queue is often an obvious one. We see our phone or we hear a ping or we reach for it without thinking. And the next thing we know, we are doom scrolling. I did a podcast on that long ago. So Wood recommends the next time you're on vacation, placing the phone where you don't see it. You'd be surprised at how easy it will be to avoid checking your phone without those simple cues. If you're dubious, that might be because many popular habit books, Wood notes, conflate habits with addictions erroneously, suggesting that the absence of a phone will elicit a craving. But that is usually not the case. We don't need to check the phone. Or even necessarily want to, particularly when we're on vacation, Wood noted. We simply have trained ourselves to do so when presented with the queue. So that simple idea that we can break habits by controlling cues has wide, they go on to talk about wide public policy implications. Wood and collaborators suggest that it can help solve the problem of habitual sharing of misinformation on social media platforms. And they went on to talk about a study where Wood and the collaborators looked at thousands of active Facebook users, and they gave study participants a questionnaire that assessed the frequency of sharing and the amount of thought put into sharing. 

And those associate, those with weak habits who put the most thought into sharing were almost four times more discerning about what they shared, then those acted more habitually. So the people that just acted habitually just in essence, shared whatever they felt was the queue. It is a headline. So the strongly habitual shares those in the top 15% of active posters in the study were responsible for 37% of the false headlines shared in the study. So when presented with false headlines, those with a strong habit for sharing posted 26% of them. While those with weak habits only shared about 3%. So notably those with strong habits, shared news that challenged their political beliefs as much as they shared news that backed them up. So to change this behavior on a mass scale, Wood and her colleagues argue the social media companies will need to tweak the visual cues associated with news items to reduce automatic sharing and at present the standard manner of presentation, photo source, and headline was sharing response. There's an arrow right underneath. It says, here's how you share. Is designed to promote sharing. And then another recommended change is the way Facebook rewards sharing. Wood talked about the algorithm that determines where content is displayed and user feeds often places the most liked content at the top. Instead Wood suggests that the unverified news content should be deprioritized until it can be approved by moderators. And I know that that can set off a whole argument in itself of who are the moderators and what's their agenda. But I just like looking at this from the neuroscience of how things work. 

How things are habitualized. So in addition, content that seems to be generating disproportionately high rates of engagement from strongly habitual users. Those most likely to share an article, say without reading it, should receive extra verification. Facebook has said that apparently that has already prioritized original reporting from high quality news sources and its feeds. So providing some kind of reward or incentive for users to share accurate information might slowly change that habit. And then I think it's really interesting too. She went on to talk about from this article or from her studies, another option would be to disrupt habitual news sharing by adding new buttons to go alongside the share and like buttons. Such as fact check or skip. So this disruption or changing up the queue would cause some habitual users to stop and maybe just put a pause, which is a big part. I mentioned earlier in my addiction recovery program. So if you've got the trigger, the thought and the action, and really you're trying to find a way to put distance between that thought and action. So you can change cues, which disrupt habits, Wood says. You can also put people through a different learning experience. So they develop different habits oriented more towards sharing accurate information. So I really highly recommend this article. I'll have the link, obviously in the show notes, but I hope that you were, I hope that you saw why I felt like this was so important. 

That even the concepts around things like addiction could be challenged in certain situations. That some things are more just acting on a cue or things that have been habitualized that are working out of our unconscious or subconscious mind. And so just having the ability to address. To be aware that I might just be responding and then I can go back and reverse engineer to really get to that habit. And full transparency, I used the descript editing software that I love. It's what I used to talk so much about. That will let you take out the uhs and the ums and edit audio or video podcasts as if you were editing a word document. I cut out a big chunk and I'm going to put that next, because I realize this is me just going off on a little bit of a curious tangent about social media, about self confrontation, about being authentic. So I just put that here toward the end. So for the next seven or eight minutes, let me take you on my train of thought about some things that I've learned in engaging more with social media over the last few weeks. So if this is the end of your destination, if you want to hear more than hang, hang on there, we've got another seven, eight minutes. But if that is something that doesn't interest you, then I just appreciate you being here. 

And please continue to send your questions and comments and thoughts and spread this episode around if you feel like you can help somebody else. And if you are up for what I would almost call some bonus material or just some thoughts, ramblings of me then hang on because we're going to get to that right now. As I go back to talking about something like the videos that I've been putting out on Tik Tok, I think this could apply to Instagram reels or YouTube shorts. I would feel safe saying that most of the audience that listens to my podcast is fairly active on social media. Not even meaning that they post, but they probably have Instagram accounts and they look at the Instagram and Instagram reels and maybe they are, they find themselves down the rabbit hole of Tik Tok often or Facebook. And as a therapist in this space, I feel grateful for the success of the podcast, but I haven't poured as much resources or time into social media. And I am now thanks to the, my, the yeah yeah agency that's helping me. And, I have a daughter that's helping me put things on Tik Tok. And there's two things I think are really interesting from a place of self confrontation. One is, I didn't even realize that I was doing the acceptance and commitment therapy principle where I was saying, well, if I had time and I put more things out there that I'm sure that it would go well or it, that it would my audience would grow just like these other people, that their audiences are big, these other therapists or maybe coaches that are in the social media platforms. 

But I would say, yeah, but I don't have enough time. I've got a full practice. I've got multiple podcasts. I'm working on another book. I've got a family. So man, if I only had time, so then when I finally hired the Yeah Yeah agency and I have my daughter help me more, what is fascinating is now I am engaging more. And so then I recognized, oh, there was a real fear that if I actually do this, what if it just played to crickets and you can see maybe where the layers of needy were, it needing invalid wasn't needing validation. Was it a fear of invalidation? A fear of failure of an imposter syndrome. So many things that were there. So then as I start to put the content out there more with people that know what to do with that content. There was, I found myself not wanting to look at my social media even more. Because I think of that fear of failure or the imposter syndrome. And then as things started to progress and more followers are starting to come on board and some of the videos and the reels and some of the Tik Tok videos are hitting the numbers that I think I had hoped that they would, but I was afraid that they wouldn't. 

I realize it doesn't matter. And here's where I go with that next is I think that I tried to do this a few years ago. I worry that I really still would have been chasing the likes or chasing the number of new followers and not just trying to put out authentic content and do that just from a place of, I hope that this can help. Not from a place of, I hope people like me and I hope that people will follow me. And I hope that people will share my stories or reels or Tik Toks. And here's where I go with that next, you'll see certain people go from not a lot of followers and then all of a sudden they have a lot of followers. And then it's almost as if you watch this I don't, I don't know if it's an evolution of where the larger they get, the more people comment on posts and there are going to be a percentage of people that are going to say not the nicest of things. And then I can only imagine that the people that find themselves in those spots, all of a sudden if you know, you hear, don't look at your comments, don't look at the comments that people say, but then we're human beings. So it's hard not to do that. And then when you see the negative comments, it's hard to not either go to this place of a man, maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Maybe that one person is right and those 99 other people are wrong. And that is interesting. That's one of those cognitive distortions. There are cognitive distortions, there's all or nothing thinking, black or white thinking. There's also a one that we don't talk about enough where you can receive 99 positive comments and one negative comment. And then we assume that that one negative comment is the one that's true. The other 99 people are just saying that because they have to, they're just being nice. 

They don't really know who I am, but the one person, they must be, they must know what they're talking about. And so if somebody is trying to, and this is where I go back to the be someone that they're not, but they're doing it because they simply want validation, external validation, and they are just trying to find a thing that will get people to say, man, you're the best or here's these extra views. That's where I worry that if people are attacking whatever someone is putting out there on social media. That's where the person that is putting the data out on social media, I believe is the most vulnerable because there, they may not even recognize that they don't completely feel a connection with whatever the material is that they're putting out. 

Here's the example. So on Tik Tok, I have been putting out things that I talk about on the podcast. Everything from the expectation effect to the man and a whole metaphor that we're using the wrong tool in certain situations to the drop the tug of war and the rope, a tug of war rope in your fight against the anxiety monster. And telling therapy stories and things that a narcissist would never say. And all of these things that I just, I love and I feel like I can speak from the heart. I can speak off the tip of my tongue. And so one of the videos, for example, the one that's pushing a million views. There’s almost a thousand comments and I would say 90, 85, 90% of them are positive. And it's, so it is validating for people to say the things, nice things about therapy and maybe this helps or what they identify with. But that leaves a hundred to 150 others that are not as nice and kind. And so that's the part where I realize now, if I am commenting on posts, then commenting on the posts, it's really easy to, did it say thank you? And to try to be witty and fun in the comments. But the people that are absolutely trying to get a rise or poke the, poke, the bear, so to speak. Now I look at that and it's like, oh man, that's that makes me sad that they feel like that makes them feel good. Or it gives them that dopamine bump to be able to try to take down somebody that they don't know who is putting out content in the hopes of helping people. 

But I recognize it doesn't affect me. It doesn't bother me. It really is coming from a place of oh, that would be hard if they felt like this video, if it resonated in the exact opposite way as it was intended. And so I'll bless them, but that doesn't mean I want to say oh, yeah, you're wrong. Because then I feel like, oh, now that person is just wanting to engage. And I feel like that almost goes back to this attachment wound, that person is almost saying, hey, I think you're dumb. And then, you know, do you see me? Because if I engage now all of a sudden, yeah. See that guy is super dumb because he doesn't even get how dumb he is and look at how he's interacting with me. And so I just, I really feel that goes back to this concept around authenticity. And that the more you are operating from a place of authenticity, you are working within what is called your healthy ego and healthy ego again is built off of real life experiences. And when you have a healthier ego, and I love talking about people with healthy ego Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, mother Teresa, Martin Luther king. And these people that just feel so confident in who they are and their cause that then that healthy ego is more of this thing that is it's internal. You cannot, you may be able to dent the outside. But you're not going to affect who that person is at their core, because they have had to get to a place through real life experience to get to the place where they are expressing things that they feel confident about, because those are the things that matter to them. They're not trying to just simply say things to get attention or to get validation. I just think that's so fascinating. I think I've watched a handful of people that I have known or been aware of that have had a bit of a, maybe even a meteoric rise in the social media world. And then you can almost feel a negative vibe take over on certain occasions where I think that they are responding to the haters, to the critics, that sort of thing. And I feel like that is coming from a place of them feeling like, how dare you attack my ego. When, if you are coming from a place of healthy ego, then all bless their heart, that they don't see the message that I'm trying to put off. So I just thought that was really interesting. Okay. I am back in real time. If you have hung on there this long, man, I probably should send you something. Thank you for joining me today. I appreciate all the support and taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented, the also on Tik  Tok, Aurora Florence with her song, “It's wonderful”. Have a great week. And we will see you next week on the Virtual Couch

Tony dissects a couple's potentially destructive conversation, examining discomfort and anxiety's role in our relationships. He also talks about the challenges of relying on memory when attempting to have difficult conversations.  

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

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

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

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


Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 362 of the Virtual Couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist and host of Waking Up to Narcissism, as well as the soon to be released Murder on the Couch. So if you go to the notes wherever you're listening to this podcast, there will be a link to a YouTube preview of that podcast. It is coming soon. I am, I'm ecstatic about it. I've done that with my daughter Sydney and it is true crime meets therapy and it is just, I can't wait. We've got six episodes recorded and we are gonna be recording more and there's just a lot that is gonna happen with the Murder on the Couch podcast. But, I wanna get to today's topic and therefore, while you are in those show notes, there is gonna be a link. It's a link tree link that will then, if you click on that, it will take you to the latest episodes of any of the podcasts that I'm doing. It will take you to the Magnetic Marriage Workshop. It will take you to a way to sign up for my mailing list. So I think that's the easiest way to find out what's going on, or you can go to and sign up for my newsletter there or go to Instagram, Tony Overbay underscore LMFT, or go find me on TikTok. I am having a blast on TikTok.

My daughter Sydney is managing that TikTok account and uploading videos and I'm doing one or two a day and it's just a way to just share therapy tips and I'm answering therapy questions, telling therapy stories, and it's just been a real fun engagement on TikTok. So here's why I'm excited about today's episode. When I first started the Virtual Couch, and again, this is episode 362, so I put one out a week with a few bonus episodes here and there. I am not good at math, but I think it's been six or seven years now, but I envision every few episodes having an episode where I just kind of went on my train of thought and just talked about the things that I was seeing in my office or in therapy in general. And then I got rolling with the podcast and I would have a guest, or I really felt a strong desire to talk about an evidence-based model that I was using, or I would refer to an article often and talk about a therapy concept and say, hey, here's the data on it. And I realize now that that was a part of me that just desperately didn't want it to sound like I was just giving my opinion, which, five or six years ago, that was really important for me to say, hey, look, I have the credentials and I'm talking about evidence-based things. I'm adding my opinion to them and therefore I think that this is something you will benefit from. And I've realized over the years that they're just things that I really feel confident and passionate about that are all based off of these nice evidence-based models, but also based off of sitting in my therapy chair for over 15 years. And just then, if you can tell from the way that I put this podcast out, that there are just so many topics that I really do just get so excited about. 

I absolutely love my job and everything about therapy. And you do start seeing things from individual therapy that blend into couples therapy. And when I'm talking about things like addiction or people who turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms that I often talk about when I really felt like I had a way to help people that were struggling with turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms. I identified these voids in their life. You know, I felt like they turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms if they didn't feel a connection in their marriage, their relationship, or if they didn't really have a framework to operate from as how to be a parent or if they were struggling with their spirituality or faith, or if they didn't really find joy in their job or if they just didn't feel good about their health. And then as I went and attacked or found ways to work with each one of those things, then the desire to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms lessened. But in the meantime, you start to see how all of these things play together. When it comes to one's mental health, then add to that finding acceptance and commitment therapy about seven or eight years into my practice and that was an absolute game changer for me personally and also for my practice. So that's a way to say that everything that I wanna share today is really just coming from a place of, let me take you on my train of thought. And I'm not 100% sure which direction we'll go, but today we're gonna talk a little bit about marriage, and we're gonna talk about four pillars of a connected conversation, but I'm also gonna talk a lot about the concept around we have such a hard time sitting with discomfort or uncomfortable feelings, and what do we do with that? So if someone expresses something to us and we feel uncomfortable, that is often when we then either control the conversation with anger, or maybe we go into a victim mentality or we withdraw.

But a lot of those are just ways that we're trying to deal with our anxiety or those uncomfortable feelings because we don't like feeling uncomfortable. So whether we turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms when we just don't feel good about ourselves, but in relationships, I feel like so often when somebody says something or they suggest something or they say, you know, here's how I feel, or you don't really understand what you're doing does to me, that then we feel uncomfortable and then we have to manage that discomfort or manage that anxiety by either explaining that that person is maybe even to the point of gaslighting, or we have to then withdraw and say, no, you're right, you're right. I'll just stop doing that. I'll just stop being who I am. Or we just sometimes shut down altogether and then the other person eventually just feels like, okay, well I guess we'll change the subject. So there's so many ways that we just try to manage this discomfort. So I wanna talk about that today, but I think I've, to me, it's a funny way to ease into this. So, talk about train of thought. I often have people that will ask about homework and long ago, as a new therapist, I felt like every session needed to end with some homework, but then I remember when, you know, the more that I would give out homework and the more I would follow up on the homework, and it seemed like more often than not, see, I want to say all the time, every time, never. But more often than not, people wouldn't necessarily follow through on the homework. And then I felt like we had to spend a few minutes talking about the reason why they weren't able to do their homework.

And it was, I felt like the person was coming in, they felt bad and they almost were making excuses. I can even remember certain situations or people where I felt like we both knew you maybe had a busy week or you even forgot, but instead of saying that, then the person would, I feel like, would just make some excuses and then they would even feel bad. And we'd have an awkward moment in the therapy session. And I know that if a therapist listening to this, or maybe even somebody that's done a lot of their own mental health work, would say, well, Tony, that's your opportunity to confront that person, which it is, unless it isn't. Because people are in these different places when it comes to where they are in therapy. So then I found and then clung to some data that I found a long time ago that talked about that more often than not, a client won't do homework. And so, if you want to give out homework, then give it out with the expectation that, hey, this is just some additional information that could help. And if you get a chance to do this homework, then I would love for you to, and then we'll talk about it. But, I found myself more often than not, not assigning homework and then having the person come back in and then if they ever do say, hey, I really would like some homework, I now am to the point where I feel like, oh, absolutely, I will give this homework to you.

And then again, more often than not, the person doesn't do the homework. And then we can normalize that. And then maybe we can get into the, hey, when you asked for the homework, did you feel like in that moment, oh, I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna change my life, or did you feel like in that moment that you wanted to please me as the therapist and say, I feel such strong motivation to change that I will do anything this week? But then knowing that when you leave that room, that now life is gonna life all over you and you may not have a chance to do the homework. So that is, that is a tangent, but it's gonna get us where we need to go today. So I did a little Googling and I was gonna find that article that talked about not doing homework. And instead, I found a psychologist named David McFee. And I just loved the point where someone had asked the question, can I ask my therapist to stop making me do homework? And then David Mcfee said, “making you?”, he said, “I'm trying to imagine how that happens”. He said, it's a new one for me. I guess the question is, if you choose not to do homework, what would the therapist do to you? He said therapy is supposed to be a collaboration between two adults based on unconditional positive regard, one for the other. The commitment to the client's progress. It's not seventh grade geography. And he says, I believe in certain types of homework, but never assigned, always negotiated. And of course, the client has the final say. So I really liked that. I don't know who David Mcfee is. He's a clinical psychologist that says he's a therapist for kids and adults. But I really like his answer there because I feel like this is something where if I want to offer up the homework and someone says, well, let's talk about it, that it is this negotiation. It's never assigned. And then the client has the final say, and then even if they then find themselves not doing it, then they can come back and we'll talk about it. Because if the person continually feels like they're letting the therapist down, then I worry that that client will stop coming to therapy. So here's where I'm going with that.

I had a session a few weeks ago that reminded me of a, what I think is a funny homework story. And so in the vein of full confidentiality, a lot of the details have been changed, but I really feel like stories are what can really convey a message. So the story or the principle that I am gonna talk about is absolutely true. So a couple came in a few weeks ago. The wife had let me know that the husband really likes homework. That he really enjoys homework, wants to do homework, and at this point I wasn't gonna give them the he does until he doesn't speech. So I gave them some homework. And the homework is based off of a module that my friend Preston Pugmire and I created for our Magnetic Marriage course. Not the workshop, but the course and the homework is, it has a lot of questions that ask you, it's everything from really, it is trying to figure out or understand your spouse's favorite foods and colors and places to go and what they really enjoy on their ideal day and their dream vacation. And while that may sound at times cliched, I really, I was gonna say, I guarantee you, but I feel strongly that those are things that sometimes we assume we know about our spouse, but I think it's very good to go back and explore those things and do those with absolute curiosity, no judgment. I don't want the other spouse to say, really, you don't know what my favorite food is, but, so I think that can be a really fun exploration. And in our module, there are some questions and I have the module, the questions up right now. There's one that says things I would like you to do for me. Now, this is on a page that says everything from favorite things to do with my free time, type of gifts. I do enjoy receiving my favorite gift that you have ever given me, a gift that would mean a lot to me, and then here it says “things I would like you to do for me”. So just keep that in context or put that over on the side so I go back to a year or two ago where I had a couple that had come in and Preston had finished this module, and then I would oftentimes take the modules, some of the homework, and then I would introduce those into my on the ground boots, on the ground therapy sessions.

And it was a way to almost field test these principles and concepts. And Preston does an amazing job putting together a lot of the course materials. And so I had a couple at that point that said we would like homework. And so I said, absolutely. Let me give you this. And so then I gave them this homework and I glanced, I'd given a cursory glance over this module, and I felt like, well, this is a great exercise, and I had actually handed it out to a couple of other people who had not done it and that was the part where I, so I didn't have any necessarily any feedback from the homework. And so then this couple came in and then they said, hey, we really have some difficult conversations that we need to have today. And I thought, wow, okay. This is, I'm glad they're here. And I'm grateful to be a couple's therapist. And I had laid out, we had already had a few sessions under our belt around the four pillars of a connected conversation. We had talked about what we'll talk about even more today, sitting with some discomfort. I felt like that this is gonna be a pretty big reveal. We might even be talking about some betrayal, some infidelity, maybe there's some real dishonesty.

And so this is gonna be a difficult conversation. And so I said, okay, let's jump in. Who wants to go first? And the husband at that point said, well, I have to be honest, I'm really struggling with one of the questions in the homework, and he said, I'm curious if you could even take a guess. And it was at this point that I realized I had not read all the way through the homework. And so I just thought, oh my gosh, what is this question that the homework says? So at that moment, I have this time to self confront as a therapist, as a human being, and to either take ownership and accountability and say you know what, actually, I don't have a clue because I never read all the way through the homework, and risk the feeling of invalidation from these people that were paying me to help them with their marriage. And so I remember that was one of these moments where I'm grateful for the fact that I know there maybe have been times in the past where I could have pulled a therapeutic Jedi mind trick and said, well, you know what, tell me what you're feeling. I mean, this is about you. What is the question that you're struggling with? Let's kind of go there, but I felt like this was a time to truly model the things that I preach around authenticity and sitting with discomfort and the potential invalidation. So in that scenario, I was able to say, I am going to be honest. If you are not talking about a difficult conversation around my favorite food to eat or my favorite holiday, then I'm, I'm not really sure because I haven't read through the homework page. And in that moment, the couple was great and they just said, oh, okay. Where I know that there could be some that would say, oh, you haven't read the homework, which I would've had to say I again, I haven't. So let's talk about it. But in this scenario, here's what I thought was really interesting. The question, and I'll read it again, is “things I would like you to do for me” and the couple, and this is where I love the concepts around confabulated memory.

So we remember something, we hear something and we remember it the way we remember it. And then we almost lock it in how we remember it. It's called the mechanisms of memory. Every time we bring that memory back out, then we fill in the details with things that maybe even are happening in the moment, the feelings we have. And so then we put that memory back away, and then now it carries even more significance to whatever, however we've built that memory. Let me give you a very funny example, and this has happened a couple of weeks ago, and I know the person would have no problem if they, they would know that this is me talking about this scenario. I had someone that said, they texted me and said, I'm gonna be about five minutes late, and this person has said that they're gonna be five minutes late before and been two minutes late, and then has let me know that they have maybe pushed the speed limit a little bit. So I sit down at my desk and the door is open and I'm working on something, and they come in at six minutes after the hour. So then I jokingly say, hey, you're late from being on time, of being late, thinking I'm being hilarious. And then he says, oh no, I said that I would be 10 minutes late. And I said, ah, touche, you said five minutes late. And we both pull up our phones and what he actually said is, I'm gonna be a few minutes late.

And we both just sat there and actually made a pretty big deal about the fact that that had happened 10 minutes earlier and we both were convinced, I was convinced that I could picture as if I had a photographic memory, his texting, I will be five minutes late. Because then I built a complete narrative around, oh, when he says five minutes late, he's probably gonna be here a little bit early. I'm gonna make that joke that, hey, did you go too fast? And then he's sitting there thinking I said 10 minutes late. And then I showed up five, four minutes early. So I'm gonna tell him hilariously again that I sped and neither one of us was correct. And we sat there and it just gave us an opportunity to talk about the concepts around that and how in that moment, and it was a peaceful exchange and there wasn't anything intense or big emotions on the line, and yet we were both absolutely incorrect about what we saw on the text, but we were both convinced. I know that if I had taken a polygraph test at that moment that oh, absolutely, it said five minutes. He said, I will be five minutes late and he did not. So what I think is so fascinating about that is when we get to my four pillars, that is why I feel such a, I mean, I love all four pillars, as if they were my four children themselves. But that second pillar, again, first pillar, assuming good intentions, there's a reason why somebody is saying what they're saying, doing what they're doing, feeling what they're feeling, and that nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks I want to hurt my spouse.

And that pillar two is, and I cannot say you're wrong or I disagree with you, even if I think they're wrong or if I disagree with them. Pillar three would then be questions before comments. And pillar four is I'm gonna stay present and I'm not gonna go into a victim mentality and then want the other person to rescue me. And so I feel like that is such a good example of my pillar two, where when he said no, I said 10 minutes. I knew he was wrong. Now it turns out technically he was wrong, but so was I. But in pillar two, I really did wanna say, no, that's crazy. You're wrong. But instead, and I'm grateful that I feel that the four pillars become the air that I breathe, which I would love if that was the entire world was breathing the air of the four pillars of a connected conversation. But in this scenario, so then when he said, oh no, I said 10, then I said, oh, man, okay. That's so funny. I thought it said five because that's a much better way than to say no, you, you said five. Like, that's crazy. I can't even believe that you think that. So at that point then, my pillar three of questions before comments was almost implied. So we both pulled out our phones and, and then we just, we had a good laugh. And it was funny because I do feel like this person had a move toward not staying present in pillar four, almost wanting to say, oh, sorry. You know, as if he had done something wrong by simply thinking what he thought and believing what he believed.

And then we had, so there probably was a moment of tension, and that's, again, we're so afraid of contention, that we avoid tension altogether. And then that tension is where the growth occurred. So back to the story though, of the couple, and the things I would like you to do for me, the reason why I went down that confabulated memory and the four pillars for that scenario is because the wife in the scenario said, well, you know, it's the question that says, tell me three things that you in essence don't like about me. And I, and that's where I thought, oh my gosh, I don't, not only have I not read the homework, but really we, we say that in there? And so I'm trying to pull up the page on my iPad. And then, the husband said, I, you know, I don't, I don't think it actually says that, but I think that's maybe where we went with it. And then I was grateful for the work that they were doing because then they both kind of said, okay, yeah, maybe there's a disagreement there, but, so I just, I want to go on that, just sit with that for a second and just when you are convinced that your spouse said something, then just think of how often is the case that you do find out that, oh, it really wasn't the, something wasn't the way that you remember it because I feel like that is gonna allow you to have more grace and compassion on yourself as well as keep us in the conversation. If I know that if the person says, well, you said you were gonna pick me up at three, that I'm, I am open to that possibility, I may think that I absolutely said three, but if that is what they are stating, then oh, that would be hard if they feel like I said three, if I really didn't say that I was coming at three, and again, this is why the goal of the four pillars is to be heard, it isn't going to always work to resolution. The goal is to feel safe in our conversations so that we can get even a place of accountability. So back to the story in the scenario, the wife then had said that the husband said, what I'm struggling with is I feel attacked by what she shared. And he had said at that moment that he said, you know, I really couldn't even come up with anything that I would like for her to change or as the question actually says, things that I would like you to do for me. But they both were looking at it from things you would like for me to change. He had, his wife didn't share and she said, well, I mentioned that I really struggle with him just eating and leaving his dishes all over the house, even paper plates and wherever he eats it just really, she said, it really bothers me and I wish he would change that. And so you could watch him get tense and feel like he wants to go into defense mode. And so what I was so grateful for, again, in that moment of, first of all, I don't believe that's what the question said, and in essence it didn't say that.

But now I had to meet the couple where they were, and I wasn't gonna say, oh no, you guys got it all wrong. That isn't what the question says. Because that was what they were, that was what they were working with. So meeting them where they were at, then I still was able to say, okay, let's look at what the purpose of this exercise can be. So what it can be is when somebody says things I would like for you to do, for me, even in a scenario where let's say that it is the things that I would like for you to change. So now for that husband, if he is now going to step into the four pillars and assume good intentions, or there's a reason why his wife says that, I would, I would love for you to not, let's just kind of go specific, eat in the bedroom. And so then if he would say, okay, yeah, I feel attacked. You know, I'm noticing I feel attacked. I'm noticing I believe that she is judging me and I feel shame. So those are all things that he is feeling because she has shared her opinion. So in that scenario, again, if I can keep him in a four pillar framework, then he is gonna assume that there's some good intentions or there's a reason why she's expressing that.

And then that pillar two, I can't tell her I don't do that, or, that's ridiculous. Really, that's what you're worried about? So that pillar two again, is more of a mindset, which leads us into pillar three questions before comments. So at that point then I played the role of him in a little bit of a role play, and just said, okay, hey, thank you for sharing that and help me, help me understand, tell me more. Why is that something that is difficult? And I feel like there are probably some people that are listening right now that are saying, well, that seems obvious. Well, we are not going with anything that seems obvious. The ways to a connected conversation are to be able to just, I want to have the conversation because I want to hear my spouse and I want to hear, I want her to go on her train of thought. So in this scenario, it was beautiful because when I said, okay, tell me more, then she was able to say, I grew up in a very, very clean home, and she said, there are so many things that I don't like about the way that I grew up, but she said, I notice that that is something that brings me some calm or some peace. So when I see the mess that he leaves in his room, then I immediately feel, I notice that I'm feeling more just anxious. Here's what I talked about earlier. What a great opportunity if we can actually stay in a framework to have a connected conversation, to be able to look at all the variables here. So first of all, I love that she was able to say, when I see that food left upstairs, I notice these things about me. So this isn't a direct attack toward him, but if we can get to this framework of a healthy conversation, now we're looking at this as, hey, check this out, you know, we're married. Now I have an opportunity to then look at these things that are happening for me. So now I have an opportunity to self confront. And say, what is that about me that feels anxious? Or What is that about me that feels less anxiety when things are clean because that is not everybody's situation. So in that scenario, then she went on to even say that she had visited a cousin at one point that had an incredibly messy apartment, and that at one point she saw a trail of ants that were going from, I forget, she said one place to the other. And so she just said, when I see food, when I see clutter, I get anxious and then I worry. I worry about insects and I worry about insects, and I can't imagine living in a home where that's happening. And so again, this is her experience, and if anyone listening right now says, well, she just needs to not worry about it. She just needs to get over it. Now we're using Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication, that tenant where if you are hearing that, and now in essence you're making an observation that she is assuming that then that food is gonna lead to ants and that's gonna be uncomfortable.

And so that's you making an observation and a judgment that she just needs to not do that. She just needs to relax. She needs to realize that that isn't probably gonna happen. No. Now if you're the listener thinking that now that becomes a you issue because you don't really even know her entire experience. So what is it about you that hears her saying that she gets anxious or she worries that causes you to feel like, well, I just, she just needs to not worry about it. That's the stuff that I really start to just absolutely love about mental health, about relationships, about how all these pieces come together. So back to the scenario, she then shared that this, so this was all about these ants. It was about the clutter. It was about feeling anxious when she saw that happening. We had to really keep him very, very present because that's where somebody in his shoes could violate my pillar four very easily and just say, okay, just tell me wherever I can eat and what I can do and when I can do it. Like, that's fine, you know, and that's where somebody will go into this victim mentality because that is wanting, in essence, the woman in the scenario to say, no, you know what? I shouldn't have brought it up. It actually, don't even, don't even worry about it. But that's where if we can't have these conversations then, then they're slowly but surely going to build, I believe, some resentment.

And that's the sort of thing that happens over the course of 10, 15, 20 years where then a couple just doesn't feel a connection. Then they come into therapy and now we're processing things around leaving food in a room or, I mentioned these concepts like a situation at a Taco Bell drive-through for 45 minutes and the couple feels like, I can't believe we're talking about this, but it's not about the Taco Bell drive-through, and it's not about leaving food up in the bedroom. It's more about what this brings up for you. Why does this make you feel anxious? And then when your partner hears what that experience is like for you, then he now has this opportunity to self confront. Is that something that he has no problem with leaving the food wherever he goes. And this is what was a beautiful moment here. So she then felt, heard and understood that it causes her anxiety. She goes on this train of thought to these insects and living in squalor and all these things. And then, once he said I so appreciate that and I can understand why that would be hard and that would be difficult. Now we turn to him and say, okay, you are now the speaker. She's the listener. Four pillars still are at play. So then he said, so I also grew up in a home where he said it was incredibly controlling and there were just chore after chore after chore. And I never felt like there was an end to them, but yet I was always told there would be an end and he said, I have noticed that now that I am an adult and I, and when he said he lived on his own, that he basically did live in this squalor or pigsty, and he said it, it almost brought him an odd comfort because he felt like, hey, this is my pigsty. This is my squalor, and that therefore I do feel comfortable.

But he said if he could just sit with that though, that he knew that that wasn't something that he wanted for the rest of his life, but he worried now when we were talking about it because he had been that way for so long, it had been a few years that he said, now he almost felt like this is just something that he wasn't even exactly aware of because it didn't cause him any discomfort or anxiety. And that's where I go back to the book Buddha Brain where the author Rick Hansen, when he is talking about implicit memory, you know, he says again, “much as your body is built from the foods you eat, your brain is built from the experiences you have” and that flow of experience gradually sculptures your most of that shaping of your mind forever remains unconscious. This is what's called implicit memory, and he says it includes your expectations, your models of relationships, your emotional tendencies, your general outlook, and that implicit memory establishes the interior landscape of your mind or what it feels like to be you based on the slow accumulating residue of lived experience.

So what I love about that concept of implicit memory is it was such a good example of this person who had gone from basically absolute control needing to clean everything and feeling like it was never gonna be enough, so what was the point to then living on his own and saying, oh, I am not worrying about cleaning anything. So it went literally from that all or nothing, black or white view, but then he did that long enough that what it felt like to be him or his implicit memory was, I don't even really think about it anymore because I've let myself go to that place that it just, who cares if something's clean or if it's not clean and I'll clean it if I need to. So, because of this homework that I didn't know that was assigned, that they interpreted slightly incorrect to begin with. And then we had this four pillared conversation around something that really felt uncomfortable. There was tremendous growth because what does that look like then, then it isn't that, you know, the guy said, okay, so yeah, I'll never do that again.

But then that was an amazing moment too, so, okay. What's gonna happen when he doesn't think about it because this is more of his implicit memory or what it feels like to be him? Then at that point, will he beat himself up? Will he then say, man, I told her I would never do it again, and now I'm doing it again. And that's where I worry at times that then people will hide things because they don't feel like they can go to their spouse and say, okay, check this out. We just had this therapy conversation and we both, I can understand where you're coming from more, I really feel like this is something that I want to change or something I do want to do for you because I want that for myself as well. And then I didn't, because that is where we go to that, that Sue Johnson quote of, “we're designed to deal with emotion in concert with another human.” Because if he then felt this guilt or shame to the point where then he just says, I can't bring this up. I just gotta figure this out, and hope that she doesn't notice, then that is still gonna put him back into this place of isolation and shame and what's wrong with me? And unfortunately what's wrong with me is what often leads to people that want to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms or they want to isolate or not say, hey, check this out. Let me take you on my train of thought. We had this therapy conversation three days in a row. Now I've still left food all over the place, you know, had this interesting, because then we can explore even more, you know?

And later with that person, we were able to poke around concepts around maybe even if there were some ADHD tendencies. If there was some in that moment where he really did say, I'll just come pick this up later, but first I'm gonna do this other thing. And then I love the concepts in ADHD have driven to distraction, where then at that point, he's on the eighth project and now he's so far away from just cleaning up dishes or his clutter, that it is completely outta sight outta mind. So in that scenario, that's where I feel like there were so many things that came true, so many things that came into play of just being open and honest about, you know, the discomfort that we feel. And I feel like from moving forward with that couple, there were some pretty amazing moments in future sessions where we would even be able to check in and say, okay, when somebody is saying, hey, let me take you on my train of thought. Let's just say, you know, I feel like it would be nice for you to spend more time with the kids. And then we could turn to the husband and say, okay, let's check in. What are you feeling? And he would say, I'm feeling uncomfortable. I really am. I'm feeling discomfort. I feel it in my chest. Feel my heart start to raise a little bit. My heart rate starts to elevate. And when I feel that I'm noticing that I really want, I want to just get rid of it and then I would say, how, how do you wanna get rid of it?

And he said, honestly, I want to get angry. I want to say, fine. Just tell me what you think I should do. Or I want to point out, well here's times where you aren't doing your best with the kids. And so I just feel like you can really see that, that sitting with that discomfort, it's just so uncomfortable that we want to get rid of it at any cost. And unfortunately, the way that we get rid of it is typically through unhealthy means. We typically turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, anger, gaslighting, withdrawal, victim mindset instead of sitting with the discomfort and learning these concepts of being more emotionally mature and knowing that it's not gonna kill me. This is the part that I want to go so big on in the coming weeks and months as I talk more about really throwing the four pillars out there and wanting them to just be on the tip of people's tongues or starting to again, be the air that they breathe, is that if we can start to look at our relationships once we can get out of clutter of the back and forth of the tit for tat of the pursue, withdrawal of the freeze and flea. We can learn that there are tools that will allow us to stay present in the moment, assuming that my partner is not out to get me. And then not just shooting them down and saying, that's ridiculous. You didn't say that. You don't know what you're talking about. And then once we can master those concepts, now we're starting to lean forward a little bit and now we're saying, tell me more. And then that still is gonna bring with it some discomfort because I'm gonna hear things about their experience that will make me feel uncomfortable because I'm going to internalize those and my immediate response is gonna be to think that they are attacking me, or they're saying that something is fundamentally wrong with me because they are unhappy.

Then for me to stay present in that fourth pillar and just hold this frame and just say, thank you so much for sharing that, and I appreciate that, and that sounds hard or I'm grateful that you shared that. And yeah, it's uncomfortable for me, but I'm a mature human being, or I'm becoming more mature and I can sit with this discomfort because if I can take a breath in through the nose, out through the mouth, lower my cortisol, my stress hormone, kind of come out of this fight or flight response. Now all of a sudden, I'm changing an entire dynamic as a human being in a relationship as a parent that I'm now showing that I can sit through someone else's experience and I can be there and I can stay grounded and I can say, thank you so much for sharing. Now I'm gonna self confront and I'm gonna take a look and say, okay, is there some truth in that? And if there is truth in that, is that something I want to because ultimately what that concept of differentiation is, again, where one person ends and the other begins, and there's invalidation in the middle. But if I can have a relationship with someone and I can maintain that we both have our own experiences, then a differentiated relationship is that they can offer me some data and since I care about this person, I'll take that data and then I'll use it and I'll do a little self confrontation.

And is this something that I agree with or I'm aware of or that I really wanna work on and I might not be able to make that decision at that moment. I might have to say, man, I appreciate you sharing that, and that's something I really need to take a look at or internalize and see if that's something that I want to do some work on myself now, I hope, because, and I'm jumping way too far ahead, but I like this concept that we are putting out a version of ourselves and I'm, if you're watching this on YouTube, I got my hand up because this is my ball. Ball up your fist and this is you and you're holding it out to your partner and you're saying, this is who I am now. Validate this person. I am a nice, kind person who is always compassionate and wonderful. And we're saying to our spouse or our kids, right? Kids, right, wife, right husband? But if that is not the experience that they feel, then we're asking them to do something that goes completely against who they are. And we'll feel that and then we will feel offended that will you pause, you don't think I'm the most amazing individual that you've ever met in the face of the earth, but if they say, man, I appreciate you sharing that, and I can understand that, that there are so many times where I do feel like you were this most amazing person but there are also times where I worry that we're not quite sure which version of dad we're gonna get. And this is a very real example that I think I've shared on my Waking Up to Narcissism podcast. But I remember when I was sharing some of this with my wife one of the first times, and I really appreciated her saying, well, you know, sometimes we're not quite sure which version of you is walking in the front door.

That is not the version of me that I put out and say validate my version, I'm always on, always fun, it's amazing, but this is a person I care about. And so I had to, in real time, assume good intentions. She's not trying to hurt me. I can't say you're wrong. And at that point it was, tell me more. And she said, there are times where if I'm feeling, you can tell if I feel like I'm on top of the world, that I come in and it's almost, you know, that I picture, I know that my wife wouldn't think this same way, that I'm coming in there and throwing out a hundred dollars bills, everybody making it rain, I think as the kids say, probably not. And just saying, everything's great, everything is awesome. Let's go to dinner, spend all the money, find arcades, buy things, let's do everything. Everything is great. But then there might be a day where, let's say that I have paid bills or I have forgotten to do something, or it's been some tough client cases during the day. And I come home and I'm a little bit more down and all of a sudden the kids are, oh, dad's home. Make it rain, you know, get the butterfly net out to catch all the a hundred dollars bills. So not true, by the way. And then, and then I'm like, oh man, hey guys. Like, geez, I'm not a bank. You know, all of a sudden I had to self confront and say, is there truth? Because I don't believe that she would just be saying this to hurt me. And I remember feeling like there's some truth there. Yeah, there is. Because, and I started to realize my own emotional immaturity at times might be to walk in the front door and want people to then come say, dad, what's up? Oh, I don't know how you do it. You're the man. 

But then other times I come in and they're like, dad, you're the man and that's unfair to put that on somebody else to hold my fragile ego and then be the ones to manage it. Because if I'm looking for that kind of external validation to make me feel good, then I'm not even quite sure at that moment what it is that's gonna make me feel good. So then it's basically okay family, give it your best shot, and if it doesn't work, then I'm gonna be mad at you because I still don't feel. No, I have to know that this is a me issue and I need to be able to process and deal with the things that I'm dealing with, and then come home and just be and be my most authentic self. Now, does that mean I can't have feelings and emotions? No, absolutely not. Of course I can but I can be honest with my feelings and honest with my emotions and try to remain more consistent as a human being, and then be able to process those things, whether it's with my spouse or maybe it's with a therapist, where I can recognize that sometimes that self confrontation can be done but eventually that is one of the, one of the watershed moments of, I feel like my own journey of becoming more emotionally mature. Because I still remember that and that was years ago. And so now I'm aware that if I have had an off day that I can share that with my wife and say, but man, I'm noticing that I'm feeling that way and absolutely, I feel all those feelings. And what I'm actually gonna do is invite those to come along with me while I am, as present as I can be with my kids or with things, activities, so that I can train my brain over time that there is gonna be good and bad and that I can remain more emotionally consistent. And show up in a way that isn't seeking someone else to manage my emotions because I'm getting quite good at it myself.

So, we'll leave it there, but I feel like some of the things I would like to talk about the next time that I do one of these, let me take you on my train of thought episodes would be, we'll sit with it, we'll talk a little bit more about that concept around self confrontation. And so maybe my challenge to you, the homework that I would love for you to do and report back. If you can't hear, there's a little bit of sarcasm in my voice, but I really do feel like just being aware of some of the things that we talked about today can be very helpful. In Rick Hansen's, the Buddha Brain, he has a part of the book that I have now taken and made my own and confabulated and changed altogether. I know it's based on what are the things he talks about, which is even, it's the path of awakening, the path of enlightenment, it might not even be but the concept in essence that I love, that I gathered from that book is that we go from being unaware of what we're unaware of. We don't know what we don't know. Now all of a sudden we are more aware. Now we know, but we don't really do the new thing that we wanna do very often, and that is a, that's a rough place to be on this second stage or second goal or second level of your path of enlightenment or awakening. I should probably put some IP around this because in that moment sometimes we feel like, I wish I didn't even know. Or, okay, now that I know, why am I not doing well? It's because you're human and it takes time. And unfortunately things take a lot longer than we want them to take. 

The third level path rung on enlightenment or accountability. Now I know I'm having fun with that myself, but it may be frustrating to the listener. But on the third piece of this path of enlightenment is now I know and I do more than I used to. So now I'm aware of the things I'm aware of. I'm aware that, yeah, there I do struggle with sitting with discomfort. But now, more often than not, I'm able to stay present and I'm able to conjure up the four pillars of a connected conversation. And I'm able to come out of that and feel like I survived. Not only did I survive, but I have more of a connection with the person that I'm communicating with than I care about. And then eventually that fourth level of enlightenment or on the path of enlightenment is I just am. So I go from, I didn't know what I didn't know to, now I know, but I don't really do much about it, to then I know, and I do things about whatever it is more often than I don't. And then finally I just am and I become, and that is an amazing place to be and it does take more time than we would like, but the journey is, is so worth it because that is what will start to bring you far more emotional maturity, which I believe also leads to more of a healthy ego and confidence, which allows you to show up better for those for yourself, and then for those that you are around. And then the more that you are able to embrace your healthy ego, your God-given talents and abilities, get away from socially compliant goals, or the things that you think you're supposed to do, or else you're gonna let somebody else down. And then just be able to step into that what it feels like to be you. That implicit memory, which is based on the residue of lived experience and that lived experience is you knowing how to sit with discomfort and knowing I'm gonna be okay.

And knowing I don't know what I don't know, which is ultimately gonna lead to you being very confident in the things you do know, which is gonna start to build your self-confidence and it will allow those around you to even breathe a little easier because they know that you know the things you're gonna take ownership of the things you don't, and that's gonna be a pretty incredible way to live and to show that to the people that are around you that you care about. So if you have questions, thoughts, please get them back to me through the social media channels or email me and we'll do more of these versions of, let me take you on my train of thought.

So, taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented, also on TikTok, Aurora Florence with her song “It's Wonderful”. We'll see you next week on the Virtual Couch.

Tony welcomes Camila Smith, LCSW, to the Virtual Couch. Camila is a psychotherapist, educator, and the Chief Clinical Officer of Bekome ( Camila specializes in gut health, with an advanced doctoral focus in mental health and clinical nutrition. Tony and Camila talk about the current state of the mental health system as practitioners which often view mental health as solely in the brain. They discuss a more integrated view of mental wellness, including Camila’s passion for taking a more holistic view, including not only therapy and exercise but, more importantly, nutrition and understanding the role that your gut health plays in mental well-being, especially concerning anxiety. 

Learn more about Bekome, and its customized supplements by visiting You can get 30% off Bekome’s customized supplements by using code Tony30 at checkout. 

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

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

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

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

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

Virtual Couch- Camila Smith Bekome Transcript

Tony: So, Camila Smith, welcome to the Virtual Couch

Camila: Thank you. I'm excited to be here. 

Tony: Okay. I am too and I'm going to be just so honest. I am. So I just want to sit back and listen, and I didn't prepare anything. I'm going into this blind because, you know, I talk often about we know what we know, so that means that we don't know what we don't know. And I want to know so much about gut health. I know that's like the future of mental health, I feel like I've had kind of tummy troubles my whole life, so I'm, I want you to teach me everything. And then when I looked up your background, I have to be honest, the things I think are so fascinating are I saw that you are also an equine and art therapy person. And those are absolutely two areas I know nothing about either. So, you know, I know you are bringing to me, I just wanna sit back and hear all the things that I don't know that I don't even. So is that too much pressure? Okay. So jump in wherever you want. I'd love to know a little bit about you, your background, and then what we're talking about today.

Camila: Sure. No problem. So I guess I'll start with a little bit of just who I am as a person. And where I'm at. So I’m a therapist and also a hypnotherapist, yoga teacher, art and equine, clinical officer, adjunct professor. kind of all over. So I think if I had to sum it, I'm just a lover of learning. You know, I, and so going back to, I guess the beginning with being a therapist. So after about five years of being in the field and working with clients, I became increasingly more uncomfortable with the approach and not to say that there isn't, I still practice as a therapist and I think of course, when we talk about, you know, traditional treatment options of kind of thinking about our thoughts and how we might, our thoughts affect us, but I started to become, I had a lot of questions particularly because of my own experiences with anxiety, and it just didn't feel good. You know, to give the narrative of kind of like, well, if we change our thoughts, which we can, it's gonna change, especially when I know what anxiety feels like in my body. Right? Like, yeah. I, I can't seem to, will my way out of my heart racing. Right? Like once it’s happening, I can't seem to change my stomach hurting or me having a headache just based on thought once it's already occurred, right? So I started to have a lot more questions, and at that time I worked at a clinic and we would get a lot of referrals from primary care, so from doctors and from the hospital. 

So there was a lot of overlap between kind of medical and then mental health, but there was also a lot of separation. Right? So it was like, there was overlap in terms of, referring back and forth, but there wasn't, you know, it's like there was just a huge disparity between the two. So I decided to go back to school and I got my doctorate in health sciences with a clinical nutrition concentration. And what I learned just blew my mind, right? So I started not really knowing what to expect. I just wanted to learn more about the human body and how this all really affects our mental health. And some of the things that I, I think, that were most impactful to me was learning about, for example, the second brain, the HPA access, kind of all the physiology that goes into anxiety disorders. So as I'm going through the program, you know, I had to work on a dissertation, so I decided to focus on anxiety. So my research was on the use of nutraceuticals, so natural remedies for anxiety disorders, and I compared all of the research to traditional treatments. So I looked at, you know, how does passion flour hold up against an SSRI or benzodiazepine? So, I looked at kind of the ones that we primarily, amino acids, different herbs and then compared them. And I'm a big nerd, so to me it was great. I was learning so much. I'm like, this is awesome. And last year, you know, I'm sitting working on my dissertation and I have this hundred page document with tons of studies and I've spent years on it and I was like, okay, well what am I gonna do with this? You know, I have what I feel is good information to give out, but how do, what's the next part to this? 

So I am huge into kind of manifestation or creating our future. And I put on my vision board that I was going to somehow formulate this into a supplement, no idea how, it was you know, at that point just a thought and fast forward to end of last year, I get a call actually ties into the equine, from someone that I knew, we were both on the board members of a company for equine and art therapy. So she calls me and she says, and it's been a couple years since we spoke, because of the pandemic, we had to shut down a lot of the programs, the in-person programs. And she says, hey, I'm working on a project, thinking about starting this company with a co-founder and I don't know, you just came to mind. I'm like, okay, I'm all ears. And you know, she's like, we're thinking about a supplement for anxiety, all natural, like, I got it. So at that point, I had all my research so we got together and since then, you know, we, so I formulated, I grabbed pretty much my things for my research and we formulated it into an actual supplement, which we tested. So right now I'm in a role of, and it's been amazing, right? So kind of still practicing as a therapist and then have transitioned into the startup world. So mental wellness startup, and it's been an incredible journey. So this is kind of where I'm at now, and so much of the focus going into this startup, for me, was how do I take everything that I've been learning, right? The things that I've learned, the way our brain works, but also our body, you know? Our gut health. How does this all line up? And how do we make this, you know, what can I provide? What can we come together? And a big piece of that is not only just the supplements, but education, right? 

Tony: Well, and Camilla, I love this because I didn't know, I mean, I really did think we were, I purposely didn't do too much research about what we were going to talk about. So and maybe even just to kind of for my own listeners. So yeah, I assume we were going to be talking about just some probiotics or some gut health and how that affects the future around depression, anxiety. So, okay. So now going on my train of thought. It's funny because I was always going to be the non-medication therapist when I started, but then I started having people that really benefited from some medication, but meanwhile, I'm a bit of a supplement junkie. I'm an ultra marathon runner, and I've been sponsored by a couple of different companies and I realize at points they could send me anything. And if it's in a supplement form, I'm taking it and I'm aware of that. 

So then I jump into the role as a therapist and I used to be a cognitive behavioral therapist, just change your thoughts, but then I wouldn't run into, okay but then there's a lot of time where that not only doesn't help, but it makes people feel worse because then they can't just decide to be happy. Right? So then I start doing all the trauma work with Body Keeps the Score and you've got that visceral gut reaction and so even as I shift to acceptance and commitment therapy, which I love, which is like, oh, of course we have thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and then, you know, but am I fusing or hooking to this story that, you know, I'm not enough or whatever. But then it's funny that you're saying this because people would sometimes say, okay, but I literally can't keep anything in my stomach and I can't go do this thing because I have diarrhea or that sort of thing. And I would, I would make the, I do too much humor, but I would say, okay yeah, I guess we can't quite say, oh, I'm fusing to the story of I'm going to soil my pants. Like that one's real, you know, that one's legitimate. That's the real one, right? 

Then I start looking at anxiety more, and yeah, when somebody's in that fight or flight mode, and I, on one of my podcasts I talked about amygdala hijack, and you know, when you're in that mode, there’s not a lot you can do at that point. Yeah. And so it has to be all that stuff leading up to, so, all right. I like that we're going in a completely different direction than I thought. And then my other thought I just have to throw out there is I do find myself, I don’t know if you remember in grad school where it was like you would get marks off if you didn't first ask the role play client of, did you get a medical evaluation? You know? And then in my own practice, I mean, we can go sometimes, many sessions where all of a sudden I'm like hey, have you had blood panel work done or do you really understand what's going on with your body? So, all right, so there's my big old dump, so now I'm excited. So now go where you want to go.

Camila: You know, to your point, to the beginning. So in the formulation we do have a probiotic that we added into there. And, but you know, aside from that, I think where I'm at now, it has been kind of a buildup of just a lot of the, you know, information that I've learned but some of the things that to me was just mind blowing was having gone through grad school and, you know, training CBT, and a lot of different trainings that we never talked about gut health or we never talked about the ENS system, right? So we have our brain, but then we have, yeah.

Tony: Yeah, tell me about this.

Camila: So the second brain, which I love this stuff. All right, so we have a, what's considered a second brain, but it really is believed to have been the first brain, meaning that it was developed kind of, first it was say our brain has continued to develop, so the second brain lives in our stomach and it works off of a whole separate central nervous system. And it's called the enteric nervous system. It's an ENS system. What's really interesting is the ENS system, it's the system that starts from our, well, it starts from our esophagus and it works all the way down to our, kind of like our pelvic area. So it runs all the way through, it actually runs through like our throat, our front torso down and it sends information up and down and it connects to the base of our brain. So the ENS system can actually work independent. So meaning it doesn't necessarily need, if it was connected, if it had like a source of power, it could work completely on its own, which no other organ in the body can do that. It needs the central nervous system. So this could function completely independent. It has trillions of cells and it essentially, so it's in our gut. So when we talk about like gut feelings, right? A lot of times we say I don't feel good about that. Right? I always kind of talk to my clients and I say you know, feelings, where are they?

We feel them in our gut, right? I've never felt a feeling in my brain like I've never actually felt something and went, oh my God, I feel that right here. Right? Like, you feel it in our heart, you feel it in your gut. Sometimes it travels all the way down. You might feel it in your hands or your hands are tingly or your feet, so the ENS system is this whole separate, and it's in charge of helping us, well digest food, but it's also a processing center, just like the brain. So it takes information, you know, let's say something scary happens, and it takes all of that, it processes and then it sends signals, right?

So when we think about mental health, for example, serotonin, right? Which I would say is probably one of the better known neurotransmitters. So it's our food, mood, appetite, sleep chemical. So we tend to treat that through medications and think about that as our, in our brain, right? But serotonin, 95% is actually made in our stomach, only 5% is in our brain, which is very interesting. And that 95% that's in our stomach gets deposited into our blood platelets and it moves around our bodies. So our gut, you know, kind of takes information, it produces 95% of the chemical in charge of our mood. It uses it into our blood cells, essentially, and then sends it to the rest of our body. So only 5% is actually produced in our brain. Only 5% of that is like a brain chemical that then gets dispersed. Right? So when we talk about kind of the brain gut connection, there's a direct connection is we have our brain, right? And then we have our gut and they're in a straight, you know, it's kind of like a highway. And in between that we have the vagus nerve that goes and it sends signals up and down and as I learned about this, it felt even more difficult to separate the two, right? Because they are, they work together, they're connected.

And you know, one system sends info to the other. And then to think about our main mood, you know, let's say chemical, being produced in our gut, you know, made me kind of think about like, so this is why it's so important, right? For us to really address gut health. There's also been a lot of kind of more recent studies that are finding that some of the bacteria in our gut, they specifically found some for, I wanna say individuals with dementia, they found a bacteria that usually lives in the gut. They found it in the brain, and in the kind of the dental area of patients with dementia, which then suggests that bacteria from our gut travels all the way up into our brain and it can kind of colonize there, right? And start to cause some of that inflammation. And so there's this little highway that, you know, all these bacteria kind of goes up. 

Tony: Well, it's funny, Camila, we're hitting on some pretty funny things that I had no idea that we would talk about. The dementia is the reason why I ultra run or because I take the supplements or, I don't want to, it's funny, I don't want to have that, you know, but I'm also aware, I'm also a fan of the expectation effect. And so I don't want to also continually ruminate about it. So I try to bring awareness to that. But I've read a few things to talk about that plaque in the brain and then even the, from flossing, I mean, so that's funny. I didn't put all those together that are looked at as some of those signs or causes of dementia. So I didn't even think that it may originate in the gut.  

Camila: Yeah. There were like more recent studies, right? So it's a theoretical, I mean, at this point we know that the bacteria went from our gut to our brain and our mouth, right? So we're assuming that it traveled that way. But there is a lot of interesting research that's coming out here. And you know, another thing that I also find really fascinating to kind of think about how food and things, or just in general toxins, affect our mood, is so there's been, you know, leaky gut, right? We know that our stomach has this lining. However, our brain also has a lining and it's called the BBB right? The blood-brain barrier. Right. So the BBB is supposed to protect our brain. It's a little membrane that kind of expands, so it opens and closes, and it lets certain molecules into our brain, right? So transmitters and out, and it protects it. However, inflammation can actually start to kind of loosen those little entryways. So then we start to get toxins into our brain, our actual organ, that are not supposed to be there. So then our, kind of just like leaky gut, we essentially, if we wanna follow that terminology, we could experience leaky brain.

Tony: Okay. This is where I've heard this concept of when things cross the blood-brain barrier. Is that what that is?

Camila: That is exactly right. Yes. So as we start to get inflammation, you know, things that irritate this lining. The function, so it's supposed to, it's called tight junctions, right? They're supposed to be kind of like, open up just enough to only let certain molecules in. But as we start to kind of compromise that lining, our body starts to let a lot of other things in. Right? And that's where we potentially are thinking about certain bacteria entering our brain toxins. And we start to experience some of those cognitive things, when we think about our mental capacities, right? So much of that can be affected by the things that are crossing into our brain. And this is where everything  that goes into our body affects our brain. So it's not just our thoughts, but actual, whether it's bacteria, chemicals, toxins, food dyes, right? There's so many things that irritate, like for example, for ADHD, there's a lot of research out there that shows that a specific dye, it's a red dye. I don't remember the exact number. But there's a dye that has, you know, some correlation with ADHD because it's believed to cause some damage to the lining.

Tony: Now I feel like you've been secretly stalking me because I talk often about my ADHD diagnosis in adulthood, and now I'm thinking, man, did I just guzzle this red dye as a kid? I mean, is that, you know, I mean this, it makes sense though if it's crossing this blood brain barrier. When you mentioned the cognitive decline that could happen because of the toxins entering the brain. Fascinating.

Camila: And then, even when we think about things kind of crossing or not, this is where nutrition is so important, right? So for example, let me kind of try to make this as less geeky as possible. Serotonin is synthesized from an amino acid called tryptophan, right? So our body cannot make tryptophan. We can only get it from outside sources. So tryptophan is found in chicken, turkey, dairy. The best example I can give is Thanksgiving. And I'll explain why Thanksgiving, 

Tony: Well, it's funny. This is the one, when you said that, I thought, wait, is this the one with the turkey, and then you end up falling asleep while you watch football after. Okay. Tell me more. 

Camila: Tryptophan turns into serotonin, then serotonin turns into melatonin. So that's how it goes. I just ate a lot of tryptophan. I had a lot of turkey, cheese, and you know, pies. And then I'm feeling really good, serotonin, right? Like my mood is oh, I feel great. And then that mood chemical turns into melatonin. So then we crash, right? and you know, yeah. So that's the progression of it, right? So tryptophan turns into serotonin melatonin, but the only way that tryptophan can cross the blood brain barrier is by glucose. So that's the transporter. So it needs glucose to cross. And glucose. So sugar, right? If our glucose levels are not balanced, then it's gonna compromise our bodies ability to transport. So my diet, let's say, has my glucose levels up and down. And, you know, it's gonna impact how my body's able to digest all of those amino acids into my mood, you know, transmitter. So we think about, when we think about like the connection between mood and food. Well, our main mood chemical comes from food.

So if we don't eat tryptophan, we will not have enough serotonin. Our body needs tryptophan. Right? So when we talk about how, and we, I think we all know this. I mean, I definitely get very happy with food, right? Like certain foods automatically feel good, right? It's like an instant release into our mood. So it's, this is where that connection, so the connection would be, you know, some foods like tryptophan, directly impact our brain chemicals. And then in the middle is our glucose. So then we need to make sure that we're eating food or that our body is balanced throughout the day so that we can actually digest properly. And so this is where it all, you know, kind of comes together and, I felt for me, at least for a while when I was, that the cognitive approach focus very singular without thinking about, you know, how glucose, tryptophan, all of our dopamine, how all this impacts our body. And the reality is I'm also ADHD. I was, as much as I wanted to, change certain things, and I tried. It just was not happening. And once I got the appropriate treatment for it, everything changed, you know, for me, so it's, yeah, it's a very interesting place to be in, like once you start to piece them all together and it's like, wow. 

Tony: Well, because then I can only imagine then even when you have the data, we still have all these deeply rooted neuro pathways and we still, you know, so then if we don't continue to be perfect with now diets or supplements, we can beat ourselves up and think what's wrong with me? And so we, but I love what you're saying. I'm not great with analogies, but one that popped into my head was, it's almost like, maintenance on a car throughout a trip instead of, versus maybe what we do as therapists is, okay, you're here and your car is all beat the crap, but now, tell you what to do with the car, and we probably could have taken care of it along the way.

Camila: Exactly, right. That's exactly how I, yeah, because it's almost like in some ways, yeah. It's, let's learn how to cope with, you know, what's going on, right? Let's learn how to feel better, have a perspective that doesn't harm you more, right? So we work on how to change the narrative around our current circumstances. Maybe our past ones. However, that doesn't necessarily direct, it does have some impact, right? Some, yeah, it definitely does. However, if they're, you know, that's not gonna change a lot of other factors, right? Yeah. Our food, so it's, I do think we need all of it, right? Yes. I think it's a multi-prong approach. Our thoughts definitely impact, you know, our body. So I don't think I wanna discredit that completely. 

Tony: Yeah. And I don't hear that in you too, but I love what you're saying. It's almost like, okay, with an acceptance of we can only work with what we can work with right now. Now what can we also start to add to maybe help with that work? And that would be through I mean, certain supplements and, I wanna make the joke that, okay, so I guess we do need to eat better. Is that what we're, all right. Maybe I’ll listen because you sound like you know what you're talking about. So then where do you go next with that? And now, because I know you are involved with the company, that's where I found your information and the supplements. Do you feel like if somebody was gonna start somewhere, and so would it be adding a couple of like, how do you decide or know what is best for you from food, supplements to all those sorts of things? 

Camila: So this is where I think having a team of trusted providers is so important. There are certain, for example, nutritional deficiencies that are important to know because it can mirror mental health. We know for example that there's a deficiency in B vitamins, is almost 100% mirrors the same as neuropsychiatric disorders. So it just, someone that has a deficiency in B vitamins can have the same exact symptoms as an individual with let's say depression, anxiety, right? So I always, you know, kind of recommend, let's cover all of our bases, right? So making sure that we're getting our lab work to see how our body is doing, right? And then kind of, you know, I think taking inventory of, we all have different schedules. We have different lives, sometimes it's thinking about taking an honest look, you know? And I think that our body is designed to know in some regard what it needs. We might find ourselves like, I'm thirsty, or I want something sweet, or I want something salty. I'm really hungry. So starting to kind of tune into what messages are our body giving us, you know, and honestly, I think it's tricky to say, so like where do we start?

I guess my first step would, taking inventory without judgment, right? Where am I at? You know, how do I feel about hydration? Do I feel as though I'm, you know, hydrated properly? Does my body feel good? Kind of listening, okay. Yes, it is. How am I doing with fruits and veggies? Do I feel like I'm having, you know, a good amount, good serving? Yes or no? Okay. How am I feeling about exercise? So, kind of, what is it, the six doctors? Of course, I'm only gonna remember like three. It's water, sun, air, exercise, rest, and there's one more. 

Tony: Five outta six is good. I mean, and I like what you're saying too. Maybe if we put our therapist hats on too. I mean, and it's okay. Non-judgmental, accountable, what are we pretending not to know? Because I know I get plenty of clients that will say, I barely eat. I put on all this weight. And then if we even can just say, man, I hear you. And what would it look like to even just track things for a few days? Non-judgmental, and people find out, oh, I don't drink much water. I'm not really eating much fruit. I do binge more on things than I thought. You know, that sort of thing. Yes. I like what we were saying.

Camila: It’s kind of like a mood diary, right? The mood diary, except maybe it's more like a lifestyle, how often am I drinking water? What's it, just looking at, what does my average day look like? And based on recommendations, you know, kind of standard recommendations that we have about nutrition, hydration, exercise, you know, where do I fall with that? Then seeking the appropriate support. So if I'm feeling like I could use more exercise. Then maybe that's where I focus and I might get an accountability buddy or get a trainer if I need motivation or if I'm feeling like food is the area. And I think that's where therapy can be such a powerful tool to have that person to help kind of be that guide. Let's, you know, make sure that we're accessing all of these individual supports. And I also do think as a therapist, and that's where for us to have that awareness of how important every area is. And that we all need to work together to achieve, you know, kind of optimal health. 

Tony: I like that. Alright, so that makes a lot of sense. So first, just kind of being honest with yourself and tracking some things and see where you're maybe deficient. And then from there then, I mean honestly let's do, I'm absolutely fine with, let's plug because I'm on your website too, now that I really see where we're going. There is a thing that says get my personalized plan. What level of detail does that go into? 

Camila: Yeah so we have, Bekome is the company that we founded. And currently we have a base pack. So yeah, it's a little pack and it has all the supplements. You take it every day. However, we do offer a personalized option, which means that I work one-on-one with people and we then give a recommendation for supplements completely based on their symptoms. Right? So we're looking at, you know, we have different screening options, so let's say some individuals with anxiety. So our primary focus is anxiety. Some individuals have anxiety and trouble sleeping. Some people have anxiety and sleep well, right? So for someone with anxiety and trouble sleeping, we might look at supplements that kind of promote sleep and relaxation at night. Someone that has anxiety and headaches, for example, let's say lemon balm, is a really, really great supplement for headaches, stomach aches, and anxiety. So if somebody says hey I wake up with this headache and then my stomach hurts, and then my heart's racing. You know, we might wanna add that in. So our base pack, for example, right now, does not include lemon balm, but then we would wanna add that, right? So the personalized plan is a consultation where, I kind of, I talk to people and see where we think they might land if we think that the base would be, you know, best for them. And it also comes along with recommendations for certain foods. So that's where I work one-on-one with people to screen and see how you are doing and there's certain assessment tools. How are you doing with food? How are you doing with this? And then seeing where we can start to plug in some changes to boost some of those nutrients that are needed for our mood.

Tony: And then, do you feel like it's one of those where it does just like anything does take time? Do you find that people all of a sudden say, okay, I want this to make me feel better right away? 

Camila: Yeah, I mean I think that I would say a majority of health conscious, you know, individuals, we probably have tried many different things, right? It's like I've already tried that. I've already tried that. Just tell me this is gonna work. Right? Yeah. So there's this excitement for things to work because we've tried so many other things. When we ran the pilot study, we found that 91% of our trial participants reported pretty significant changes and their symptoms within one week which was really exciting data. So, you know, 91% felt a difference within one week when I formulated the supplements, I looked at both short-term and, you know, kind of long-term effects. And I was thinking about how, with anxiety, we have SSRIs and we have benzos, right? In Benzos it's more like in the, your Xanax, right in the moment. I need something. My heart's racing. I need to, right. And then we have, let's say our SSRIs that work long-term. Which is why we need to be on them for at least two to three weeks to feel a difference. So when I was formulating, I brought in specific ingredients that would have that effect.

So, for example, the supplement blend includes Passionflower and theanine. So those are in the moment, you know? They provide that like daily relief. So when we take it, that theanine is gonna help us to focus, give us energy, it's gonna relax our body. Then we have, for example, magnesium glycine and B6 that also have that effect, but they have more of a cumulative or probiotics, right? We don't take a probiotic one day and feel instantly better. We might actually not feel so good at the beginning. Your tummy might feel a little off while your body's balancing out. So the supplements they are, people do actually find a majority of people, I take them, do find relief immediately and then cumulative, right? So they feel good and then they start to kind of feel and sustain that progress. Because I wanted something that's not just right now, right. And then it's not really gonna help us in the long term or it's gonna have some negative effects. 

Tony: No, I love that. I mean, so combine that, maybe even with some expectation effect or I'll even lean into a little placebo effect. I don't even care. As long as it's gonna head somebody down that right path. Well, that's exciting. So where do people go? And I can put links in the show notes.

Camila: So the website is,  And, you know, one thing that I wanna say, anybody that just has questions, yes. We do have a complimentary 15 minute conversation with me. Okay. So anyone that just wants to say, hey, will this work for me? I'm taking this medication, or I've already taken this, I'm not sure, I do wanna say it, it can be taken with most medications, SSRI. Okay. But if anyone, so that’s completely, just go on the website and it says, book my consultation, and, you know, it just connects us. It goes straight to my schedule and also we do have, so for me, this is such an area of passion, it's my baby kind of took all my research, put it together, and it's something that I believe in really strongly. So we do have a 30 day money back guarantee. So if somebody tries it and it just doesn't work right within those 30 days, there's a 15 minute, and then there's also the 30 minute consultation where we can hop on the phone and work together and see what else we can add. Whether it's nutrition or just kind of emotional support, however, if it doesn't work, that's okay. You know, our bodies are different. We all respond differently. So there are, you know, I'm here to support as best as I can. And yeah, I love it. 

Tony: I love it. This was amazing and I enjoyed this interview a lot. I feel like I've learned a lot. So thank you so much for coming on that, and maybe we can have you down the road to talk about how things are going the more that you find, what else you find.

Camila: Thank you. I do just wanna add, we're happy to offer a 30% off discount to any of your listeners. Perfect. So you go to the website and just type in Tony30, it will go ahead and populate. 

Tony: I love it. I will share that all over the place then. Thank you so much for joining me today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Mackie/Tony Transcript

Mackie: I'm sweaty already. 

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

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

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

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

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

Mackie: Thank you, Tony. 

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

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

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

Mackie: Yeah, my brain kind of shuts off.

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

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

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

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

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

Mackie: Adulting, being a full grown adult.

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

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

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

Mackie: Not that I'm aware of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony: But yet, you do Mackie. 

Mackie: But I'm learning.

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

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

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

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

Tony: It really is. 

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

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

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

Tony: I say it really nice though, right? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mackie: Not 25 seconds.

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

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

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

Mackie: I didn't know that either. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony: Okay, is that what it is? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony: Wait, wait, hold on, hold on. 

Mackie: No, I didn’t say anything.

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

Mackie: No, nothing. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mackie: No, it’s terrible.

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

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

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

Exercise, meditation, prayer, and eating good food all sound like wonderful, emotional-baseline-raising activities. But depending on how you're doing them, they could also be a way to eliminate unwanted thoughts and feelings. Tony looks at "creative helplessness" and "emotional control strategies" and how they play into our search for happiness. Tony references Russ Harris' book ACT Made Simple

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

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

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

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

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


Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 359 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 of The Path Back, which is an online pornography recovery program that is helping people turn away from turning to pornography as an unhealthy coping mechanism. 

And a funny thing on the topic of pornography, which seems like a bit of an oxymoron, I received some texts a couple from people that are very close to me, who asked me about a post on my social media this week, that there was a mention of cornography that is as in corn, C O R N, or people talking about their corn addiction. Now, this is not a situation where people are literally addicted to the delicious yellow, I don't even know if it's a vegetable or a fruit, but it turns into popcorn, which is one of my favorite things in the entire world. I guess technically I could fall into a bit of a corn addiction if that is the case, but we're not talking about that type of corn. 

Apparently, if you use the word porn or pornography on certain social media platforms, then that will be the end of you. Your account will be banned and you will be sent to outer darkness for time and all eternity. So in order to get around that and to try to help people, because I really feel like we need to be having better discussions around the challenges of people that are turning to pornography as an unhealthy coping mechanism, you have to refer to it as corn, corn addiction, and the coauthor of my book, He's a Porn Addict, Now what? An Expert and a Former Addict to Answer Your Questions, Joshua Shea, has a pretty big following, especially on Tik Tok. And he is known as that corn coach or the corn recovery coach. So I am meeting the social media platforms where they are at. And we're just going to embrace it. And I am going to help people turn away from unhealthy coping mechanisms, especially turning to corn or cornography to try to get that dopamine bump and have them tune out from feeling less connected in their relationships with their spouses or in their parenting, their faith, their health or their career. There's your gee whiz file tip for the day that you are going to hear me talk more about people and their addictions to corn. And, again, it is not the fruit and or vegetable. 

But let's get to today's topic. I want to talk about happiness. And before I do that, let me just encourage you to go sign up for my newsletter. Go to And we will not inundate you with spam. As a matter of fact we will most likely, still continue to not send out the newsletter on a regular basis, but I'm working with my friends at the Yeah Yeah agency to get a template together and to just get that word out more on a regular basis, because there are so many exciting things that are coming. The Murder On The Couch podcast with my daughter, Sydney. I don't think I've ever put so much into the backend of putting something out in a better way. And I can't wait to release that. And there's a clip that's on my YouTube channel and I'll put the link in the show notes that is just a couple of minutes and it gives you a little bit of a preview of Sydney and my back and forth in this podcast. And I'm excited about this. We have a lot of episodes that have been recorded. And it's probably not exactly what you are anticipating. There's some true crime meets therapy. There's a, I feel like there's all these other things as well. A father, daughter relationship. And we'll get to more of that down the road, but I would encourage you to be on the lookout for Murder On The Couch and then sign up and subscribe and follow, however you follow all of your podcasts. 

So back to this concept of happiness today, I want to look more into the book ACT Made Simple by my favorite acceptance and commitment therapy author, Russ Harris. We're going to dig into ACT Made Simple. And before I even get to ACT Made Simple, we're going to talk about a concept today in ACT that sounds negative, but it's called creative hopelessness. And I really feel like by the end of today's episode, you're going to have a better idea of why it can be difficult to feel happy. And what real happiness consists of. And then a way to start to achieve more of a legitimate, real internal feeling of happiness. And based on a, probably a different definition of happiness then you may be used to, but first let's go to story time. And this is from the book, The Confidence Gap. And this is from Russ Harris. “Why is it so difficult to be happy?” And actually this might be from his book, The Happiness Trap, one of one or two, one of those books that I recommend them both. Russ said, “The modern human mind's ability to analyze and plan, create and communicate was not initially a feel-good device so that we could tell jokes, write poems or say, I love you.” 

And this is where I often like to think of the concept of a court jester that you had to bring someone in and basically tell them, hey, be funny, make us laugh. And if they were not funny, the court jester could be killed. But that was not the design of the human brain, that it wasn't this feel good device. It was more of a don't get killed device. So Russ said our minds grew up in a way to help us survive in a world that was fraught with danger. So early on your goal was to eat and drink and find shelter and have more kids and protect your family so that you could survive. So truly it was more of this don't get killed device, but he said that the better we became at anticipating and avoiding danger, the longer we lived and the more kids we had. So each generation of the human mind became increasingly skilled at predicting and avoiding danger. 

So now our minds are constantly on the lookout. They are assessing and judging everything that we encounter. Is it good or bad? Is it safe or dangerous? Is it harmful or helpful? But now it's not as much about animals or packs of thieves, but it's about losing a job or being rejected or getting a speeding ticket or embarrassing ourselves in public. Or getting a terminal disease and a million other common worries. So as a result, he says that we spend a lot of our time worrying about things that more often than not, will not ever happen. And on that note before I get back to Russ's “Why it can be so difficult to be happy”, that worry, I think also is tied into just this desire we have for certainty. 

I was talking with my wife about this last night and it can just be really a cause of such stress and anxiety for, I think a lot of us when we just want to know. I mean, it can be everything from, we want to know what our kids are going to do when they grow up. And we want to know what retirement is going to look like. We want to know who's going to win the super bowl in a couple of weeks. And we just have this desire to know, and we crave certainty. And if you really break it down, that desire to know is there to try and calm our anxiety that our brain feels like if I can just know, then I will be able to feel better. And I'll just be that, I'll be able to be more in the moment, be more present, but in reality, we have to be more present to be okay with the idea that we don't know, because we don't know who's going to win the super bowl. We don't know what retirement is going to look like. We can have a good idea. But one of the most certain things in life is that uncertainty. And in the book On Being Certain, which I just, I feel like is one of those books that I think really helped me reframe a lot of the things that I think, and the way that I act. It. Basically posits this idea that certainty is, in my words, “adorable” that our brain craves this certainty and that our brain is even trying to trick us into thinking, no, you can find it if you ruminate and you worry and you think, and you overthink. You'll find that certainty that you're looking for. So just, just keep at it. But then that is exactly what can keep us stuck. And I often say that it's that concept of, we want certainty and our brain will even say, okay, what's two plus two? Well, it's four. And that I'm pretty certain of. That is very certain. 

And so that feeling of certainty is there in our brain somewhere. So I feel like the more that we are seeking certainty, then the more maddening it can become because our brain says no, you know what? It feels like, old man, keep ruminating, keep worrying. And you'll find that two plus two aha moment. Trust me. So we keep worrying and wondering and ruminating. But again, we spend a lot of this time worrying about things that more often than not, will not happen. So then Russ says that we also have this inherent need to belong to a group. And early on, if your clan booted you out, how long would it be before you were devoured by wolves? And he says sometimes, literally. So, how does the mind protect you from getting booted out? Well, by comparing you to other members of the clan. Am I fitting in? Or am I doing the right thing? Am I contributing enough? Am I as good as others? Am I doing anything that might get me rejected? So he says, does that sound familiar? Because our modern day minds are continually warning us of rejection and comparing ourselves to the rest of society. So no wonder we spend so much energy worrying about whether or not people will like us. 

And even as little as a couple of decades ago, we only had to worry about the people in our church or in our neighborhood or in our school or in our work. But now all we have to do is pick up our phone or glance at a computer screen. And we can find a whole host of people who appear to be smarter, richer, slimmer, more famous, more powerful than we are. I can't even tell you, I feel like even more so over the last two or three years I've always had people come into the office and say that they see people on social media and everybody seems so happy and successful. And that's where as a therapist and when I get to work with so many of these people, and I will say, we all have our problems, without going into detail or breaking confidentiality. And it's interesting because I feel like that has amped up a little bit more in the last year or two of people putting on some very, very big “look at us”. We are doing everything and it's amazing and wonderful. We have no problems or no fears or no worries or no doubts. To the problem where then others are seeing those people put themselves out there as perfect. And then starting to feel again, like what is wrong with me? So I think that's exactly what Russ Harris is talking about. Because if I go back to this, he says that “When we compare ourselves to others, then we can feel inferior or disappointed or sad and depressed.” And then he said, “And to make it even worse,” and this is the part that I felt like it resonated with me in particular, “our minds are so sophisticated that we can even conjure up a fantasy image of the person that we believe we would like to be. So we can even compare ourselves to a version of ourselves that we assume would be much happier. And that just sounds exhausting. So, what he's saying in that scenario is I can even create this version of me that has these rock hard, six pack abs probably full hair transplants, no wrinkles, and then just able to quote the works of Shakespeare, as well as the works of ACT founder, Stephen Hayes, and then make sense of all of it. So why am I not that guy? What is wrong with me? I must, I must strive for that. Perfection. And so that is part of why it can be so difficult to be happy. So again, the brain is a don't get killed device. 

And I will take every chance I can to then go from there and to the book Buddha Brain, where the author Rick Hanson says, “but here's the problem there too, that your brain preferentially scans for, registers, stores, recalls, and reacts to unpleasant experiences more than anything else,” he says, “the brain is like Velcro for the negative experiences and Teflon for the positive ones.” So consequently, even when positive experiences outnumber the negative ones, the pile of these negative implicit memories grows faster. So then this background feeling of what it feels like to be you can start to become undeservedly glum and pessimistic. So we seek this certainty. Our brain is this don't get killed device. Not a, I am falling in love and everything in the world is wonderful and amazing device. And so the acceptance of that is where we can start to grow. And now let's jump into this. What Russ Harris calls in the book ACT Made Simple, “the emotional control agenda”. So if we just, again, start out with, I just want to be happy. In the book ACT Made Simple, and I'm on chapter eight, he says, “Have you ever had a client who just wanted to be happy? And that is all that he or she wanted from therapy?” And he says, “Of course you have. And I'm sure you remember well, how challenging that is, or that was luckily from now on,” he says, “you will have something to help you with these clients. Creative hopelessness.” 

And he says, “Please don't let the name put you off.” So creative hopelessness in a nutshell, in plain language, he says that creative hopelessness is a process where one becomes aware that trying hard to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings tends to make life worse than better. So this is that concept where, when we are burning all these emotional calories seeking certainty, or trying to make sense of things that don't make sense or trying to prepare for a future version of events that more than likely will not happen, that is what can just start to feel like what is wrong with me, or I just don't feel happy. So that leads to this sense of hopelessness and the agenda of avoiding one's difficult thoughts and feelings. And out of that feeling of hopelessness can emerge a creative attitude toward finding new and different ways to deal with them. So if we look at hopelessness as where we find ourselves, when we're trying to control or avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings that can feel hopeless. We need to start to add a dose of creativity in there because now that I accept the fact that it feels that things can feel pretty hopeless. Well now, what am I going to do about that? So hopelessness, here we emerge a creative attitude toward finding a new and different way of dealing with this situation that we find ourselves in. 

So Russ says, “The aim then is to increase the client's awareness of the emotional control agenda and the costs of the successive experiential avoidance,” which again, is doing anything other than the things that you feel would be good for you to do. And then to consciously start to recognize and acknowledge that clinging tightly to this agenda of control. This emotional control agenda is unworkable. So what do we have to do? We have to confront this agenda that you have, that you can control all of your thoughts and feelings and emotions. So while we look at what the client has done to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings as a therapist, we start to help somebody examine how they work in the short-term and the long-term. So sometimes avoiding something works in the short term because it alleviates the feelings of uncomfortableness or anxiety, but then how's that working in the long haul? If you can avoid something in the very moment, then what do we typically do? Well, we'll do it later. We'll put it off until tomorrow. And if we hit the mid part of a day, then we'll do it tomorrow. And if we hit Wednesday or Thursday, we'll do it on Monday. And if we hit the 16th of the month, we'll do it next month. And when July hits, we'll do it next year. So when we know or suspect that a client, you know, as a therapist is excessively experientially avoidant and doing everything other than the things that they are claiming that they want to do, you recognize that they are so attached to this agenda of emotional control. They're saying, well, I need to feel good. I need to feel good before I can do these things that are important. Or I need to get rid of these unwanted thoughts and feelings, and then I can do it. But in reality, we have to do to actually start to feel good. Or we have to do, to bring along these unwanted thoughts and feelings. And show them actually, who is boss. 

So this creative hopelessness, it's part of the ACT model that we bring. If we know for a fact, or we feel pretty sure that a client is really cleaning tightly to an agenda of emotional control, that I have to control how I feel I have to get rid of these unwanted, unpleasant and difficult thoughts or feelings or emotions or memories. And I have to replace these things with good, pleasant, desirable ones. Here is one of those problems that I really do have with the mental health field in general. And I was one of these therapists for years, that just said, okay, but what is going right for you? Or, you know, that thought leads to an emotion and that emotion leads to a behavior. So just change the thought, like you just need to be happy or if somebody doesn't call you back, instead of being frustrated or angry, just think, oh, maybe they dropped their phone in the lake. Maybe that's it. And so that would lead to an emotion of, oh, okay maybe I'm not so bad in the behavior. I can go about my day. 

But then the person might leave the office and think, wait. I just paid for that guy to tell me that maybe my friend dropped their phone in a lake when in reality, I think that my friend just doesn't really care for me. So in other words, we can try to just say, okay, don't think that, or we can try to say, well, maybe it's not as bad as I think it is. And at that point, maybe I'm wrong and maybe everybody does love me and they just all forgot about me and that's completely okay. But in reality, we're still trying to control. We have this agenda of emotional control that I have to control how I feel. I have to get rid of the unwanted or unpleasant or difficult thoughts or feelings or emotions. And I just have to replace them with good and pleasant and desirable ones. So Russ says we've all got this agenda to some extent. It's normal. And we even talk about when you really dig deep and to act as much as I like to talk about this concept of experiential avoidance, and that's doing anything other than the things that I feel like I want to do or must do. That in reality, a little bit of experiential avoidance and moderation doesn't ruin our entire lives or our days. 

But when a client is clinging desperately to this agenda of trying to have this emotional control, well, then at that point, then the experiential avoidance is high. And at that point it really does become very problematic. And again just by way of making sure that I realize I assumed that everybody has listened to everything and they know exactly what experiential avoidance is in the world of acceptance and commitment therapy this is a really powerful concept. So experiential avoidance and I'll stay in this text of ACT Made Simple. So Russ Harris says, “Let's look at another core process that gets people hooked on their thoughts and their feelings, it's experiential avoidance, and this term refers to our desire to avoid or get rid of any of these unwanted experiences and then anything that we do to try to make that happen.” Now these experiences in ACT, we call them private experiences and a private experience means any experience that you have that nobody else knows about unless you tell them. So that's your thoughts, your feelings, your memories, your images, your emotions, your urges, your impulses, your desires, your sensations. 

So all humans are experientially avoidant to some degree. And why shouldn't they be? And there's an ACT metaphor that explains this I think in a little bit more detail, it's called the problem solving machine. So as a therapist, I would say if we had to pick one ability of the human mind that has enabled us to be so successful as a species, it would probably have to be problem solving, which basically boils down to this. A problem is something unwanted. And a solution means we avoid it or get rid of it. Now in the physical world, problem solving works really well. If you have a wolf outside of your door, you get rid of it, either with rocks or you throw spears at it. Or you shoot it, or if there's snow or rain or hail, when you can't get rid of those things, but you can avoid them, hiding in a cave or building a shelter or wearing protective clothing. So a dry arid ground, you can get rid of it by irrigation and fertilization, or you can avoid it by moving to a better location. 

So the human mind is a problem solving machine and it's really good at its job. And given that problem solving works so well in the material world, then it's only natural that our mind tries to do the same with our inner world. So this world of thoughts and feelings, memories, and sensations and urges. But unfortunately when we try to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts or feelings, it doesn't work. And if it does, we end up creating a lot of new problems that can make life even harder. So experiential avoidance then actually increases our suffering. So he says we'll return to this problem solving machine metaphor later, but for now, consider how experiential avoidance increases suffering. Addiction provides one of the most obvious examples. So many addictions begin as an attempt to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. Such as boredom or loneliness or anxiety, guilt, anger, sadness. So in the short run, gambling, drugs, alcohol, sex, cigarettes, will often help people to avoid or get rid of these feelings temporarily. 

But over time, a huge amount of pain and suffering results. So the more time and energy that we spend trying to avoid or get rid of unwanted private experiences, the things that are happening internally to you, your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, your beliefs, all of these things. The more we're likely to suffer psychologically in the long run and, and things like anxiety disorders. He says provide another good example. It's not the presence of anxiety that creates an anxiety disorder. Because after all anxiety is a normal human emotion that we all experienced. Anxiety can be there as a warning. It truly can. But at the core of any anxiety disorder lies this excessive experiential avoidance. Of trying to avoid or run away from these feelings, thoughts, uncomfortable feelings that are happening inside of us. So Russ Harris says a life dominated by trying hard to avoid or get rid of anxiety, that actually then increases your anxiety. So he says, for example, suppose I feel anxious in social situations. So in order to avoid those feelings of anxiety, I stopped socializing. But my anxiety gets deeper and more acute. And now I have a social phobia. There's an obvious short-term benefit of avoiding social situations. They get to avoid anxious thoughts and feelings, but the long-term cost is huge. You become isolated. Your life quote gets smaller. And then people find themselves stuck in this vicious cycle. And he says, alternatively, I might try to reduce my anxiety in social situations by playing the role of a good listener. 

So I become very empathetic and caring toward others. And I discover a lot of information about the thoughts and feelings and desires of other people. The other people I'm talking to, but I reveal very little or nothing of myself. Again, this helps in the short term to reduce my fear of being judged or rejected. But in the long term, it means that my relationships lack intimacy or openness or authenticity. Now Russ goes on to say, he says, suppose I take Valium or some other mood altering substance to reduce my anxiety. Again. The short term benefit is obvious, less anxiety. But the long term costs of relying on he quotes “benzodiazepines or antidepressants or marijuana or alcohol” to reduce our anxiety, could include A, a psychological dependence on the substance, or B, even a physical addiction, C, physical and emotional side effects, and D, financial costs. And failure to learn more effective responses to anxiety and which therefore maintains or can even exacerbate the issue. So he says that another way that I might respond to social anxiety would be to grit my teeth and socialize, despite my anxiety, that is to tolerate the feelings, even though I'm distressed by them. 

So from an ACT perspective, and this is what I love. I love this about ACT. That sounds like that exposure. I just need to get in there and do it. But from an ACT perspective, this too would be experiential avoidance. Why? Because although I am not avoiding the situation, I am definitely struggling with my feelings and desperately hoping that they'll go away. So this is tolerance, not acceptance. And there's a big difference between tolerance and acceptance. He says, “Would you want people you love to tolerate you while you're present, hoping you'll soon go away and frequently checking to see if you've left yet? Or would you prefer them to completely and totally accept you as you are with all of your flaws and foibles and be willing to have you around for as long as you choose to stay?”

So, Russ Harris says the cost of tolerating social anxiety, that is gritting my teeth and putting up with it, is that it takes a huge amount of effort and energy, which makes it hard to fully engage in any social interaction. So as a consequence, you start to miss out on much of the pleasure and fulfillment that accompany socializing of just being in the moment, being present, observing, noticing, being open, vulnerable, funny, charismatic, connecting. This in turn then will increase your anxiety about future social events. Because you're already predicting that I won't enjoy this or it'll feel awful or it's too much effort. He says, “Sadly, the more importance that we place on avoiding anxiety, the more we deeply have anxiety and we develop anxiety about our anxiety.” And it becomes this vicious cycle and it's at the center of any anxiety disorder. Because he says after all, what is it? The core of a panic attack, if not anxiety, about anxiety. So again, attempts to avoid unwanted thoughts and feelings. I can actually increase them. There's the paradox. 

For example, research shows that suppression of unwanted thoughts leads to the rebound effect, meaning that it will increase the unwanted thoughts, both in intensity and frequency of the unwanted thoughts. Other studies show that training to suppress a mood will actually intensify it in a self amplifying loop. So there's a large and growing body of research that shows a higher experiential avoidance is associated with anxiety disorders. But again, that doesn't mean you can just jump in there and just exposure therapy yourself into happiness. Because is that tolerance or are you truly learning to accept and be in the moment? So talking about this growing body of research, showing that higher experiential avoidance is associated with anxiety disorders, excessive worrying, depression, poor work performance, higher levels of substance abuse, lower quality of life, high risk of acting out sexually can lead to concepts like borderline personality disorder, or a greater severity of post-traumatic stress disorder. Long-term disability, higher degrees of overall psychopathology. So it's hardly surprising that he says that then a core component of most ACT protocols involves getting a client in touch with the costs and futility of experiential avoidance. I mean, this is often an essential first step to pave the way. For a radically different agenda, experiential acceptance. 

But, of course, you know, that is going to take work. And I'm not trying to say that just because you're aware, hear what I'm saying, that is going to be easy because it's going to be a little bit of a long road ahead. But then what's the key? It is learning how to figure out what matters to us. Here comes those values. And then throw in a nice dose of mindfulness and learning how to pause and slow down your heart rate and get out of your fight or flight of your brain, your amygdala. And learning how to be in the moment and live by things that are of value and importance. But that doesn't mean that your anxiety goes away. As a matter of fact, it'll probably still be there. But you'll learn more of a concept around acceptance. And not that you have to then have this avoidance. 

So back to this concept of creative hopelessness. So now we can maybe understand a little bit more where creative hopelessness gets its name. Because what we aim to do is to create a sense of hopelessness in the agenda of controlling your feelings. So it's not about hopelessness in your future or yourself or in your life. It's hopelessness and the agenda of controlling your feelings. Therefore let's get creative. So we aim to undermine this agenda so we can open our clients as therapists up to a whole new one and agenda of acceptance. And a lot of the ACT textbooks often refer to this new agenda as willingness. So once we identify the hopelessness of trying to control, let's get creative and let's start to lean into willingness. That is the willingness to have your difficult thoughts and feelings. As opposed to fighting with them or avoiding them. So creative hopelessness is rarely a one-off intervention. Russ Harris says, “It's usually something you need to revisit session after session as a therapist. But usually each time you revisit it, it gets a little quicker and a little easier to do.” And so, it's interesting and I love before he goes deeper into the concepts around creative hopelessness. He says, okay, we need to get clear on a couple of concepts. So one is the emotional control strategies. 

So emotional control strategies or anything that we do primarily to try and get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings or overt or covert behavior that's predominantly motivated by experiential avoidance. So these emotional control strategies can include everything from exercise, guilty, prayer, meditation, alcohol, heroin, suicide attempts. And he makes a note that if exercise or prayer or meditation are predominantly motivated by values, then we would not call those emotional control strategies. So, I have a value of fitness. That's a core value of mine. So exercise is a vehicle. So I moved that into, okay. That is living my value based life. If I am turning more to exercise instead of ruminating, worrying, beating myself up about things. So you really call things emotional control strategies, only if the main intention of those activities is to avoid or get rid of unwanted feelings. And creative hopelessness work will ask a client to look openly and non-judgmentally at all the emotional control strategies that they're using, but we don't judge those as good or bad or right. Or wrong or positive or negative. 

Because we really want to just see if those strategies are working or not in terms of creating a better life. And this is where I love the fact that at the core of ACT is you. You are you, you are the only version of you and we can take in data from the peanut gallery or those that we really do appreciate and care about, and we do want to know what other people think it's just kind of in our nature. But ultimately you're the only one who knows how you feel. So I may ask others for their opinion or what do you think I should do or do you think this is good? But at the end of the day, this is where ultimately you and I love that you can look at a concept like exercise. And is that an emotional control strategy or is that a value? And that is completely up to you. And when I talk about value based living, I give this pretty dramatic example of a value of honesty, that if you grew up in a home. And that home, there was no honesty. Then you may have a value of almost, I want to say brutal honesty. But then your brain is going to say, okay, well, yeah, but you might hurt somebody's feelings. And in the world of ACT, well, I'm not even arguing that, that's not, we're not arguing the truthfulness of that statement. It may very well be true and probably is true, but is that a workable thought toward my value based goal of honesty? 

But if you grew up in a home where there was an insane amount of brutal honesty, then maybe you have more of a value of compassion. So then your brain is going to “yeah, but” you and say, well, yeah, but you may not be honest. And at that point, then if you are the only version of you and you know what that means for you, then I'm not even arguing if that's a true or false statement. It's true. I'm not going to be completely honest at times because I have this value of compassion. So I love that we can even carry that over into these emotional control strategies that something like exercise. Is it a value or is it an attempt to control or move away from our run from your emotions? He talks about targeting all emotional control strategies. So, in a word, you know, Russ says, do we target all emotional control strategies? And he says in a word, no, with a whole bunch of O's. Because he says, “Recall that the whole ACT model rests on the concept of things being workable, workability.” 

So is this behavior working to help you build a rich and meaningful life? So if your emotional control strategies are working to enrich and enhance your life, then keep doing them by all means. Keep doing the exercise away. If you have a value of knowledge, then Google everything. But if you do not have a value of knowledge, then Googling things can be a form of experiential avoidance. He said, “However, the reality is that most human beings overly rely on emotional control strategies. And when we use them excessively rigidly or inappropriately, our quality of life will suffer.” And he says, take eating chocolate for an example. He said, when we mindfully eat a piece of good quality chocolate appreciating and savoring it, we feel good. Assuming that we like chocolate. So if we use this as an emotional control strategy, flexibly and moderately, it enriches our life. It is workable, but if we do it excessively, then it might start to have a cost of health, such as weight gain. Plus if we are in intense, emotional pain and we eat chocolate to try and distract ourselves from it, then it's unlikely to work. And I love that he then goes back to this example of exercise, and for example he says, when we exercise, we often feel better. At least afterward. He says, if not at the time.

And exercise also improves our quality of life. Therefore, if we exercise as an emotional control strategy and we do so flexibly and moderately, then that's generally workable and good. But if it becomes excessive, like the client with anorexia spends three hours a day in the gym to keep their body in a state of wasted thinness, then even something as positive as exercise will have its costs. And in addition, he says, ACT postulates that even life enhancing activities such as exercise or meditation or healthy eating will be more satisfying and rewarding when they're motivated by values such as self care. Rather than being motivated by experiential avoidance or trying to escape these unwanted feelings. And I will say openly and honestly that the reason, I so appreciate talking about ACT and exercise in this framework, as a former ultra marathon runner and running a dozen races of a hundred miles or more and six times around a track for 24 hours and doing up to 125 miles. And I don't know, a hundred, 150 marathons and ultra marathons, that I know that there was a period of my life and it was when I was doing a career that I really didn't care for in the computer industry that I didn't even know how much that I didn't enjoy that. Because I didn't even know how much I would enjoy doing something that I find value in of therapy, writing, podcasting, or helping people. I now understand that that was why I turned to ultra marathon running. In that scenario, then my exercise was a form of experiential avoidance, trying to escape feelings. And then there is nothing quite like the pain of mile 80 at two in the morning of a race when you even question your own sanity of why on earth am I doing this? 

And heading down a little hill, the feeling in your quads or a calf. So just the, I can't even describe what that feels like, but boy, I'll tell you what I'm not thinking about in that moment, going back to work on Monday. So I know that that exercise in those moments truly was a form of experiential avoidance. He also gives the example. He said, for example, have you ever eaten yummy food primarily to push away feelings such as boredom or stress or anxiety? And a few weeks ago, I did an episode, I think I called it “The Psychology of the Churro”, and I really had that feeling in Disneyland recently. It was fascinating that if I was bored, I could go get a churro and it would be amazing and it would push away those unwanted feelings of boredom and it was a satisfying experience when I can slow myself down. But then at that point, when that was my third or fourth chiro after eating also the beignets and also eating whatever huge lunch that I had, not so satisfying. So he says, contrast that with occasions when your eating was motivated by value is around savoring and appreciating your food or connecting and sharing with loved ones. And which one was more rewarding, you know, was it inhaling a churro? Or was it sitting and enjoying an experience and savoring a meal with loved ones? 

Similarly, he said, if you do charity work motivated by values, around sharing and caring and giving and helping you'll likely find that far more rewarding than if you're mainly motivated by trying to avoid feelings of guilt or worthlessness. So if you are giving to the homeless man on the corner, because you feel guilty, that's going to be a completely different experience than if you are giving to that person, because you have a value of charity. So then as therapists, we try to help clients take action guided by your values, rather than by experiential avoidance. Rather than trying to just avoid these feelings or thoughts. So we want to get clients consciously moving toward what is meaningful rather than simply running from what is unwanted. So he said to really hammer this point home, suppose you exercise primarily motivated by values, such as self care. Or you pray motivated by values around connecting with God. He said we wouldn't class those as emotional control strategies because your primary aim isn't to control how you feel. But we would classify them as emotional control strategies. If your main purpose in doing them is to get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. You know, I work a lot in religious contexts with the concepts around scrupulosity which is this OCD of religious thought. So if you go back to the way that Russ just pointed that out, if we pray and we do spiritual things, because we have a value around our spirituality or connection with God, then that's a completely different experience of prayer or confession. As a purpose of doing that to get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings of guilt or shame. 

So then back to this creative hopelessness as an intervention based on workability. We're going to ask a client to take a good, long, honest, and mindful look at all of your emotional control strategies and see what they cost you. I would love for you to connect with the reality that our emotional control strategies often work in the short run to make somebody feel better, but they don't work in the long run to make your life rich, full and meaningful. So I said at the beginning that I wanted to challenge the definition of happiness and this by no shock comes from another Russ Harris book called The Happiness Trap. And there are two definitions that he mentions. And the happiness trap of happiness. And I feel like these are again some of those times where I don't want to just say that the light bulb came on the concept around why I just love acceptance and commitment therapy so much, but there are two very, very different ideas of happiness in the world. So Russ says, “What exactly is happiness? We all want it. We all crave it. We all strive for it. Even the Dalai Lama has said the very purpose of life is to seek happiness. But what exactly is it?” He said the word happiness has two very different meanings. The common meaning of the word is feeling good. In other words, feeling a sense of pleasure or gladness or gratification. We all enjoy these feelings. So it is no surprise that we chase these feelings. However, like all human emotions, feelings of happiness don't last. No matter how hard we try to hold onto them. They slip away every time as we'll see a life spent in pursuit of those good feelings is in the long-term, deeply unsatisfying. 

In fact, the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. This is that concept of where “I'll be happy when”. I'll be happy when I get a hundred grand, I'll be happy when I get a nice car, I'll be happy when I graduate college, I'll be happy when I have a family. And while those things may bring this pleasurable feeling, but then like all good feelings in the long term, they go away. And so then we're chasing the next good feeling. The next good feeling. So he says the other far less common meaning of happiness is living a rich, full and meaningful life. So when we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, we move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy. And we clarify what we stand for in life and we act accordingly. Then our lives will become rich and powerful and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. 

And he says this isn't some fleeting feeling. It's a profound sense of a life well lived and all those such a life will undoubtedly still give us many pleasurable feelings. It'll also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness and fear and anger. Because again, like we've talked about today, the goal is not to avoid those and not to try to run away from those. Because he says, this is only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotion. So this is that part where I just feel like I want to shout from the rooftops. I want to testify. I want to sing the praises of just finding the real version of you, what it means to be you, your values. What you are all about, what you like, what you don't like. And the more you can learn to find that what really makes you tick and understand that is still going to come with all the highs and lows and ups and downs in life. But as you start to take action on the things that matter and really lean into your values and then acknowledge the fact that if I am experientially avoiding things just to avoid pain or discomfort, then I'm going to continually live in this world of fear and avoidance. But when I learn what really matters to me and I start to lean into what it feels like to be me, is to take action on the things that matter, the anxiety or the fear isn't going to completely disappear. But you're going to start to create a whole new relationship with it. And it is just going to become another thought or another feeling. And there it is. And I have lots of thoughts and I have lots of feelings. But I'm starting to do, I'm starting to do things that really make a difference for me, or matter for me. 

And that will allow me to be more present in my life. And that is back to this definition that is feeling this full range of human emotion. But it's also going to just give us this profound sense of a life well lived, and I cannot say enough that that is something that we don't know what that is like until we do. And so it is worth it to take the effort and work to get to that point and really find this just true happiness in life, because I know that life can be challenging and difficult to say the least, so that's why I desperately want to talk about ACT every chance I get, because I want each and every one of you to have this profound sense of a life well lived because it does make everything just more worth living. 

Taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented Aurora Florence, and it's more than ever, I feel like the song “It's Wonderful” is needed when we talk about things, the way that we talked about them today, because when you start to figure out what it feels like to be you, then in fact life really can be wonderful. All right, we'll see you next week on the Virtual Couch.

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