Today I have the honor of connecting with Dr. Sharon Melnick!
Dr. Sharon is a leading Executive Coach and Speaker in the area of resilience, power, and women’s leadership. She was intricately involved in research at Harvard Medical School and is a Marshall Goldsmith Top 100 Coach who has coached and trained at over 60 Fortune 500 organizations and numerous equity-owned and startup companies. She is the author of In Your Power.
In today’s episode, Dr. Sharon shares her background, and we dive into trauma, intergenerational trauma, triggers, how to change a definition and narrative, how to distinguish between being in your power and feeling powerless, regaining a sense of control and confidence, the metaphor of the thermostat versus the thermometer, ways to align more closely with your power, strategies for dealing with intrusive people, and more.
“The way you show up has such a reverb on other people! So just by managing yourself, you can create a ripple effect and make it better for everyone else in the situation.”
– Dr. Sharon Melnick
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- Why do we tend to create unhealthy self-soothing behaviors to cope with the uncomfortable feelings associated with unhealed trauma?
- Dr. Sharon defines triggers.
- The power of reframing and changing the narratives of triggering situations.
- How to regain a sense of control when you are in an acutely emotional or reactive state.
- How to reconnect with yourself and regain your power after moving through difficult emotions.
- Dr. Sharon shares a technique for moving from being reactive to becoming intentional.
- What it means to be in your power, and how being in your power differs from having power.
- Dr. Sharon explains why she wrote her book.
- How our built-in protective mechanism prevents us from feeling good enough and taking control of our lives.
- How to become more resilient.
- How to re-establish your power and use it effectively.
- How to align with others and influence them to do as you ask.
- How to stay in your power when your boundaries get disrespected, or when dealing with narcissistic people.
Connect with Cynthia Thurlow
Check out Cynthia’s website
Connect with Dr. Sharon Melnick
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.
Dr. Sharon Melnick is a leading executive coach and speaker in the areas of resilience, power, and women’s leadership. She was intricately involved with research at Harvard Medical School and is a Marshall Goldsmith Top 100 Coach who has coached and trained at over 60 Fortune 500 organizations and numerous equity-owned and startup companies. Today, we dove deep into her background. We discussed the role of trauma and intergenerational trauma, as well as triggers, how to change the definition and narrative strategies to help, distinctions about between being in your power versus feeling powerless, regaining a sense of control and confidence, the metaphor of thermostat versus thermometer, ways to become more aligned in your power, including perspective, persuasion, and protection, how to deal with intrusive people, strategies, and so much more. I hope you will enjoy this conversation as much as I did as well as her book, In Your Power.
Well, welcome, Dr. Sharon. It’s so nice to have you on the podcast today.
Sharon Melnick: Thank you. I’m delighted to be here.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah. So, I know quite a bit about your background, but in terms of giving some context to the conversation, please share with listeners how you came to where you are in your career. Obviously, you just published In Your Power, which is this incredible resource that we can utilize and obviously, we’ll discuss. But I know your trajectory as a psychologist has evolved, like, it does for many of us. We start in one area and then our expertise weaves into other things. You’re quite an accomplished speaker. I think your initial work was really in trauma and intergenerational trauma. Am I correct?
Sharon Melnick: Yeah, that’s right. So, in my early career, I did research at Harvard Medical School on these intergenerational issues, like, what you bring with you from your own experiences in childhood that you might bring into your parenting in the next generation, and is really trying to understand what could parents do to avoid or repeating those cycles.
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, and it’s interesting to me that I’m old enough that I should know this as a clinician, but it’s only been in the last four to five years that I think the concept of trauma has really been on my radar. I think as I have been raising children, it’s amazing to see the wounds that you think you have healed, but you realize you haven’t. I always say, my children are my greatest teachers. So, let’s start the conversation there. Our experiences as human beings as we are growing up, and I always say, our parents do the very best that they can. I fervently believe that? I view my parents with tremendous compassion, but the traumas that have been interwoven into our family lineage do impact each generation unless we actively work against that.
So, I always say lovingly that my children are growing up very, very differently than I did, because I’ve done so much work and I’m consistently doing work. It’s amazing. I’ll say to my husband, one of my boys will do something that really triggers, to me almost irrationally. I’m like, “Why do I feel that way?” They’ve done nothing to deserve me being that upset. And then I’m like, “Oh, it’s because there’s another wound, another trauma that I haven’t dealt with.” Maybe I wasn’t even aware of it. So, how does that work for us? Because your work initially really started in this area, but unhealed trauma is at the basis for so much poor behavior, addictions, preoccupations with things that aren’t healthy for us, because in many ways, I think some of us don’t even recognize that we have these traumas and we create these self-soothing behaviors in an effort to deal with uncomfortable feelings.
Sharon Melnick: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s an amazing synopsis, and I think that’s very insightful for you to know. So, when we have a reaction that’s disproportionate to the situation, it’s always a really good clue that there’s something else that is going on in the situation. What can happen for us is that when we’ve had experiences in which we didn’t feel seen, we didn’t feel heard, we couldn’t make the impact that we were here for, and in some way, it was out of our control. We couldn’t even protect our own wellbeing, then we have to explain that situation to ourselves. It is kind of this narrative that we create.
It is the story that we tell about the situation, which is really one of the most enduring things from any situation or series of situations that you have, which is for any parents, or mentors, or leaders of teams who are listening to this, this is like takeaway number one right now, actually, because if you can help a person to form a narrative that is empowering for them, that is really, like, it’s objective and they understand the context and why each of the people in the situation were doing what they were doing, and not just immediately go to that place of taking it personally, and making it about you, then this is something where you can literally change the course of a child, or a mentee, or a team member’s life.
So, when you are in that situation and you’re having a reaction, it’s because you formed a story whenever you were experiencing these early traumas or situations that just needed to be explained, because it was hard to deal with. Then each of us is carrying around kindling inside of us. It’s like this story and then other people’s behavior, if it’s selfish or excludes us, or weird in whatever way that it might be, or controlling, then their behavior is like a match, [onomatopoeia] you know what I mean, that activates this kindling inside of us. We immediately go to a place of, “Well, that means that they don’t respect me,” which is a stand in for, then I’m not worthy of that respect, or this must mean that I’m not good enough, or worthy, or don’t deserve to exist, or any of the things that we might feel. This is really what’s getting activated. When we say that you react, if we break it down, it means it is like a reactivation of this kindling inside of yourself. And so, you can always trace that kind of an emotional reaction back to its source-
Cynthia Thurlow: I think it’s really– [crosstalk]
Sharon Melnick: -and then tell a different story about it.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah. No, and it’s interesting, because we have this autonomic nervous system, and we have this sympathetic which is being chased by a saber-toothed tiger versus this parasympathetic side where we can digest our food, we can detoxify, we can have an orgasm, we feel safe. And so, in hearing that explanation, it really reaffirms for me that many people when they get triggered, maybe they were relaxed and maybe they’re in this parasympathetic side of their nervous system and all of a sudden, the sympathetic gets activated this fight or flight. If it gets activated substantially and enough, you override your executive functioning. You start acting out of fight or flight and you lose the ability to rationalize.
I’m such a rational person that when I can’t think properly, I always have to remind myself, “Okay, I’ve gotten triggered. What is the basis for that? What do I need to work on?” Because in my mind and my kids have heard me say this often, I think the internal work is work that we should be doing or we should want to do throughout our lifetime to become the most self-evolved, healthy, well adapted human beings possible. Now, I recognize not everyone is capable of doing that or doesn’t desire to. But for me, I always say I’m like a nerdy scientist. I always want to figure things out for myself.
I’ll give listeners an example. So, when my oldest, who is now 17, was seven years old, I started to have some triggering episodes. I started to realize that when my parents got divorced, when I was seven, seven seemed very young to me. But I realized seeing what my seven-year-old was capable of, what he was conscious of, how sensitive he was, it reactivated all of this triggering of what I was experiencing at that age of seven. I actually got upset with one of my parents and started having conversations and just said, “I can’t believe some of the things that transpired when I was that age, because I was far more aware,” I think my body was protecting myself, my brain was protecting myself. And so, it reactivated a lot of these feelings that I thought I had dealt with. So, we have the opportunity to consistently work on these things, if we choose to that reframe finding a way of being able to move through those feelings, talk about them, get beyond them, reframe them, so that you’re in a healthier, happier headspace.
Sharon Melnick: Yeah. You inspire me in the way that you do that and you do that every day. There are so many things that you could do once you’re already in an emotional state. So, just like you were referring to, one of the things that you really want to do is you really want to move emotions through your system and complete the stress cycle. So, when you’re in that activated state, you’re very angry or you feel very hurt, you really have an opportunity. What you want to do is to actually feel the feelings and then to move them through your system. You really want to match the intensity of the emotion. So, if you’re really feeling upset about something, some of the common advice is like, “We’ll go for a walk or something like that.” That’s fine and that will help to, generally speaking, put you in more of a place of calm. But that’s not really matching the intensity of that feeling, so you want to do something that matches.
So, for me, it’s the boxing bag in the gym in our building. But another thing that’s great is dance breaks to a song that really matches your emotion. I actually maintain Spotify playlists [Cynthia laughs] for the different emotions that you might be feeling, like, if you’re really greasy or if you’re really angry, so we’ll give you a link at the end where you can actually download those playlists. All you have to do is pop it on and really allow yourself to move to the beat of that music. Even just for that one song, even just two, three, four minutes and really allow yourself to fully express yourself and move through it. In days of Zoom, when you can maybe turn off for a few minutes in between meetings, this is something that might be a little more accessible to you than if you’re out in an open office. So, that’s for sure is that you want to complete the stress cycle.
A great example of this is, like, when you have a good cry, don’t we just feel better? That’s an example of where you moved it through your system, and then your body can reconnect. What happens when you move it through is then you are reconnecting the emotional centers of your brain with, like, you’re saying rational thinking centers of your brain, where you can start to come into mental clarity about, “Okay, how might I have interpreted this situation? How can I require myself to see the context and tell a different story that might be more objective about why this happened?” Or, even ask yourself a different question like, “How might this have happened for me, not to me?” So, these are examples of when you can get yourself out of that acutely emotional state.
Other things that you can do and I have a whole suite of these breathing techniques in my book, In Your Power, is to literally, once we start breathing six times a minute, we start to access that parasympathetic nervous system. So, again, you can have more of that balance between that on button where you’re energized to solve the problem, as well as that off button where you have that relaxation. One thing that’s really important to say as part of a conversation if you’re someone who’s really learning a lot about yourself and doing the deep work is that after you clear through the emotion that might be difficult, you really want to remember to fill yourself back up with pleasure, with calm, with reconnection, because that reconnects you to you. It helps you to remember who you are and then you can act in the situation in your power, which is when you make it better.
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, I think that’s so important to have those strategies and to understand that it’s not just the expression of what you’re going through, but also being kind to yourself, whether you go for a walk in nature, you read a good book, something that brings you joy to replenish what you have just let out. It’s interesting to me because I feel like throughout my clinical career, we were encouraging patients to suck it up or don’t express yourselves, or even I was always taught, “You’re a lady before everything else. You don’t yell, you don’t scream, you don’t raise your voice because that’s not what ladies do.” You’re actually encouraging us to let those things out.
Certainly, I have one child that’s very expressive and one that’s a little more laid back and mellow. So, I always say to him, “When you’re feeling upset, even if you just need to do it privately, let it out.” Because I think I was definitely conditioned to not express myself, like, to articulate saying, “Yes, I didn’t like that.” But to cry, no, to yell, no, that wasn’t ladylike. And so, this social conditioning can further reinforce us not properly using those strategies, but you’re actually encouraging us to do so. I think that’s really healthy and important that we not suppress what we’re experiencing.
Sharon Melnick: Yeah, so much to say about that. I think, generally speaking, in our American culture that emotions are kind of seen as something that you shouldn’t show. We’re only allowed to have positive emotions when it comes to winning, or like a sports game, or achieving a big sales deal, or something like that and then the rest of it. It’s also very gendered. Men are really much more sanctioned to show anger. Women are prohibited and suppressed from showing anger more. Okay, if we show more helpless kind of emotions, like, we’re sad. So, these are all socially constructed and they don’t map at all to the human body. What it needs to clear these emotions. Emotion causes stress in a good way. It could be passionate, but it causes wear and tear on the system. So, that’s why you want to move it through and then you want to replenish.
I think this is all part of the idea of being in your power or empowering yourself not internalizing messages that we’ve gotten from the culture that we’re really about keeping other people comfortable, because maybe they in their own bringing up, we didn’t have socialization to help us know how to deal with our feelings, so then we were just passing it down from generation, you know what I mean, to not make other people feel uncomfortable. I think that we all want to learn approaches that are constructive, like, nobody’s saying go be rageful or take it out on other people. But there’s one example of a technique in the book. Oh, actually, two or three, where you can clear negative emotions from your energy field or you can do cooling breath, which immediately– We could do this now, actually.
This could be just fun for people, because this is something you can do literally in the heat of the moment. It’s particularly good if you’re in interaction with other people and you can’t excuse yourself to go into your car, roll up the windows, and let it rip kind of thing, which I’m sure many a woman professional has done on occasion. But cooling breath, so this is a reverse breath where it will help you to stay poised, it will take you out of the amygdala hijack of your brain and connect you back to your frontal lobe. So, try it along with me, now you’re going to open your mouth ever so slightly, you’re going to breathe in as if you’re sipping through a straw. Breathe out through your nose, and just try this a couple of times while I’m talking. Do you feel a cooling, drying sensation over the top of your tongue? So, if you are, then you’re doing it right, and this connects to meridian points, actually, that cool down the organs of your body that experience anger and negative emotion. So, it’s very healthy for you.
So, it enables you to get out of that state of reaction and instead to ask the question, what is the outcome that I want in this situation or even take that from good to great, what is the outcome that’s in the best interest of all? And then the second question that follows on its heels and who do I need to show up as in order to start moving everyone in that direction? So, this is a great example of shifting from being reactive to being intentional. You have more power than you think in every situation where there’s friction, or you’re not in agreement, or you’re being treated in a way that isn’t right for you. We can talk about some examples of this, but just to start off with that the way that you show up has such a reverb on other people. So, this by managing yourself, then you can start to create a ripple effect and start to make it better for everyone else in the situation. Just a little bonus extra here on cooling breath is that not only will it calm you down, but it calms the other people down as well. It has like a secret de-escalation effect. So, I license this to you royalty free.
Cynthia Thurlow: I love that. It’s interesting. It’s been my experience. Obviously, I worked in the medical field for over 25 years. And to me, as an example, when I was in my 20s and 30s, I am and was a very good nurse and nurse practitioner, because I could sense the temperature of whatever situation I was in. I knew exactly how I needed to show up, very much a people pleaser. The irony is, in middle age, the people pleasing, as I have transitioned from perimenopause into menopause, I have felt that fading in a beautiful way. The irony is that physiologically for women, as we are losing estrogen, we start losing this desire to be more people pleasing. We lose the desire to be more accommodating.
It’s not to suggest that we suddenly are not interested in having camaraderie or agreement, but we stand in our power, in alignment with our purpose and we just feel much more confident and for me, fervently, much less concerned about everyone else’s feelings. I still care, but it doesn’t push me in one way or another. And so, what you’re talking about, I think especially for younger people, younger women in particular that are still part of that gender social conditioning of be accommodating, don’t be disagreeable, don’t raise your voice, understanding that there are strategies that we can use to help with that, but also understand that as we are chronologically getting older physiologically, there are hormonal changes in our bodies that are contributing to why we don’t want to be quite so agreeable.
The irony is, during the pandemic, I have a very specific skill set. And so, the local hospitals wanted me to, if I’d be willing to come back and work in the ICU or cover some of the more intense critical care areas, which I had no interest in doing, but it was definitely one of those things I said, “I don’t think you understand. I’m not the same person I was when I was still working for that group. And if I came back now, I wouldn’t be nearly as agreeable as I had been.” And so, that growth, I think, for so many of us is really helpful when we start to think about what makes us truly happy, where are we truly in alignment in our lives? Are we in alignment? Are we in a position where we feel comfortable, confident, self-assured, and not in an arrogant way, but in a way that we’re really working and moving towards a life of purpose and a life of service, which to me, is why I do the work that I do, and very likely why you do the work that you do.
Sharon Melnick: Yeah, it totally is. Another way of describing what you’re talking about is you’re no longer giving away your power. While we’re talking about power, a lot of us, when we hear that word, we feel uncomfortable with it. We immediately have the idea that power is selfish, manipulative, forceful, and that’s not who I am, I don’t want to be that way. Actually, the word power comes from the Latin root, posse, which means to be able. So, really to be in your power is really to be able. To have the ability to stay good in you no matter what’s going on around you, so that when you act, it’s effective and what you say lands and people follow what you’re saying when you try to bring them along to a better place. And so, that’s really the opportunities. We want to be in our power and we want to use our power because when you’re in your power, you raise everyone around you.
Cynthia Thurlow: Where do you think people get the misconceptions about what power actually represents?
Sharon Melnick: Well, I think it’s just been everywhere. This is the way that it has been defined is by people who have positional power. We’ve seen plenty of abuses at every level of family, community, politics. So, I think that’s just the way that we’ve understood power. But even when you say it that way, we think of someone as having the power. But our opportunity is to be, like, in your power, in our power, because that is something that we carry within. A person who is in power, but isn’t in their power that’s when you’re going to start to see those abuses. It’s really why I wrote the book because I think that so many of us, most of us really face at least one situation, if not many, in our lives where we feel out of our power. We feel at the mercy of someone else, like, how they’re acting is going to determine how we feel and how the situation unfolds whether you’re a talented woman in the workplace who’s overlooked and under recognized, whether you have someone in your family who’s all about them and uses a tone and dismisses you, whether you’re a leader of a team who just can’t get their people, you know what I mean, to act and live up to their expectations.
When you’re in a relationship, you just can’t seem to be seen by the other person or heard make the impact that you’re here for. So, most of us feel, I think, a lot of us have been feeling this way in our lives at the macro level. You know what I mean? We don’t feel like our politicians stand for our values. There’re things that are happening in the world that we think are not as it should be and we just feel powerless as to how to have an impact. And so, it’s really why I wrote the book is to show you, actually, you have so much more power than you think in every one of these situations. You have a sense of agency. There’re always things that you can control and have options over. You have a sense of sovereignty. You can always determine. You know what I mean? What you believe about yourself, you can express your yes and your no and you can have efficacy. You can learn that when you act, others will follow you and you’ll be effective. I think people are like, “We’re really fed up now. Other people making us feel less than and having culture be not the way.” So, we’re like, “Yeah, that’s what I want, to be in my power.”
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, I think the book itself is so timely, because when I was reading this and really digesting it, some of the things you talk about in the very beginning of the book about regaining a sense of control and confidence, not of anyone else, but inwardly feeling you have control and you are confident in who you are as an individual, and understanding that being out of your power as an example is not a sign of weakness. Isn’t that really the societal conditioning that, if you’re not powerful, then you have to be weak? It’s this black or white kind of methodology when we look at the concept of power, but what we’re really being encouraged to do is to understand that we have the power within ourselves to actually make our situations, our circumstances better. It’s that constant reframe.
This is one of these concepts that I think for many people, they don’t understand the concept of reframing our thoughts. Like, things don’t happen to us, they happen for us. Understanding that even if something isn’t going per se right right now, there’s something there for us to learn, something that’s going to allow us to become stronger, more resilient, to be more in alignment with where our power is derived from.
Sharon Melnick: Yeah, I think that’s totally true. Just as an example, I was coaching a woman who was passed over for a promotion, and she really deserved it and had worked hard for it, and she was really upset about it in the moment. Then we had our coaching session. We had a chance to talk about it. So, we did ask that question, how might this be happening for you, not to you? She really was able to think, “Actually, I really wanted the promotion that was two levels above this. I didn’t actually even really want that job that her colleague was promoted instead.” It helped her to really think bigger. Actually, literally, two weeks later, an opportunity came along to her, which was really like a dream for her. It was like, you can’t know always at the time, which is something that’s really relevant to the idea of being in your power, because I think when you get emotionally hijacked, all we can see is the moment. All we can do is blame the other person, you know what I mean, for what they’re doing that’s making us feel uncomfortable. Or, all we can do is see the situation through the filter of our own self-doubt. Really, you want to be able to have that abundance mentality or to be able to see that bigger picture.
Once she was able to pull out and see over the whole arc of her career, you know what I mean, why that might have been happening for her in that moment, she would have been able to see a bigger possibility for herself, which then bore out. And I encourage all of us, especially for the difficult moments, really to– That’s really, make that your go-sto question, how this might be happening for you? And also, to see your situation in the bigger picture and know that this is not the only moment. You can grow and don’t hold the other person that this is the only way or the best way that they can act either.
Cynthia Thurlow: I think oftentimes it’s a blessing when things don’t work out the way we think we want them to in that exact moment. That example is such a beautiful story about what this woman perceived was what she wanted and then two weeks later something happening that was even better than if she had gotten that other promotion. I think for so many of us, it’s understanding whether you are spiritual and it’s God or the universe, but I feel like we’re constantly being invited to be the people we are destined to be. Sometimes, things up front may not work out the way that we would like them to. But more often than not, I truly believe this through the course of being an entrepreneur that sometimes when things don’t work out, it’s something better for me, or better for you, or better for someone that’s listening is coming. If we had taken that first avenue, we might not have made ourselves available for the next blessing that was coming for us.
Sharon Melnick: Yeah, I think that’s right. We’re so set up to be out of our power. Literally, we’re wired to focus on the things that we can’t control, because we’re perceiving threats. You know what I mean? We’re set up actually to tell a story about a situation that makes it mean something about us. Like, just a double click on this a sec because this is where it all comes from. When you’re a child and you have things that happen to, you a lot of times in our pop psychology, we’ll say something like, “You know, my dad was an alcoholic or my mother was a narcissist. I was a fat kid and I was–.” We say these things. Then it’s like, “That’s why I am the way that I am.”
For a long time in my life, I would say that because I was in this field of psychology and people would say like, “Oh, you have difficult family member and that’s why you feel the way that you do.” Right here, right now, I want us to take that back because that is not allowing us to be in our power because it’s like things that happened to you or because of circumstances of other people and their limitations, or their level of evolution or the confluence of their cultural heritage and what they brought with their personal family history and their neurology and psychology, because of those things totally outside of your control, it’s going to determine your life.
No, let’s take that back right now, because I think what happens when you’re a child and so, you’re shown behavior where you’re treated in a certain way which is very painful and makes it hard to protect your wellbeing. We’re wired to explain that situation, so that we know how to respond. That’s what makes us different from animals is, like, we can figure out why and then respond accordingly. What we’re going to do as children is we’re going to tend to make that caregiving figure right and make ourselves wrong. Do you know something? We’re going to do this for the best of reasons. The most important of reasons, because then it allows us to keep that caregiver as right, so we can have hope that they will maybe get better and be able to see us in a better way. But if we’re in a family that’s fortunate enough to have a roof over our head, have food on the table, and have maybe siblings that there’s some support for your life, then you don’t want to do anything to threaten that, actually.
So, you’re going to make them right and you’re going to say, “You know something? There must be something that they see about me that is true.” And so, it enables you to preserve hope this way. If they are good and right, then I can stay in this family hoping that they’re going to take care of my basic needs, so it preserves hope. And also, it gives you a semblance of control because if then you have a sense, “Well, they’re treating me this way because of X, Y, Z about me, or I’m not good enough, or I’m not worthy,” then it gives you the instruction manual for your life. You can spend your life trying to prove yourself and to be worthy or to be good enough. And so, it gives you that sense of control. You know something? It’s a bit the lesser of two evils, because you’ll take that sense of control over a feeling, like, you know something, I’m really not going to be seen or cared for in this situation. That is so insta hopeless. That is so painful that we have a built-in protection mechanism. You know what I mean? That that’s where we’ll go.
We’ll do so for the most important of reasons. We will adapt in whatever way we have to in order to get that emotional oxygen. We will develop coping techniques, so that we can stay within the window of tolerance of our emotional arousal. We will do what it takes in order to not be further harmed emotionally or physically to any extent that we can control it. So, if you’re listening to this, I want you to know that any way that you’ve been telling yourself that you’re not good enough, or you’re not worthy, or any variation on this theme, we’ve all been there. That was a calculated coping mechanism. That was a story that you made up in order to preserve hope, and have the semblance of control, and all of these coping mechanisms that got you to where you are today, but it wasn’t true about you. So, this is the sense of agency that you have that you took on this story, and you can unlearn it, and you can rewrite that narrative that you have about you, and even that other people that have about you by the way that you show up.
Cynthia Thurlow: I think that’s really important. So, this is obviously an example of resiliency. If you are trying to create this narrative for yourself as a younger person or child, it’s a way or mechanism of trying to make sense of your environment before you even fully understood it. This runs the gamut of behaviors and inner talk that we have with ourselves that is allowing us to remain hopeful in many ways. It’s interesting, because that internal dialogue starts so early. I think that on a lot of different levels, those of us who were interested, or ready, or able to have those tough conversations in the context of a friendship, a relationship with a therapist, a psychiatrist, a psychologist to start digging.
Are there some metrics that you use in your work now about resiliency in terms of who are the people that are most likely to be able to work through these issues with feeling in control, not feeling as in control? I would imagine, if someone’s coming to see you, that in and of itself is a demonstration that they’re willing to do that inner work.
Sharon Melnick: Yeah. So, there’s three things that I would say. I think people who are going to be able to get back in their power are people who make it as their first resort to ask the question in any situation, “Where’s my power? Where’s my power in this situation?” And then immediately, do a power analysis, which really requires you to like, “What are the aspects of the situation that you can control,” what I call your 50%, and distinguish these from the aspects of the situation that you can’t control the other 50%. The more that you focus on what is within your control, the more you’re actually going to be in your power and to be able to affect the situation to make the conditions that you want.
I do want to be clear here that I am not saying, just because I’m speaking to my fellow perfectionists and control freaks in the crowd. So, if you can imagine sorting out almost, like, if you pictured like a circle that describes the whole situation and then there’s a line through it, and above the line is what you can control your 50%, and below the line is what you can’t control, I’m not saying try to control 100% of the pie. What I am saying is be really effective at what you can control. Like, be impeccable for your 50%. Take a 100% responsibility for your 50% and not trying to control the other people, because anytime you’re going to try to control others, you’re just leaking your power, like, [onomatopoeia]. So, that would be the first thing that I would be listening for, if I was going to try to get a sense of someone that’s going to be resilient in this situation. I think it’s the first thing that you can do. It should be your first resort question, “Where’s my power? How can I be impeccable for my 50%?” So, I think that’s something that people can definitely do.
There’re lots of other things that I think that people can do. We’re talking about telling a different story about the situation one that is of your creation, I think is really important. Then I also just think that there’re a lot of things, like, first half of the book, In Your Power is like how to be in your power and stay in your power. And then the second half of the book is like, how to use your power, like how to be effective? Because a lot of people, I see as well, is you might be trying to get your needs met and you might want to set a boundary, or you might ask someone to do something for you. But if you’re not effective in the way that you say it, then the person [giggles] is not going to be incentivized to honor your request, especially if it’s someone who’s so run by their own inner drives that they have a hard time seeing you. Then I think it’s really important actually to have skills, to set boundaries, to know how to be heard, and all these kinds of things. Because then once you’re in your power, you can actually be effective at changing your circumstances, which supports you to be in your power and then it creates a virtuous cycle.
Cynthia Thurlow: That’s really important. It’s interesting. As I was navigating the book, you identify portals to power. So, some of these resonated deeply with me. There were, I think, 12 portals to power, all beginning with a P, so, beautiful alliteration. One of the first ones that really resonated was this perspective. So, victim versus victor, and how might this be happening for me instead of me? So, that reframe of understanding, you do have some control as you mentioned. You can’t have control over other people, but take 100% ownership of your 50% of which you do have control over. Do you find that sometimes this can be a really integral, like, critically important aspect of reestablishing power within ourselves?
Sharon Melnick: It’s my go-to question, Cynthia or at least the first one of many, because it immediately– When we feel done to and when we feel other people are doing it to me, then we’re just totally in a mental swirl of like, “Why are they doing that? I wouldn’t do that. They shouldn’t be doing that,” you know what I mean, blaming them, and all kinds of names or whatever, wherever you’re going in your mind. But that’s the point. That’s what’s pinballing around your mind in those moments. Then you get sunken or you get triggered and then you’re totally off. Most of us, we try to make the situation better from that place. That is like a total recipe to try to get the other person to change, they won’t. And then you’re further entrenched in the situation and everybody feels worse.
So, that’s why it’s so important to ask that question and no matter what circumstance and even like you saw that I wrote in the book, right after I handed in the book, I separated from the love of my life. We’re still totally in love, but we really, really want different things. It’s a matter of one person wants to travel the world full time with a travel companion and I’m here to change the world. We really, really didn’t have compatibility for what we wanted for our lives. I was so deep in grief around that time. So, I had to do a lot of moving emotion through me and a lot of remembering that bigger picture, and that this wasn’t the only moment where my life was going to stop being happy, but I can tell you literally from the moment that we first started having that conversation, it was the only way that I could get through was to ask myself that question, “How might this be happening for me, not to me?” because if this was just something that was being taken away from me, I didn’t know how my heart could get through it honestly.
So, only by thinking that we had come into each other’s lives to feel the most extraordinary unconditional love and experience that from each other, and then for each of us to have the opportunity to go deep into our soul’s desire and to be able to have the freedom to do that, that question totally opened up a possibility of me to move forward when otherwise it was just devastating.
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, thank you for sharing that. I think that degree of transparency, there are many people listening who probably fully understand what that is to go through. That reframe I think is so helpful to process what you’re experiencing. Now, some of the other portals to power that you talk about, of course, there are always a couple that will really resonate with me as a reader. Another one was the process of persuasion asking not aligning and what is in it for them. Can you explain that concept? Because I think on a lot of different levels, this isn’t just for our professional life, but also our personal life. Like, really understanding what is your point of leverage when you’re having conversations with people and trying to get into more alignment with what needs to happen for you moving forward.
Sharon Melnick: Yeah. So, everywhere in your life, when you request or ask someone to act in a certain way, a lot of times what we do is just we think about the thing that we want and then we just say it out loud the way that we want it, “Can you take out the trash or can you clean up your room?” I don’t know. It could be anything. Or, “Could you promote me?” We have to remember that– Think of all of us. We’re all up to here, overwhelmed. We have our own agenda, we’re trying to accomplish are things that are important to us. When you ask someone, just because you’re asking, you want it, it’s a little bit like swimming upstream. What you want instead is to think about what does that person already want? Because they already have energy going there. It’s like entering into a rushing river, like, energy is already going. You know what I mean? It’s just like, put your raft on that river. Don’t try to swim it upstream.
So, whatever is important for your family member, let’s just say, cleaning their room or whatever, it could be anywhere. Think about what do they really want and then help them to see that by doing what you’re asking them, that’s going to help them get more of what it is that they want. This definitely in a business setting– I’ll just give an example here. So, I coached a woman who was at one of the big Fortune 100 companies and she came to me and She’s on a sales team and she said, “I’ve been asking the head of our group for some of the better sales opportunities, but he’s giving it–” Actually, in this situation, she said to the men in the group, and she said, “I think there might be gender bias here. He’s very narcissistic. He only manages up. He doesn’t seem to really care about me. So, either help me to influence here or help me get another job.” And I said, “Sure.” I said, “Well, let’s just give it one last chance to sort of see maybe if we can approach it effectively. Let’s just see.”
So, it seems that someone who is not paying much attention to you really is all about them, that how in the world could you influence them? They’re not interested in you. But where a person has a motivation, you can leverage it, okay? So, she goes back. She makes [unintelligible [00:45:32] script it out in very great detail and we bring, like, x-ray vision to understanding him. She scripts it out and then she makes the same asks that she’s been making for six years. She writes me an email two days later. She’s like, “I met with my boss. I got every single thing I asked for.” You know what I mean? “And there was one other that I asked for, because he was on such a role.” Because she put it in terms of how this was going to make him look good in front of his higher ups and help him seem him like a champion in this situation of promoting women leaders. Whatever, we really understood what would motivate him, and then–
So, you got to take off your own head. It’s like the golden rule when it comes to influencing is like, don’t do unto others how you want them to do. It’s like, do unto others how others want to be done unto. It requires you to get out of yourself a little bit. Really, like, what’s really important to them, either in terms of a business level or on the personal level, what motivates them, where is their energy already going to and be that person who reframes your request in terms of how it can help them get what they want and you get what you want. When you’re all about win-win, you’re in your power and you raise everyone around you.
Cynthia Thurlow: I love that example. I want to share with listeners a relevant mom-related utilization of what’s in it for them. So, my 17-year-old wanted the car and I wanted him to do thank you notes, because I have grandmothers or mothers that still appreciate those things. And so, I said, “Here’s the deal. If you do three thank you notes, then you can use the car.” I said, “If you do not do these three thank you notes, you do not get the car.” And so, he sat down and took five minutes and did them. And I said, “This is a perfect example of what’s in it for him.” This is the motivation. You are putting the carrot in front of someone to get them to do the things that need to happen that are going to be aligned with the direction that you’re heading in.
Sharon Melnick: It’s so organic. Just also to maybe give a metaphor here that can help people remember this, because we talked about how this is, like, we both really relate to this metaphor, is a lot of us are going through our days and we feel like a thermometer, is we’re just reacting to other people. So, as a parent, you could have gotten all frustrated by him that he didn’t want to do the thank you cards. You know what I mean? My client was all feeling victimy, and negative, and resentful and like she had to leave. Our mental and emotional state is going up and down according to other people and their behavior. So, what you want to be in your power is to shift from being thermometer to being the thermostat. When you’re thermostat, it’s like you set the tone. It’s like you decide who you’re going to be. You decide on what the vision is that you’re going to bring everyone along to. These are both really good examples of that. You were like, “What’s in the best interest of all?”
Cynthia Thurlow: [laughs]
Sharon Melnick: You are like, “So, who I want to be is cool, calm, collected mom who gives organic consequences, who makes sure everyone gets what they need including the grandmothers.” That’s what it’s like to be the thermostat. You take everyone’s need into account, you show up as who you want to be, you move it along and that’s the idea, like, you have more power than you think, be the thermostat.
Cynthia Thurlow: I love that metaphor. I’m definitely going to have to keep that in mind. I definitely want to at least touch one other topic that came up as one that individuals wanted us to discuss. How do we deal with intrusive people? How do we deal with boundaries and specifically how do we deal with narcissists?
Sharon Melnick: Okay, let’s bring it on.
Cynthia Thurlow: [laughs] Very relevant. Many, many questions centered around these areas, in particular.
Sharon Melnick: For all of us. So, yeah, I think there’s even whole few pages in the book that are devoted to how to deal with a narcissist and protect yourself, which is the idea. So, we’ll go through maybe a couple of these now. So, the whole idea of staying in your power is that you can stay good in you no matter what’s going on around you. That’s the idea where you have to create almost like a moat around yourself, where you have to stay good in your own energy field, so that even if the other person is acting, again, driven by their own psychology and their own biology that has very little to do with you that you create a force field around you, that is going to protect you. So, there are a number of ways that you can do that. Before I even discuss those ways, I want to talk a little bit about just having an awareness of what’s going on when you’re dealing with someone who is not respecting your boundaries or even trampling on them.
So, when it comes to setting boundaries, you want to put your boundary out there in a way that is about what you need and not telling the person what they should do or anything, because they’ll be allergic to that, but about what you need or what you will do if they act in whatever way they do. So, it’s very clean, because you’re only talking about you. You want to put yourself out there and state your truth, and then what you want to do? The first thing that you want to do is you want to watch for their response. You want to figure out what it is, because they might have one of two responses. So, it might be deferential or it might be defensive. If it’s deferential, they’ll actually hear you and they’ll take it in. It’s as if there are two people who have needs and are interacting here. So, they might say something like, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was doing that or I really care. I’m going to try to do it better next time.” Or, “Please, if I’m not doing it, remind me or I’m so sorry,” like something. They’ll do something that shows that they’re paying attention to your needs because you’ve stated it.
Other people will be defensive, not deferential. And so, they’ll make it all about them. They’ll feel attacked by you, they’ll attack you back, they’ll justify whatever it is, but you have no needs in this interaction. So, that’s your clue that you need to go beyond setting a boundary and you need to put up a barrier. So, they need to have less access to you, because they’ve shown themselves that even when you do something to protect yourself in good faith that they’re not capable of honoring it. That gives you a little bit of context, because then you know, “Okay, now I have to go into some of my strategies that are going to help protect me from this person.”
So, one of the things that you could do is if you have to interact with them, I mean, it’s always good to try to minimize your contact with them, but if you have to because you’re in a family, or a work situation, or whatever that you don’t have the choice to change right now is that you really want to control the way that you interact with them in a way that minimizes your engagement with them, because engaging with them is what’s going to set you up to be hooked, bait in the mouth. Oh, yeah, we’ve all been there. And then react and then make you a person who you don’t want to be, and then you’re out of your power, and you have to get back in.
Okay. So, one thing that you could do is you can act like a gray rock, like, totally monotone, totally bland, totally like a smooth gray rock, like, there’s nothing you can get your hooks on. You slide right off, like, Teflon. This is like you just do your best disengaged teenager, like, whatevs. You just don’t even go there. Like, just, “uh-huh. Okay, fine. Yeah, we’ll do.” Just that or, you could even take that person what they say and you can listen to them as if they were Charlie Brown’s teacher from the Peanuts cartoon. So, you might have to look at them because you’re in a meeting with them or you’re in a family interaction with them or something like that, so you can put your eyes on them, but you don’t have to actually take in what they say. You can just listen to them like, [onomatopoeia]. You don’t have to take in the words as meaning something about you. So, that’s just one strategy. If you have to interact with them, just definitely minimize your engagement. There are many, many other things. Was there a strategy that you particularly remember that was fun for you to think about using?
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, actually, you used the gray rock. I kept thinking of like a mossy rock, a slippery rock that has, you’re in a stream and there’s some moss growing on the rock, so you can’t attach any– That to me, because I’m very visually oriented, I was like, “Yes, that’s actually a strategy I’ve used with the narcissist in my life.” So, I think it’s really beneficial to just understand there are ways to interact with these individuals and still be able to, as you say, remain in your power, but not feel like you’re powerless. I think that’s the resounding comments I was getting from women that were sending in questions was along the lines of, “I feel powerless when my boundaries aren’t being respected. How do I go about creating opportunities for me to not replicate previous patterns, so that it doesn’t continue?”
Sharon Melnick: Yeah. So, applause for you, for all of you who are aware of those patterns and not wanting to repeat them. It takes two interactive partners to make a pattern. So, if you’re not engaging in a way that is going to perpetuate a pattern, then you deescalate it right there. For sure, you’re going to feel icky when you’re interacting with someone who’s intrusive in that way. So, all of the moving through and clearing your emotions is going to be very relevant for you, so that you can come back into that sense of sovereignty like, “This is how I want to feel in my body.” You know what I mean? “I know how to get myself there.” Definitely access the dance breaks for that, because in the Spotify playlist, I have not only how to move through anger or grief, but then how to get back into your fun, and being lit up, and turned on, and all of that. So, definitely, that’s an immediate strategy.
Then another one that might not be so obvious, because there’s a lot of strategies in the book, kind of how to interact with that person. But this is more of like a mindset, which is one of acceptance and compassion to really understand where this came from. Because for someone who is so rigid in their behavior pattern and who so can’t take in any responsibility, the reason for that is that this is a person who when they were in their early years, experienced trauma that was so severe that it would have activated in any child, very extreme states of whatever emotion, anger, helplessness, humiliation, whatever it was. And so, as a child, this person would have had to develop ways of really cutting themselves off from that emotion, dissociating it away, could have been beaten out of them almost in a literal way.
It is so hard when you look at the person today and how manipulative, and selfish, and mean, and venomous, and all the things that they can be today, it is beyond imagination that they ever could have been a vulnerable child in that state. But if it helps you to remember that that is what produced someone and they’ll never see themselves that way. You would never want to ask them to– You might want to ask them to be accountable, but don’t expect it, I guess, is what I would say. You might want to share your truth and ask for that, but know that that’s something that they might not be so capable for. But it actually really works to stand in your power with narcissists. Narcissists respect power actually. If you know more than they do or if you have information that can lead to an outcome that they want, it’s just better to go to them with that in private and not in public, because if you humiliate them in public, mm, yeah, you got to watch your back. It’s like they really step on. If you could really have an understanding of where this comes from, just know it can be miserable to be them 24/7. You only have to interact with them the time that you have to interact with them.
This is an opportunity for you to really enlarge your heart and come with compassion while protecting your heart in this situation. This is the whole idea of being in your power. When you understand what’s going on, your own reactions, you understand what’s going on for the other person, you can protect yourself, you can be effective at getting what it is that you need. When you are in your power, you make it better for everyone around you.
Cynthia Thurlow: That’s such a beautiful message. Thank you so much for this beautiful book. Please let my listeners know how to connect with you, how to purchase your book, how to work with you if you are indeed taking on new patients and clients.
Sharon Melnick: Thank you so much. Well, some of the resources that I’ve been referring to, head on over to www.inyourpowerbook.com, and that’s where you can download those playlists for the dance breaks for all the different kind of emotional states. That’s just like an instant state change for you. I would recommend starting with the assessment. There’s just an eight-question assessment there that can just tell you immediately, like, where you are and in terms of being in your power. And then of course, you can get the whole book, which will show you how to get back in your power and stay there.
Also, I just put up another resource at inyourpowerbook.com, which will give you a way of tracking as you go throughout a day or a couple of days, like, where you’re in your power and where you’re not because this is so valuable for you as information to know like when are you in your power? Do more of that. Where you’re not in your power, that’s where you really want to have these skills. So, head on over to inyourpowerbook.com for those resources, and then I’d be delighted. I coach women executives, and founders, and women leaders who want to get to the next level and to be heard. So, you can reach me at sharonmelnick.com. Thank you.
Cynthia Thurlow: Awesome. This has been an incredible conversation, and obviously, your book is one of those books that I will be using as a resource recommending to my female patients. Thank you, again.
Sharon Melnick: Thank you.
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