Today I am honored to connect with my friend and colleague, Dr. Joan Rosenberg! She is a highly-regarded psychologist, master clinician, trainer, consultant, cutting-edge psychologist, and the author of the book 90 Seconds to a Life You Love.
Joan is a dear friend who is absolutely brilliant and very wise! She has a broad range of experience, both as a clinician and as a professor. As a clinical psychologist, she is known for her concept of working through uncomfortable feelings. In this episode, we dive into how our childhoods impact our ability to express ourselves and the understanding that if we have the capacity to think, we can change. We discuss uncomfortable feelings, triggers, awareness, and reframing. We speak about experiences versus disconnection, resilience, and the benefits of facing our pain. We also get into the goals of communication, incongruent thoughts and actions, growth, generosity, compliments, and humility.
This conversation is one of my recent favorites! I hope you will love it too!
“Emotional regulation is a skill we need to develop, and as well, communication is a skill that we need to develop.”
-Dr. Joan Rosenberg
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- How our capacity to think allows us to learn new things and change, regulate our feelings and emotions, and express what we are experiencing.
- How our childhood impacts our ability to express ourselves and talk about our feelings.
- Why do we need to develop the skills to express ourselves and regulate our emotions?
- Why do we want to distract ourselves from unpleasant feelings?
- How do feelings relate to our experience of aliveness?
- We have the capacity to shift and change throughout our lifetime.
- Dr. Joan discusses eight unpleasant feeling states to which most of us can relate.
- How Dr. Joan helps her patients reframe vulnerability.
- What helps us build confidence and resilience?
- What can we do to improve our communication skills?
- How to deal with incongruence between words and behavior.
- How to cope with compliments.
Connect with Cynthia Thurlow
Connect with Dr. Joan Rosenberg
Dr. Joan’s Book
Cynthia Thurlow: Welcome to Everyday Wellness Podcast. I’m your host, Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Thurlow. This podcast is designed to educate, empower, and inspire you to achieve your health and wellness goals. My goal and intent, is to provide you with the best content and conversations from leaders in the health and wellness industry each week and impact over a million lives.
Today, I had the distinct honor to connect with my friend and colleague, Dr. Joan Rosenberg. She is a highly regarded psychologist, master clinician, trainer and consultant, and a cutting-edge psychologist. Today, we spoke at length about the childhood impact of our ability to express ourselves and understanding that if we have the capacity to think, we have the capacity to change. We spoke at great length about the role of uncomfortable feelings, triggers awareness and reframing, experiences versus disconnection, the benefits of facing our pain as well as resilience, the goals of communication, incongruent thoughts and actions, growth, generosity, compliments, and humility.
This is one of my favorite recent conversations. Joan is a dear friend and absolutely brilliant. I hope you will love her work and absolutely her book, 90 Seconds to a Life You Love, enjoy.
Well, good morning, Joan. It is so wonderful to have you on the podcast. I’ve been wanting to interview for the podcast and for listeners, they may not know that I am also dear friends with Dr. Joan Rosenberg, and it’s really an honor to have you on the podcast. So, much wisdom, you have this ethereal presence about you. It’s so calming. I know that, that will be conveyed in our conversation this morning.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Well, you’re so sweet. It’s a total treat for me to be here, Cynthia, so you know how much I respect and honor your work. It’s like I’m just pouring love on you to start.
Cynthia Thurlow: [laughs] Likewise, for sure. When we’re talking about a lot of what you are known for as a clinical psychologist is the concept of doing the work and working through these uncomfortable feelings. In your experience, you have this broad range, both as a clinician and also as a professor. Let’s start the conversation talking about how our childhood actually impacts our ability to express ourselves, how it allows us or distracts us from being able to express ourselves. because the one thing that I’m always humbled as I’m doing the work in my personal life, I’m always humbled how I reflect back on. We learned so much through our parents, good, bad, and indifferent. But in your clinical experience, how does that impact our ability to talk about our feelings, express ourselves, etc.?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: It actually impacts a lot. I want to start with a phrase I like to use and then work backwards from that, and that is “If you have the capacity to think, then you have the capacity to change.” Why I want to start with that is because in that sense, regardless of how we grew up, then if we have that capacity to think, we can think of new thoughts. As a result, we can learn how to do new things and that is entirely tied to our ability to both regulate our emotions or regulate our feelings or modulate them, whatever words we want to use for that. It has everything to do with our ability to also express what we’re experiencing. So, what happens in childhood? Well, we grow up in probably I can classify it as kind of three or four major environments. We grew up in a situation where there’s chaos, there’s abuse, there’s hostility, there’s a disregard or neglect for the child in terms of what’s going on.
So, you have a situation where a child and I think of a child as a growing to the emotional range of the parents. If a parent is very explosive and reactive, then that child learns that as a style of both regulating themselves, handling their emotions, and also expressing. That’s one environment. Again, if the child is abused or neglected or we have any of those kinds of things going on, then a child can also go the opposite direction. I’m going to be reactive like my folks or my caregivers or I’m going to shut it down because it was so hard to bear. Or we go to the other side where a child grows up in an environment where feelings don’t get discussed at all. There’s no response. It’s all in the head and it’s all potentially achievement oriented or a whole host of things like that.
And so, there’s no way to learn what my interior response is, my inside response is because there’s no reflection of it coming from the outside. Same thing, I’m going to grow to that emotional range. I’ll stay shut down or I might because I need to get it out, I might start rebelling and go the other way and become reactive. We have the third major environment is an environment where it’s much more evenhanded and feelings are messy, but it’s not overreactive. Sometimes it’s reactive, but it gets taken care of. The parent goes, “Oh, you know what? I was wrong when I did that and I’m sorry for letting go like that or becoming–” whatever it was, so that there’s the flow of emotion and a child then grows to that emotional range. Again, the beauty of it is regardless of those environments that we grow up in, if we realize it’s not working for us, then we can learn a new set of skills.
The thing I also want to really emphasize here, Cynthia, is that in my mind, learning how to be with our feelings, to handle them, to deal with them, to modulate them, to regulate them, whatever words we want to use for that and to express ourselves. So, communication both to me are skills. It’s not that we should just be able to do it because we’re here living, but they’re actually skills that we have to develop. Emotional regulation is a skill we need to develop. As well, communication is a skill that we need to develop.
Cynthia Thurlow: I love that you started the conversation saying that we all have the capacity, if we have the capacity to think, we have the capacity to change. Irrespective of what environment or environments we grew up in, we have the ability to shift direction and change course. For me, it’s only fairly recently that I’ve started talking to listeners about the environment I grew up in. The first two environments you talked about are the environments I grew up in. And I shut down. I was the quiet kid. I was very achievement oriented. I knew if I was quiet and achievement oriented, no one bothered me at home. I could fly under the radar. But I never learned to really properly express myself. If someone were to ask you about me in college, they would say she was very studious, she was very social, but she was aloof, distracted.
It was because it was very hard to modulate emotions in college because I was realizing, you go to college and you’re exposed to so many different types of people, so many different people from different cultures and ethnicities, and it’s all wonderful and exciting, but all of a sudden you realize what you grew up in is not everyone else’s reality. And so that process of figuring out for yourself, like, is my behavior helping me or is it making it harder for me to grow and evolve? And I started therapy in my 20s. It was one of the very best gifts I gave myself. I think on a lot of different levels I have had to learn to find my voice, to speak up. I know that we’ll touch on these things as we evolve this conversation. But if there’s anyone that’s listening that didn’t grow up in that super nurturing, loving, communicative environment, it’s the recognition that you can change and you can learn new patterns.
These are all skills much like cooking is a skill or learning how to ride a bike. These emotional communication pieces are things that we have to actively work on. I’m married to a wonderful man. We’ve been married for almost 19 years. He grew up in a very different home environment than I did. Sometimes he’s kind of bewildered by conversations that we have. Very lovingly, supportive and has been very supportive of the process. I wanted to make sure I just kind of got that out there. When we’re learning how to express ourselves or repress ourselves and the influences of how we grew up and the environments that we find ourselves in young adulthood, what are some of the coping mechanisms that you will see people embracing that can make it harder for them to work through their emotions?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Oh boy, that’s wide open.
I would say the most common we can think of super quickly, I like to put these under the category of distractions, disconnections, or to the word that you also used was suppression. It would be all those things that actually move us away from our experience. We can ignore, we can deny, we can engage in chaos and disorganization. We can use alcohol or other substances. Weed is a really big one. Let’s see, we can go shopping, we can use food, we can use any kind of screen or social media. We can have anxiety, which to me is actually a distraction which might be a little controversial, but I see anxiety more broadly as a distraction from unpleasant feelings. Let’s see, harsh self-criticism is a way to stay away from unpleasant feelings and we can have feelings about our feelings. Like I can be angry that I’m sad or disappointed that I’m angry and that’s also a way to move away.
In the 90 seconds book that I wrote, I think I talk about 35 different ways to do it. I don’t know maybe that’s a dozen right there. The reality is that many people do what I call trying not to know what they know. As soon as someone tries not to know what they know, they take themselves out of the experience that they’re having. In my mind, it moves people along what potentially is a very cutoff and kind of ultimately if they stay in it a super long time, a dangerous pathway.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah. I would imagine everyone that’s listening has experienced one or more of those ways of distracting ourselves or disconnecting ourselves. Is it because we are so uncomfortable dealing with the bodily or visceral response? Is that what drives these mechanisms? I know that obviously as a clinician I saw everything you could imagine and at the time I didn’t fully understand and appreciate how our childhood and things we’ve experienced, whether it’s trauma or chaos, etc. How that can influence our actions in response to these uncomfortable feelings. For many people, it’s not just I’m going to go take a run and that becomes their way of reflexively dealing with like, I’m just frustrated, I need to move. It runs a continuum of things that are fairly benign all the way up to truly maladaptive ways of numbing those feelings that you’re not wanting to embrace or to feel.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Right, so there are adaptive ways. Cleaning house might be an adaptive way to do that. Achievement on something might be an adaptive way. Exercise is an adaptive way. I missed the frontend of your question though, there’re many people that overdo and then move themselves away. I had two big questions when I started in life. Well, not immediately in my infancy, of course.
But I started as a pretty shy child. I’m very introverted, very sensitive, not feeling like I belonged, and felt like I didn’t fit in. Everything was about difference and how do I make sense of what’s going on. As I grew up, I would look over at my peers and I wanted what I thought they had, and that was confidence. The second thing that happened for me and this will get to your question I’m really wandering a little bit here. The second thing that happened was that as I got into my professional life as a psychologist, I would listen to people. What I noticed is that as much as our thinking got in the way of what we were doing or how we functioned or how we felt like we were succeeding or getting to our goals, I found that someone’s difficulty with unpleasant feelings was getting in the way even more. The second question I wrestled with is “What made it so difficult for people to deal with unpleasant feelings?” And really both of those were, I would say, a 20, 25-year journey at least. What I realized about that second question, so it’s to your point about the visceral stuff, the visceral reaction, that what I came to believe is that people wanted to experience the full range of what we experience as humans. So, that’s the pleasant and the unpleasant. Because if we cut off from one side of it, we cutoff our aliveness, our sense of aliveness, and feelings have everything to do with our experience of aliveness.
I feel more fully alive because I feel. So, if we cutoff half of that and we try to just do the pleasant stuff it doesn’t work. We’re not authentic and genuine because we’re not telling the truth about the other half of what we’re experiencing. What finally came to me after all the neuroscience research started to come out much more fully, starting in the late 90s and then into the early 2000s and beyond, was that it was an understanding that– it’s like there’re three or four points here for me, and one is that we’re one interconnected whole. Our brain is always feeding information to the body, and our body is always feeding information to the brain. We can’t just be talking head and that’s it. We’re connected, but a lot of us don’t like to experience what we experience in the body. The second part then is understanding that most of us come to know what we feel emotionally through bodily sensations.
If I’m embarrassed, you might see the redness in my face. I’m going to feel the heat of the bodily sensation. When I get sad, I can feel actually sensations into my cheeks that lead to tearfulness. That’s a marker for me that I’m sad or a heaviness kind of into my chest, that might be sadness and then a heaviness plus a dropdown might be a disappointment. When I was in high school– [chuckles] so, again, I’m circling around here. When I was in high school, I was a mascot, and I didn’t want to get invested in whether my high school team won or lost. It took me years to realize I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t like the disappointed sensation associated with my body.
So, that was the thing that really dawned on me is that what most of us try to get away from when we are experiencing feelings that feel unpleasant or uncomfortable to us is we’re trying to get away from the bodily sensation that helps us know what we’re feeling emotionally. Then we go off to distract. That’s when we eat, that’s when social media screens. That’s when we use food or shopping or whatever it might be, or sex or porn. So, that’s when we distract. It’s when we don’t want to experience what it is that we are experiencing because the bodily sensations are so uncomfortable.
Cynthia Thurlow: That makes a lot of sense. Is there a differentiator, the concept of being triggered is like that’s a word right now when people say, “Oh, I’m so triggered, is that the actual visceral bodily response in response to something like as an example, I don’t mean to throw my dad under the bus, but I do talk about my dad on the podcast, so I’m going to just say my dad and we have kind of a disconnected relationship? I’ll just put it that way. There are things my dad will occasionally do that will bring me back to that six-year-old, seven-year-old child. And I’ll look at my husband, I’ll say, “Gosh, I’m so triggered.” But it’s that visceral. It’s amazing how it’ll bring me back to exactly the uncomfortable feelings I experienced at that stage. And so, it’s triggering any different than not wanting to– not per se wanting to not expose yourself to the uncomfortable feelings? Or is that just more of a nouveau word of saying the same thing?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: I would say that let’s call it the awareness, so we don’t have to do more past that. It’s like if you can be in the presence of your father, go and have the level of awareness, Cynthia, that you’re being stirred up back to something that is so familiar that it resembles seven years old, but you have that awareness and you could go, I’m feeling triggered. Let’s think of triggered as I’ve got the awareness that I’m about to be reactive.
Cynthia Thurlow: I like that,
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: But there’s a choice point. So, that I can either be triggered and behave the way that I was when I was seven, or I can have the awareness that I’m being triggered. I want to be reactive in a similar way, but there’s where our capacity to think comes in because then we can make a different choice and go, that was seven. I have a different set of resources available to me, now as an adult that I didn’t have at seven. So, I can make different choices. To me, that’s actually a super important point that lots of times when we get triggered as adults, something’s being evoked that is familiar to us that was probably uncomfortable or potentially even damaging or destructive, what so many people get caught in and I think part of the reason people get caught in staying in the stories of that seven-year-old and still behaving in similar ways is because they don’t think of themselves as having a different set of resources as an adult that they did not have as a child. As an adult man or an adult woman, then you can step in and you can go, it’s like, “Wait a minute, I have the capacity to think and reason in a way that I didn’t at seven.”
I mean, even at 12, our ability to reason changes from seven. We see the world differently. My thinking resources are different, my ability to handle my emotions are different. My ability to be social and to connect with other people is different. I might not have had a phone at seven. I might not have had whatever or the transportation to get there. You have the resources of mobility, social resources, financial resources, on and on and on and on. Most people don’t think about that and in adulthood, they still see themselves as having the resources that a seven-year-old, or the 11-year-old, or that 14-year-old had. They don’t see themselves as having the resources that all of adulthood brings.
Cynthia Thurlow: It’s such an important reframe irrespective of where you are in life stage, that if you have the ability and the capacity to think, you can change. I’m going to keep just saying this because I think that’s such a beautiful and simplistic way of addressing the fact that we are designed to evolve, shift and change throughout our lifetime, we have the capacity to do so. Now, you talk quite a bit in your work about unpleasant feelings and your book does such a beautiful job. Obviously, this is a unique opportunity for me to share with you that I in 2019 was introduced to your work. A dear friend of ours, Tom Moorcroft had said you have to get Dr. Joan’s book and so I did, and I have it on Audible so I can take it wherever I go. I don’t have to physically have the book and I listen to your book every single month.
Like there’s something, you know there is some new insight. I take it with me. I say this with great love because your book is so powerful because it encourages people to understand that they have control. They’re not out of control. And I think that’s really very helpful. In the book, you talk about– there’re eight unpleasant feelings and these are things people can recognize, they’re tangible. But let’s start talking about some of the ones that I think are more common. Obviously, the last three years, people probably have experienced every single one.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: [laughs] Of course.
Cynthia Thurlow: We’ve had a lot of constraints on the things that we can do and people we can see and the way we want to live our lives. I think that the eight unpleasant feelings are things that most people can relate to.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: The list of eight, and, again, there’s far more than eight. Some of these I would describe probably more as feeling states as opposed to the pure feeling itself. The eight I talk about all the time are sadness, shame, helplessness, anger, vulnerability, embarrassment, disappointment, and frustration. The first question I get, Cynthia, is why these eight? So, for me, it’s because they’re the most common everyday spontaneous reactions to things not turning out the way that we want or the way we believe they need to be turning out. It’s really the everydayness of them. More nuanced feelings like resentment or jealousy or those kinds of things, I actually see in a wholly different way. I left out anxiety for a certain reason. I left out fear for a certain reason. For me, it’s the everydayness of the eight, which is why I chose those.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, and it’s interesting, me personally and just in talking to a lot of women on a day-to-day basis, shame is one that stands out for a lot of middle-aged women. I would say vulnerability because for many women, they’re really at the state of vulnerability at the life stage. They’re trusting in these healthcare practitioners. They feel shame about the aging process. Maybe they’ve gone through a divorce or they’ve had some major life change. They feel shameful about the way their bodies are changing. I’m paraphrasing for many, many women, thousands of women that I’ve worked with and I’m curious when in particular about vulnerability because vulnerable can mean a myriad of different things. I would imagine that most women I know in particular deal with vulnerability pieces either life stage, economically, emotionally, personally, professionally feeling vulnerable for a variety of different reasons. When you’re working one-on-one with your patients, how do you help people reframe vulnerability instead of seeing it as a negative kind of reframing those feelings?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Well, can I break it down a little bit more?
Cynthia Thurlow: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Because I talk in the book about what I call conscious vulnerability and nonconscious vulnerability, and I think it’s important to understand that. I also think it’s important to understand how we all experience vulnerability. Let me start with nonconscious vulnerability. I think of each one of us as being vulnerable 24/7, you and I are both vulnerable right now. And how is that? Well, let’s see, I mean we can just even look at the past few days and people experienced horrible snowstorms or horrible cold or earthquakes or tornadoes or floods or fires or anything, a phone call that says so and so passed. In any moment, at any time, any one of us can experience this, if you will this exposure to being hurt. Think of the first place to start is to think of vulnerability as this sense that you could be hurt. Okay, 24/7 it all happens to us.
Most of us don’t keep an awareness of that level of vulnerability. If we have major awareness of that, then we don’t want to do anything because the potential for being hurt is too great. I don’t want somebody to have a big awareness of it. I want somebody to keep a low level of awareness because when we have a low level of awareness that we could be hurt, something could happen in our lives, we have actually the ability to make better choices about how we want to lead our lives. My mom passed recently, she was also an older older adult. I maintained a level of awareness about what was or wasn’t going to happen so that I could stay more present and more in touch and more whatever. It helped me stay centered like I don’t have all the time in the world with her. Maintaining a low level of awareness about our vulnerability can help us make better choices. So, nonconscious vulnerability is one part of it.
The second is what I call conscious vulnerability and that’s the vulnerability we choose into. You doing the podcast is conscious vulnerability, me being on the podcast is conscious vulnerability because somebody could come along, well that was really stupid or be critical in some way or whatever. By virtue of us choosing to put ourselves out there in any way, could be learning a skill, could be making a statement, could be doing a speech, could be asking for a raise, doesn’t matter what it is, again, we’re vulnerable 24/7 plus now we’re choosing into this vulnerability. For me, the moment we are choosing into our vulnerability, we’re actually at our greatest strength. I will tell you that there’s a secret here. [chuckles] The reality is that if one goes back over those eight feelings, vulnerability being one of them, the key to the whole process, really, and to handling vulnerability is having the awareness that if you were to get hurt so vulnerability is a sense I could be hurt and what’s hurt going to look like, the other seven feelings.
If you go into life going, “Alright, I want to be vulnerable,” because that’s going to allow me to pursue my goals or to be well connected to people or be authentic or you name it, then the most important thing for me to do is keep also the awareness that I can handle the other seven feelings if I get hurt. And if I go into anything going, I got this because I know I can handle the other seven feelings. Then you could choose to be vulnerable as much as you want.
Cynthia Thurlow: And is that where confidence comes in terms of the recognition? Like, as I’m listening to you, and you and I obviously are in a space where we put ourselves out there and exist in the space, and I always lean back on what allows us to do the work is, in my estimation, confidence, like, confidence in our abilities, our ability to serve others, the message, etc.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Yes. I would say yes, it’s the basis of confidence. If you look at my definition of confidence, it’s the deep sense. This embodied since I got it in my body, the deep sense that I can handle the emotional outcome, think the eight unpleasant feelings of whatever I face or whatever I pursue. For me, the foundation it’s not the only thing for confidence, but the foundational piece for confidence is one’s ability to experience and move through those eight feelings.
Cynthia Thurlow: I think it’s really important because when I reflect back on the way that I was raised, I was encouraged to stifle emotions. I’m a lady first that was what I heard growing up, to find my voice throughout my lifetime, I had no problems in an emergency whether it was in the ER, critical care areas in the hospital, and I needed to have my big girl voice. But advocating for myself is something that has taken a long time. The understanding that sometimes advocating for yourself may actually create an awareness of some of these other feelings. And that’s okay, it’s with that understanding that it is okay especially considering how I was kind of socialized as a kid, and then the recognition that being a reformed people pleaser. I always like to throw that in there as well with that understanding, because I think it’s important for people to know that it’s not your life sentence if you’re a people pleaser it doesn’t have to be that way until the end of your days, that you can actually turn that ship around, per se.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Oh absolutely. Yeah.
Cynthia Thurlow: When we’re talking about confidence and resiliency and strength and all of these attributes, are those born out of our life experiences? Are they a choice? How does that happen?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: I would say both. They can come out of our life experiences. We can be taught them again that’s the beauty of it. It’s not that I have this trait of resilience and you don’t. You can learn resilience, and for me, I break resilience down into, I think of it as layers because for me the starting point of resilience is being able to handle the eight unpleasant feelings. The next most important thing that I think people can do when they’re trying to be resilient is to be able to ask for help. Then we can look at basics like nutrition, sleep, supplements, sunlight, exercise, total basics that would be why? Because that’s going to help our body be well nurtured and well taken care of and it we’ll be more resilient because our body has the resources it needs.
For me, we go on to things like any kind of contemplative practice. Martial arts, meditation, prayer, faith, all those kinds of things again I think of it as layers of resourcefulness that we’re building up. For me, we get to what I call resourceful thinking that is a combination of attitudes and beliefs plus questions. For instance, I can hold the attitude or belief that every life experience is a learning experience. Doesn’t matter what I go through, I’m going to turn it in. This will be a good story. In fact, there are times that I’ve been through really hard stuff and in my head, I’m going, this is going to be a good story at some point and so it allows me just a little bit of distance, but that’s a resilience attitude or I’m going to persevere no matter what, resilience attitude. We can come up with a whole host of those that I’ve been through something difficult before and I know I can handle this too.
So, attitudes and beliefs are going to make a big difference in somebody being resilient and then the other one that I’ve not heard people really talk about before is what I call resilient questions. You were referencing the period of COVID and this three-year experience so far. One of the things that I started to say very early on is that one of the questions in terms of resilience was “How can I turn into a learning experience?” Or another one that I actually liked even better was, “How can I use what I’m going through to bring out the best in me?” We can adopt or make up any of those attitudes and beliefs and we can generate questions for ourselves that actually then invite us into being more resilient. So again, same thing resilience to me is something that you can learn.
Cynthia Thurlow: I could not agree more. It’s interesting, I always talk about 2019 as through adversity comes opportunity and that’s how I choose to live my life and that’s how I view everything in my life. That when I had tough times and the toughest time, I’ve ever had was in 2019 and 2020 and look at what changed on so many levels. I think that sometimes going through tough times can give us opportunities to show up differently.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Absolutely. One of the ways I describe it is it becomes our portal for growth, actually. The wound becomes our portal for growth.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, and it can be very powerful. It’s interesting I met a woman recently who unfortunately went through a divorce during the pandemic. Unlike many other women that I see go through that, she really had this incredible inner resiliency and has really used it as a very powerful catalyst to creating the life that I think she had always wanted to have. I kept applauding her and saying that’s really incredible because many people would have taken something that is not designed to be particularly pleasant and taken in an entirely different direction. I think each one of us, we are given opportunities. I always say the universe, God, whatever that is that you believe in gives us these opportunities, these portals that allow us to level up or to take our lives and make them significantly better. I’m talking about deep emotional growth, deep intellectual growth.
I’m not per se just talking about materialistic stuff. That’s not what I’m referring to. When we’re talking about resiliency and speaking our truth and facing our pain, do you find that sometimes people will get stuck on the journey, meaning they’re endeavoring to lean in, do the work, go to a therapist, go to the psychologist, the psychiatrist? But are there people who are incapable of facing their pain? Are they struggling in their personal, professional lives and are incapable of facing things? I know a lot of our conversation is very positive, but a few of the questions that I got from listeners and from women in my monthly group was, how do you help people who are making an effort but are struggling to take that first step if they’re struggling to really lean into improving their circumstances? I’m trying to think of the least pejorative thing to say in conjunction with that thought.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Well, again, if I circle back to how I started, if we have the capacity, I think we’ve got the capacity to change. If somebody’s in the midst of the journey, my thing is I want to ask questions going in two different directions. I want to ask a question about what’s the barrier or barriers or obstacles. What’s holding you back in your mind? What is holding you back from taking that first step, whatever it looks like? The other one I want to ask is, what is it that we can do that will help you lean into or facilitate you taking that first step? I want to ask the question that goes both directions to get the barriers out of the way and then to find if there’s anything that will help facilitate the movement. Again, more often than not, I think it’s someone’s reluctance to deal with unpleasant feelings.
I mean, I hate metaphorically beating that horse or whatever or beating that drum, but it is such a core element of people’s avoidance. People will say, I’m afraid of what I’m going to find out or I’m afraid that if I start feeling something, it’s never going to stop or I’ll be overwhelmed by it. The reality is that while they may think that, none of that’s true, so for me, I can only be encouraging and then to try to help remove those obstacles.
Cynthia Thurlow: That makes so much sense because I think a lot of our difficulty in moving through these unpleasant feelings is our own. The own barriers that we put in place for ourselves, whether it’s emotional, physical, etc. Now, one thing that I love hearing your thoughts on and obviously in preparation for this podcast, “How can we be better communicators.” I know this is something for me that I’m constantly working on. I know when I worked clinically as an NP, I used to tell my physician colleagues that I worked with, they would say, “How did you say that to the patient?” I said you can say just about anything if you say it kindly. You can literally say just about anything. How can we improve our communication skills? Again, it’s a skill. It’s something we can work on, it’s something we can change. We’re not stuck. It’s not a fixed mindset. What are the things that we can do to improve this?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Can I dig deep on this one?
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: This is my favorite topic.
Cynthia Thurlow: Oh, I didn’t know.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: As much as the unpleasant feelings are the foundation of my work, I will tell you speaking, the ability to speak and communicate is even more core and more important to me. A couple of different– if you’ll allow me to explain here-
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, absolutely.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: -many different things. The ability to be able to experience and move through those unpleasant feelings helps somebody feel emotionally liberated. The ability to communicate and to express yourself, meaning asking what you want to ask, saying what you want to say, speaking with that called speaking with ease in my mind, it leads to limitless opportunities. That could be a job, a career approach. It could be, like I said, a raise earlier, it could be a better relationship, a deeper connection, a new friend. It’s just that the list goes on and on and on.
The most important thing for someone to understand with speaking with ease and being able to say what you want to say to whom, whenever, wherever with that one caveat of being kind and well intentioned. So, for me that’s a super important thread. No matter what I’m going to say about speaking up, the thread that holds it all together is this being kind and well intentioned. It’s for people to understand that difficulty speaking up is not a speaking problem. It’s like I got to let that one land a little bit, it’s like difficulty speaking up is not a speaking problem. Difficulty speaking up is a difficulty with unpleasant feeling problem.
Again, it took me 25 years or better to understand that. But here’s the thing, if I want to have a conversation with you and I want to say something that either is difficult, like, you know what, Cynthia that was disappointing that such and such happened or I want to say something else, like I said, beginning of our conversation, which is I love you or I really care about you, I would have to be equally vulnerable to do both sides of that.
So, I’m not just talking about unpleasant feelings in this case. I’m talking about our ability to express the whole range of what we feel pleasant and unpleasant. In order to do that, first of all, I have to be willing to be vulnerable, which means I have to be open to the other seven feelings. Overall, then, in order for me to be in conversation and say something, I have to be willing to handle the discomfort of my own emotional discomfort. Think the eight unpleasant feelings and to be in conversation with you, it means also being able to handle the discomfort of your emotional discomfort simultaneously. Think the same eight unpleasant feelings. So, the reason people don’t get in conversation with anybody else is because they don’t want to experience the discomfort of one or more of the eight unpleasant feelings, whether they’re their own or the ones that they anticipate they’re going to experience with someone else.
Cynthia Thurlow: It’s amazing that human beings can communicate with one another given the fact that there’s a degree of sophistication to this degree of communication. I know that for me, growing up in a situation where there was a lot of yelling and screaming and cursing, which is the antithesis of the way that my household is now, meant that I chose my words carefully. You don’t want to inflame. Certainly, as I’ve gotten older, having to get comfortable understanding that sometimes I may be sharing information to a loved one, a friend, a family member, or a patient or client that they may not want to hear, and then feeling comfortable and confident in who I am to say, “Okay, we’re going to weather this together.” The acknowledgment of the fact that communication in many ways, especially over the last three years, has been the opposite of that, it’s not kind, it’s not well intentioned.
It’s very likely fueled by fear, which is overriding our prefrontal cortex and executive functioning of our brains. So, we’re not thinking as we’re speaking. It’s that thoughtfulness that differentiates us from our lizard brains. I think this is something that all of us, including myself, I actively have to work on this. Sometimes my teenagers will say something just to be inflammatory, and I have to catch myself. I really have to catch myself and think before I speak. And I’ll just say, “Hey, time out.” Sometimes I have to just take five minutes to just think, take the lizard brain out of it, and just think, okay, let’s get back to my thinking brain. This is important. I would imagine these are skills that people probably if they didn’t learn them as a younger person that they have to actively work on if they choose to. I think there are a lot of people who perhaps assume the opposite of being kind and being well-intentioned and being positive. That’s their norm and they just don’t know any differently, they don’t even recognize that there’s an issue with that type of communication.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Right, well, so I totally agree with you with everything you just said and the importance of actually taking that pause to wait and before you respond so that you’re deescalating yourself and quieting to use your words, kind of the lizard braid. It’s very interesting, I think that one’s escalation is a choice. It’s interesting, when we’re in those difficult environments like you were referring to the cussing, the swearing or whatever, or you didn’t know the unpredictability of stuff which is where a lot of people grow up in. It’s understanding that that unpredictability actually has nothing to do with you and it doesn’t matter what you say or what you don’t say, you’re not in charge of the unpredictability. But we learn to shut down thinking that we’re the source of it and we’re not. That, yes, then we have to learn the skills of communicating.
One of your questions was what are good ways to do that or more effective ways? There’re a number of different things that I use actually. One is, again, this threat of being kind and well intentioned. That is as long as your life is not in danger, then for me, it’s like establishing that as a value to live by. And that’s what I’ve done. It’s a value to live by. Sometimes I can use my values to help me respond better in situations when I’m tempted to be less than that, that’s one. The second is, so being well intentioned is first, promoting safety that when I’m around others, what I want them to experience is that they’re in a safe environment. Well, the best way to help people feel safe is actually to be kind and well-intentioned but safety is a second.
The third thing that I do is I use what I call tentative language. I use words like seems like, sounds like, have you considered? My impression is, my sense is, and anytime I use words like that, then it allows the listener to have a choice in what I’m going to offer up. They can go, no, it’s not that. But because I’m offering it in a way that gives that person a sense of choice, usually people will then lean into hearing the information, or other times I’ll be what I call a preemptive bid. The preemptive bid is basically I can sound like a lot of different things, but in my relationship, I’ll often but when it comes up, it’s like I know something difficult is going to be coming up. It’s like, okay, difficult question or difficult topic? Want to give you the heads up but it’s a well-intentioned way to be safe to create safety. It’s like I want you to know that we might get into a more difficult conversation here and are you open? Basically, it’s kind of my [unintelligible [00:44:34] are you open to that? There’s a wide variety of things that we can do to actually be able to, as you were saying, be able to say the things that we want to say and have them, generally speaking, pretty well received.
Cynthia Thurlow: I think that’s really important irrespective of who you are, where you live, what kind of job you do. These are skills that are so important. I think language is important even more so now than ever before and how we practice the delivery of a message I think is more important now than ever before. On the flipside, in terms of communication, how do we handle when we have incongruent thoughts and actions? Let’s say someone says “I love you,” but then their actions are not aligned with that. How do we work through that? Because I think that this is an area that I find behavior fascinating and this is part of that nerdy side of my personality. When people come to me and they’ll say I’m in a new relationship or I’ve got a public persona or there’s something that’s going on, how do I rectify the differences in this behavior? How do you address it? Or what are your thoughts on incongruent behavior and thoughts and actions?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Well, the hard part there is to use the old phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” What’s generally speaking more telling is the action, the behavior. People may be incongruent once again because they’re not willing to deal with the unpleasant feeling states that being congruent that would actually lead to. The fascinating thing about that is that when somebody’s congruent meaning at the minimum, their thoughts, feelings, words, and actions all match. They’re at their greatest strength. That’s where confidence kicks in. When you’re congruent it’s one of the glues, if you will, of confidence. When the behavior and the words don’t match or the behavior and the thoughts don’t match, then you’ve got the behavior is the one to listen to, unfortunately.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, it makes sense. It’s interesting how those of us kind of navigate young adulthood not realizing that per se. All of a sudden you get to a state where you’re like, “Oh, now that makes sense.” Now I understand there are a lot of people that are word oriented and not action oriented and you want to make sure that there’s a marrying between the two.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Let me add one piece before you go on to the next thing. What’s interesting is in couples, I work with a lot of couples, [Cynthia laughs] however that should be. What’s really interesting to me about that is that most times people will get caught on arguing about the topic and they leave out, so think of that arguing about the topic as what is being expressed, but they leave out the reactions that they’re having to how something was expressed, tone of voice, rolling of eyes, turning away, escalating, whatever it is. From my perspective, it’s actually a big miss between couples if the second part doesn’t get addressed. I actually think that if it did get addressed, we’d see less divorces. That is because that second part which I think is actually more damaging when that does not get addressed, it leads to a divisiveness in the couple. You’re calling attention to this idea of incongruence between words and behavior, super important and especially important with couples.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, and it’s interesting having had parents that have been married and divorced multiple times. For me, I didn’t have a role model, per se, for what a healthy marriage looks like. I’m grateful I married someone whose parents were married till his dad passed away many years ago. It’s one of those things where I think my grandmother said to me, never go to bed angry. I mean, like things that seemed at the time, I was like, “Of course, you wouldn’t go to bed angry.” Things that seem so simple but are so important that communication breakdown can happen so easily. During the pandemic, one of the things we started doing was taking our dogs for really long walks because we couldn’t do a whole lot else. So, we would just have these conversations. We were away from the kids. We could just talk outside with the dogs. We got exercise. Dogs probably got walked more than they wanted to be.
But understanding that communication piece is so critically important that you’re connecting with your partner, significant other, spouse because it’s very hard if you’re connecting, like really having real discussions on a regular basis, it’s hard to avoid those topics. Whereas if you’re– as you mentioned, people can– we have a video that comes along with the audio, but you were kind of differentiating that when people are arguing about one thing, but they’re ignoring this other piece. They’re avoiding having the harder conversation. Maybe they’re making about you left dishes in the sink or you snort or whatever it is, but it’s really a deeper issue that they’re too uncomfortable. Those uncomfortable feelings are welling up and per se, they don’t want to have the conversation. They’re avoiding that conversation because they don’t want to deal with their potential feelings or potentially their partners.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Yeah. No, that congruence or the incongruence between the behavior and the thoughts and words. I just wanted to highlight that because it’s so important.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, absolutely. And along the same kind of lines when we’re talking about communication, how do we accept and receive compliments? I think this is something that I sometimes struggle with, but I’m working through, but what’s an effective way to receive the compliment accepted and not feel like I think a lot of women reflexively want to say, “Oh, you too?” Or instead of just receiving processing, saying thank you. I saw in one of your interviews, you actually said receiving compliments is a reflection of you back to you.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Yes. So that’s how I look at it. It actually comes from a life experience that I had that I think the awareness that I was able to develop about this, because when I was in my early 30s, even as much as I was at the frontend of my career and gone through grad school. I was starting to teach grad school, and the students kept on responding to me in a very very favorable way. What they were saying to me, it was like what? What do you? Me? That was how I was responding to it. But it kept happening, like, year after year after year after year, and it was like, okay, wait a minute. There’s a consistency to this that I have to pay attention to. It’s like, when I did that I realized that what it did is it had an effect. It’s like whatever old story I had going on myself, there’s still that shy part of me that goes, really?
But there’s another part of me that goes, “Okay, I got it. I understand it.” What it did is it allowed me to experience myself differently. And so, it came out of a personal experience, but the way that I look at compliments, I don’t think people talk about compliments enough. Compliments are a reflection of you back to you. It’d be like me holding up a mirror to you, Cynthia, and saying, Cynthia, this is how I see you. This is how I experience you. If you play it down, you just “No what are you talking about?” Oh, it’s luck, it’s nothing.” Nothing like, I don’t know, 30 years of experience.
Lots of lived experience, lots of professional. When you do that, not only are you dismissing my reality, you’re dismissing my experience of your reality, in essence, dismissing your own reality because a genuine compliment comes from an experience of you and an experience with you. It’s not just being pulled out of thin air someplace. The first thing to remember when you get a compliment is that it’s a reflection of you back to you. But for me, it doesn’t stop there. How do you receive it? Well, thank you is one way. Lisa Nichols offered another one, which I really love, which is I receive that. Just simply, I receive even if it’s hard for me to believe in the moment I receive that. Now, a lot of people will pass them out because their self-described image of themselves is so discrepant, so distant from how they’re being seen that they’ll dismiss it rather than, again, take it in understanding that that’s how they’re being experienced because that’s who they are. Now, they might not be that way 24/7, but that’s how they are. What compliments do if you start to take them in and really absorb them and go, “Okay, I got it, and look how consistently I get this feedback, is that I think that they uplevel and update. They uplevel someone’s sense of self and self-image and they update it. Without it, you don’t get to uplevel and update in the same way. And here’s the other thing. Compliments are timeless.
Cynthia Thurlow: I love that.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: So. play with this. I’m going to invite you and whoever else is listening to play with this. Think about how many compliments you’ve dismissed over the years and think about what those compliments were. The first thing I’m going to ask you to reflect on about that is who would you have become if you’d actually allowed yourself to take in those compliments at that time. That’s kind of one exercise, if you will, to do. The second part is to go, “Alright, I’m going to generate a list of the compliments I’ve received past month, three months, six months, year, three years, 10 years, 30 years. I’m going to write all that stuff down and now I’m going to look at it and I’m going to let myself really take it in.” And see who you become and how you experience yourself. Because now you’re allowing yourself to absorb what you were given in the first place.
Cynthia Thurlow: That’s really powerful. That’s really, really powerful. And I receive that. How easy is that to say? You don’t have to reflexively downplay it. You don’t have to mirror anything back. I receive that. Actually, someone did that with me recently, and so now I know where they probably had heard that, which I think is a wonderful thing.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: So, “It’s thank you, I receive that.”
Cynthia Thurlow: Yes, I like that. Last but not least, out of curiosity, talk about briefly the role of humility because I know in the space that you and I exist in, most people are very heart centered and humble, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. What does humility tell us about ourselves?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Well, I have a different view of humility. So, here’s the thing. I think that if you dismiss the truth of who you are so this is kind of an offshoot of the compliment piece. If you’re a person that dismisses compliments, if you’re a person that plays down your accomplishments or diminishes the good things that you do the good things, that you say the good things, that all those kinds of things. Then, to me, that is arrogance.
Cynthia Thurlow: It’s interesting because I think societally when we think about arrogance, we think about it as being boastful and talking about yourself too much. So; you’re inviting us to think differently.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Yes. Someone who does those things is boastful and well that sounds conceited or what? Big head [Cynthia laughs] right? Anybody who’s behaving that way and has to tell me 17 times how great they are is not feeling so great about themselves. Somebody has to be boastful or is boastful and has that sense that has to keep happening. What you’re getting is the picture of insecurity and a sense of inadequacy, not what appears arrogant and conceded. Now, if I tell you that I do something well and/or I’m good at that, let’s say I was a good piano player and I’m not because I don’t play piano, but somebody listens to me and goes, “Yeah, I am good.” Or Venus or Serena Williams saying that they were good at tennis once, twice, three times, done. That to me is healthy confidence. That’s also humility because you’re telling the truth of who you are.
Arrogance to me is downplaying or diminishing the truth of who you are. Humility is actually telling the truth of who you are. It’s owning it. It’s living into it. What’s interesting to me around this compliment thing or the boastful thing is that people who feel good about themselves, Cynthia, they don’t tell you how good they are. They do what I call, “Live the good.” So, just by virtue of how they show up in life, they’re living the goodness. They don’t have to tell you and they have no interest in telling you. They just have an interest in serving.
Cynthia Thurlow: Wow, I can’t think of a better way to end this particular conversation with you because that nugget of “Live the good,” I mean, that’s so authentic and so beautiful. I can’t thank you enough for this beautiful conversation. I know it’s one of many to come.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: I hope.
Cynthia Thurlow: Absolutely. Please let my listeners know how to connect with you on social media, how to buy your book, which I am not exaggerating when I tell people that I listen to this book every single month. Maybe it’s a chapter, maybe it’s 15 minutes during a walk. So insightful. I get something different every time that I listen to it. Dr. Joan, let us know how to connect with you.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Well, first let me say thank you. [chuckles] Thank you for having me on. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for such great questions. Thanks for everything. Gratitude to me is the most important lean-in first. I go by Dr. Joan Rosenberg on most things, so my website would be drjoanrosenberg.com, on Instagram or other related social media. Most of it is listed under @drjoanrosenberg. So, those are the best ways and there’s a way to reach out to me. I think there’s a contact sheet on the website and as well people can on Instagram, direct message or do that sort of things so that there’re ways to get a hold of me directly that way. I think the book is pretty much everywhere, so it’s physically in Barnes & Noble, its online Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and I know the Southeast has a variety of other kinds of chain stores. I believe it’s in those as well. It really pretty much wherever you buy books is where you should be able to get the book.
Cynthia Thurlow: Awesome, well, thank you again as always, my friend. I know that it was early for you on the West Coast, so thank you for getting up early to connect with my listeners.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Very happily. So, thank you.
Cynthia Thurlow: If you love this podcast episode, please leave a rating and review, subscribe, and tell a friend.