Psychotherapist's Hacks on How to Change Your Life | Lori Gottlieb on Impact Theory | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Psychotherapist's Hacks on How to Change Your Life | Lori Gottlieb on Impact Theory".
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>> Everybody, welcome to another episode of Impact Theory. I am here with Laurie Gottlieb, Laurie, welcome to the show. >> Thanks so much, so nice to be here. >> Absolutely. I was blown away by your book. I was moved emotionally, deeply.
Understanding And Transforming Self-Narratives
The importance of stories (00:19)
I cannot remember the last book that had me that raw and emotional. And I was very taken by surprise as a therapist. Why isn't this book more pedagogical? Why did you really dive into this human side of everything? >> Yeah, so in the book, I follow the lives of four of my patients. And there's a fifth patient that I follow who's me as I go through something in life and then go to my own therapist. And I really wanted to tell stories because I feel like we see ourselves reflected most clearly through the lens of other people's stories. And so I feel like if someone says to you, you do this or you're like this or this is the thing that's keeping you stuck, we say, I'm not like that, I don't do that. But when you read people's stories, you see yourself reflected in them and then you say, yeah, that's me. >> There were two things. >> So they were just so much more powerful. >> Yeah, I would agree with that very much so. And there were two things in the book that really hit me. One, you just mentioned so this notion of getting unstuck and being there and going through you as you pull yourself out and begin to change your own self narrative and the way that you're looking at boyfriend and everything that's shook down there. And then the other is death. And that was really powerful and we'll get into that in a second. But I want to start with this notion of getting unstuck. So is that a core, like if you reading the book, I felt like that was a core part of what therapy can help with is people get very rigid in terms of how they view themselves, the narrative that they're telling themselves and therapy is sort of slow about slowly reshaping that into something more useful. Does that feel accurate? >> Yeah, absolutely. I did a TED talk about this recently about how we're all unreliable narrators.
How to prevent becoming a narrator (02:10)
So when people come to therapy, they come in, they have a story. They're very sure that this is a very accurate version of the story. But it's a version of the story. And there's so much more to the story. And the reason that they're stuck is because there's something faulty about their narrative. There's something about their narrative that they're not able to see. They can't get to the next chapter. They're stuck in this chapter. And so I feel like my job as a therapist is almost to be an editor where I help people to revise the story, the faulty narrative that they came in with so that they can move forward. And if you don't do that revision, you're just going to keep going in circles and never move forward. How malleable is our personality? Like some of the people that you catalog in the book, especially John, when you first begin talking about him, it's like, whoa, is this guy really going to be able to have? Because he felt like such an archetype. It felt like that Hollywood executive that we've been told so much about in countless movies and TV shows. And I just was sort of waiting with Bated Breth to see if he was actually going to be able to make that change. So in general, how malleable do you think our personalities really are? Yeah, I mean, I think that we're born with a certain temperament, but I think that there is so much room for change. And that's where people don't realize how much agency they have over their own lives.
Making choices that serve you (03:34)
They kind of feel like, well, this is just how it is or this is the way I am. But no, you're actually making choices every moment of every day we all make choices. And sometimes we make choices that don't serve us. And so what examples of the kind of choices people are making? Sure, the whole like, well, we call them help rejecting complainers, right? We all know people like this. So the people who are like, well, yeah, I really hate my job, but I can't switch jobs because and every time you give them a suggestion, they're like, yeah, I can't do that because this or that or the other thing, right? Or yeah, I'm not in the right relationship, but I can't get out of it because or whatever it might be, we make choices all the time about what we want to do. Even things like, I really want this or that or the other thing in my life. And so we say, well, here are some steps you can take. Well, I can't do that, right? So what is that? What is that about? And that that's the stuckness that I'm talking about. Do you confront that head on like when somebody walks in? So here would be my temptation as a therapist to be like, all right, let me just give you sort of why people come to me. They come to me because they're stuck. Their narrative is not working. Give me your narrative. Let's hear what it is. And then we'll massage it and we'll be out in 45 minutes.
That very much does not strike me as the approach that you took in the book. And I'm guessing is not what you take in your practice. Why not? And what is the approach that you take? >> Well, I think the first thing is that when people come in, they want something to change. That's why they made that call. Usually what they want to change is someone else or something else. And so they don't realize, wait a minute, I'm going to have to do some heavy lifting here. And so it's not just like you come to therapy, you download the problem of the week, the therapist says, yeah, that's right, that was terrible. These people are terrible. And you leave. It's what is your role in this? What is not working about this? How are you contributing to what's not working? And that's not to say that there aren't difficult circumstances, of course, or difficult people out in the world that impact what's going on in this person's life. I remember when I was training one of my clinical supervisors said, before diagnosing someone with depression, make sure they aren't surrounded by assholes, right? So it's like, yeah, you might be surrounded by assholes in your family or whatever it were, who knows. But then what is your response? And what are you doing with what's going on? Do you need to stay in this relationship? Do you need to stay in these relationships? Are you contributing to why this person is being an asshole? Are you doing something here too? Do you have the same argument over and over with your partner? And you think that it's all them, because part of it is you. So that's what happens. So when people come in, it's like they want something to change and we have to help them to see, well, what is it that you are willing to do to change? You've talked about therapy and people's need for therapy, sort of breaking out ultimately into two buckets.
Failure to change (06:28)
And you've got freedom and change. I'm curious to hear more about that. How are those the things that people get stuck on and then going back to what we were just talking about instead of saying, like, here, tell yourself this narrative, this is going to take you where you want to go, you're always doing these sort of little nudges, trying to get people to maybe recognize for themselves, have the epiphany and then sort of go off and change as a result of that epiphany, why do people struggle so much with change? Change is really hard. I don't think people realize how hard it is because often when they think of change, they think about making positive changes. And so you say to people, well, obviously making that change would improve your life. So why is it so hard to do? But then look at New Year's resolutions. We make those all the time. That's something that might improve our lives. And yet they don't tend to last. And the reason is because first of all, change is hard because change involves loss. So even though you might be moving to something better, what you do lose is you lose the familiar. You lose your comfort zone. And a lot of us are very worried about going into a place of uncertainty, a place that we haven't been before. So some of us, like sort of human nature, would rather stay in the familiar place, even if the familiar is miserable or unpleasant, then to say, I'm going to risk something and go to this place that makes me really uncomfortable. They can't tolerate the discomfort of the uncertainty. And I think another reason that change is hard is because there's a big misconception that you make a decision to change and then you change. It doesn't work like that. There's a chapter and maybe you should talk to someone called How Humans Change. And it's about all of the steps that we take before we even make the change. And so there's pre-contemplation where you don't even know you're thinking about making the change. There's preparation where you start preparing to make the change. There's action where you're actually making the change. And then the most important step in making change is maintenance, the maintenance phase. And the maintenance phase is once you've made the change, how do you maintain the change? That's where all the New Year's resolutions go awry. And what people don't realize about that is that you're going to slip back. And what people normally do is the minute they slip back, they think, well, that didn't work, so I'm just going to give up. Like, I'm going to eat better. And then, oh, look, I just had two pieces of cake, so forget it, that diet didn't work, right? No, you have to know in the maintenance phase that you're going to slip back and then you just get right back on track. How do you begin to help people get more comfortable with the willingness to change?
How to get better (09:03)
I think that it has to do with timing and dosage, right? So when you talk to people about change in therapy, when they're telling you something that they're really upset about, and I have in my mind, oh, here's what's going on and here's where they're going to need to change, I'm not going to say that right away because they're not ready to hear it. So I might plant some seeds, and so that's sort of the timing, and then the dosage is how much, how much am I? How many seeds am I going to plant in that one session? And so I have a quote in the book that most big transformations come about from the tiny, almost imperceptible steps that we take along the way. And that's what you're doing in therapy, that someone doesn't necessarily realize that some change occurred in that session, but by the time they come back the next week, something has shifted. Do you have an informal or formal, I guess, list of like here are the sort of self-realizations that people are going to need to have. So for instance, I wrote out when I was trying to teach my employees how to think in a way that would allow them to become successful, I wrote the 25 beliefs that I had had to adopt to go from employee to business owner and be successful at it. And so you could encounter somebody and be like, okay, well, I get what they're tripping over, I get which one of these beliefs is their biggest problem or where we need to start. Do you have sort of a rough guideline of how people need to think about themselves or how the elements of a self-narrative that will allow them to be successful and sort of begin ticking off the boxes as we go through therapy? Yeah, I'd love to hear what those are that you gave your employees. What were some of them? I have some I'll share with you. Amazing. Some of the most important ones are human potential is nearly limitless. You can do anything you set your mind to without limitation. And then the next one is that's a lie, but it's an empowering lie. And another one is we do that which moves us towards our goals. We don't do that which moves us away from our goals. And on and on, just trying to, I'm trying to get people to believe that the average human is an adaptation machine. What we are literally designed to do is to acquire skills that skills themselves have utility. And so if you put time and energy into getting skills, you're actually going to get better at something. You've shown that in your own life with all the different paths that you've gone down. It's pretty extraordinary how you've lived sort of all these different threads but pulled them together into, I mean, your work is extraordinary. But I think it's a result of you having gotten skills in writing and gotten skills as a therapist and gotten skills as a storyteller. And now you're able to bring that together. So that's basically what the beliefs are trying to get people to understand. Skills have utility and you can gain new skills. Yeah.
Self Compassion (12:00)
Well, I mean, I think I've always been interested in story and the human condition. And so I just looked at it through different lenses. But I think the one thing that, you know, when we look at, you know, if I can make a list, I think what I would put first on that list is self-compassion. So I think a lot of people don't realize that, you know, when I give talks and I'll say to people, you know, show of hands, who's the person that you talk to most in the course of your life? You know, is it your partner? Lots of hands. Is it your sibling? You know, is it your best friend? Is it your parent, whoever? Well, the person that you talk to most is yourself. And what we say to ourselves isn't always kind or true or helpful. And so we don't even realize that this voice is there. So what happens is we are holding ourselves back because of this voice that some that we internalized from, you know, a long time ago. And so I had this therapy client who she didn't realize how self-critical she was. And so I said, I want you to go home and write down, listen for that voice and write down everything you say to yourself in the course of a few days and come back to me and we'll talk about it. And she came back. She was very skeptical and she came back and she started to read the list and she said, I can't even read these things too. I can't even say them out loud because I am such a bully to myself. And she had no idea. And so when I think about what helps people to change, it's self-compassion. People think that you need to self-flagellate to move forward. They think like, I have to be really tough on myself or I'm not going to hold myself accountable. Well, that's just not true because what happens is when you self-flagellate, you have a lot of shame. You're basically shaming yourself for not being good enough. But when you have self-compassion, you hold yourself accountable because you can be kind and gentle to yourself so that the shame isn't there. And if you can wash away the shame, you can take action. If you're bathed in shame, you're going to be so afraid of everything because you don't want to be further shamed by this voice in your head that's going to be like whipping you, right? And so I think that one thing that I think is really important early on in therapy is to make sure that people are noticing how they talk to themselves, that they're being kind and gentle with themselves so that they can hold themselves accountable to make the changes they need to make. So now the question is, how do you develop that self-compassion? What does that look like? Is it self-talk? Is it replacing the, like you write down the negative things that you say and replace each of those with something that's more affirming and gentle? You know, I had this patient whose mother would always make her feel incredibly guilty about every life choice that she made. And I said to her, just because she sends her guilt doesn't mean you have to accept delivery. And she can keep sending it, but you don't have to sign for it. And I think the same thing is true about that voice in our heads, right? So every time you hear it, that doesn't mean that you have to let it in. You don't have to invite that voice into your head. So when you hear it, you can kindly ask the voice to leave. And you have to be really aware. You know, in the beginning, it's really an exercise. It's really, I need to notice what this is. You know, it just thinks that we say to ourselves all day, like, oh my God, you're so stupid for like something we did that if a friend did that, we would not think that person is so stupid. And we would certainly never say to them, you're so stupid because you did this instead of that.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (15:28)
You know, or just like we wake up and we look at ourselves in the mirror, we're walking out the door and we're like, God, you look terrible, right? Like if your friend looked like that, you would not think that your friend looked terrible. So we do it constantly. It's incessant. And so the first thing is like getting that under control. Do you use any of the tools of like cognitive behavioral therapy to help people begin that pattern interrupt? Yeah. I mean, I use a really eclectic approach in my work. Most of what I do is kind of in the here and now, which is what is going on right now in the room with us because in the room, what we're doing is a microcosm of what goes on out there. And so in the safe space of a therapy room, you can do all the things. You can let your free flag fly basically. You don't even know you're doing it. That's what so funny. None of us do, right? We're just acting in ways in the world and we don't realize it. And so you can really kind of take it apart in the therapy room and then go out there and do something different.
Homework assignments (16:28)
So sometimes there will be like a very sort of cognitive sort of CBT like exercise that I will give people to do, but I'm not a CBT practitioner. So what are some of the homework assignments that you give people that so we covered writing down your negative thoughts? What are some other things you do to help people either begin to develop self-awareness or to deploy the tools that you've taught them? Yeah. Well, it's so interesting because I have a podcast now. It's called Dear Therapists and I have a co-therapist on it, Guy Lynch. And we have to do in the span of an hour, you know, what we would normally do over time in the therapy room. And at the end, what we do is we give people actionable homework to do. And so we go through a therapy session with them. We give them the homework. They have one week to do the homework and then they have to report back to us. So there's the accountability. They have to report back to us how it worked out. And I think there's something about having a concrete task to do that will reframe what you've been doing. Because usually when people come to us, whatever they've been trying has not been working. That's why they come to us. So it's very specific. It depends on what the person's situation is and where we're trying to get them. There's no sort of one size fits all homework assignment.
Self narrative (17:49)
Are there sort of main groupings? So self narrative seems like one that's probably going to come up a lot. Another one you talk about in the book that I thought was really profound and speaks to. So those two buckets change in freedom. You bring up Victor Frankel and that his notion of freedom. And I'm not sure entirely when you said those two buckets, if you were referring to that type of freedom, what did you mean by that? And is that something that comes up a lot? Yeah. So it is. You know, his quote is between stimulus and response, there is a space in that space lies our choice in terms of how we respond and in that choice lies our freedom. And I think that's what I'm talking about is that sometimes we're so reactive, right? So like, you know, someone says something or does something. We make meaning of it in the moment and we impulsively react. And so if you can just take a breath, right, just take a breath to like give yourself that space that he's talking about and in that space, we can choose. How do I want to respond? Do I want to respond in the way that I know will lead to more chaos or do I want to respond in a way that maybe will lead to something different? It's kind of like, especially you see this in relationships where two people, they're always doing a dance with each other. And you know, you can, you can just like, if you hear their arguments or their disagreements, the content might be different, but the underlying way that they argue is exactly the same. So it doesn't really matter. You know, you can just change the content up, but it's the same thing. And so if one person changes their dance steps, one person does something different, then the other person either falls flat on the dance floor or has to change his or her steps too. And usually what happens is the person changes their steps too. And then it's like it goes back and forth. So now they've changed their steps. And now you're going to change your steps and it just, it leads to a completely different way of being.
Perspective Taking (19:38)
But going back to your question about like other common homework assignments, another thing that's really common is asking people to perspective take. So often what happens is people are very invested in their version of their story. And I will have them write out the other person's version of the story. Like if you could forget, you know, forget about your version for a minute. Like let's just say your version is valid in the way that it is. And that they have an equally valid version. You don't have to agree with the points, but can you get into their head? Imagine if they were sitting on my couch right now and telling me their version of the story, what would they say? And that's so eye opening. So often we attribute all kinds of motives and intentions to other people that actually aren't there. And so if you could say, oh wait, the reason that they did that might have been this. You know, if you can go from a place of, again, compassion and really write out their version of the story, you're going to learn a lot about what you were missing. And there's probably some truth in there. And there's probably also some place of overlap where you both actually agree about something that you didn't even realize you agreed about. When you first have them do that, do you tell them, hey, you should be coming from a place of compassion when you try to teleport yourself into their shoes, don't just give back all the same things that you've already said from your side, try to really look at it with warm and loving eyes. Like, what does that instruction sound like? Well, I think it's more about, let's assume that this person's intentions were good, that this person was acting in good faith. Why do you think they got so upset? What would they say? Like, what would they say was the problem here? What was the thing that triggered them? And once you start doing that, you know, you start, and I like a lot of detail in the story. You know, it's like the more detail you put in, the more you can kind of get into their mindset. We've actually done this live on the podcast where you can hear, you know, an example of someone going through this perspective, taking exercise. And do you find that people start usually from like, because they're frustrated, because they're upset, that in the beginning they're sort of giving them negative motivations or something that is, you know, bad or broken about themselves. And so that person is attacking them for that thing and that you have to move them over? Or is it in the specificity they cannot sort of help but steer themselves to sort of more realistic emotions, motivations? Well, I think where people get tripped up in the exercises at the beginning where they're trying to defend themselves. So it's hard for them to write out the other person's perspective because every time they write out, well, the reason this person might have done this, but then, oh, but I had very good reasons for data. And so they're trying to defend themselves. And so it's about you are that person while you're writing this. If you were sitting on my couch, your homework assignment is pretend you're that person and then come back next week as that person, right? So you've written out their perspective and tell me what they would say. You're not here to defend yourself. Just tell me what they would say. You learn a lot. Go on. You learn a lot. Just from having to step in. You learn a lot about yourself, about your assumptions, about the other person that you didn't, you know, you get a lot of warm feelings toward the other person that you didn't have before. And I see this so much in couples when I'm seeing them in the office. And you know, somebody will say, you know, something like, well, you know, you never listened to me. And I'll say to that person, how well do you listen to them? Right? This is the same exact complaint. And so you see that you actually have a lot in common. Usually both people feel unheard, unseen, alone, misrepresented, right? How do you begin to jump away at that ice? I know a lot of what you do as couples therapy. You know, let's say there's like a real betrayal. Let's just make this nice and juicy. So they come in, there's been real infidelity and there is just heartbreak and ice and anger and bitterness. How do you begin? One, do you tell people, hey, like maybe we should just... Go our separate ways at this point or do you sort of always come from a place of this can be worked through? If you want to work through an infidelity or a series of infidelities, it's so important that the person who cheated is willing to take responsibility and do the work that's necessary to repair the relationship. And so, you know, one of the first things that I want to find out is, is that what the person wants to do? Because if they don't or they're not willing or able to, then no, nothing's going to happen there. But often people are. And I've seen so many relationships, you know, where there's been this betrayal and the trauma of the betrayal, you know, really thrive after they've done the work and become these incredibly strong relationships and marriages. I've got to know then what's the work? Like how do we... Because that's the one thing my wife and I have always said, yo, that is a bridge too far. Right. Yes. And, you know, and I think, again, I think that nobody imagines that they're going to do this or very few people do this, but it that way. You know, most people who cheat say, oh my God, it goes against everything I believe in. It goes against everything that I ever promised to my partner or to myself. You know, most people are not sort of setting out to do that. And there are all these reasons that they do. And so, you know, I think in those cases, when people are really able to examine what happened for me, why did I do that? And, you know, to really take responsibility for what happened, understand what happened so it doesn't happen again. So if I'm taking responsibility for that, I'm just saying, hey, look, I let myself get into this situation. I felt totally disconnect from you. I didn't think you loved me anymore. I didn't think you wanted me. No, but now you're blaming the other person right now. That's what I'm trying to figure out. Like how do I... You're sitting there, blaming the person. Right. So it's not about you did something. It's not about you did something and you made me cheat, right? And that's the thing where I think it makes it really hard to repair when somebody says, like, yeah, what I did was wrong. But you know what? You made me feel like this. But no, you didn't... Nobody made you cheat. You know, there are lots of ways to deal with feeling alone. There are lots of ways to deal with feeling disconnected. You know, cheating shouldn't be one of that. So, you know, so it's really about understanding, well, what else was going on? And usually it has something to do with maybe how they were feeling in the now. But often it's something about how they felt about themselves in the past and how that came into the relationship.
You marry your unfinished business (26:21)
There's a saying that we marry our unfinished business. And if you... It's true. If you don't take care of that unfinished business, you are going to bring every sort of psychological obstacle that you came into the marriage with into that marriage and it's going to get in the way. And so cheating is often a symptom of somebody who hasn't dealt with their unfinished business. Oh, can we get specific? Like what is example like is close to common and maybe this is all just... It's so unique. Everyone's like a snowflake. But if there's any sort of typical patterns, I'm so curious to know like what... What that thing is that that person then... Because like when I was giving you the example, I didn't feel like I was blaming the other person. So I realized, okay, that would be sort of realization. Number one is like you've just got to be like where is this coming from totally within myself. Yeah. So I'd love to get an example of unfinished business that one brings into a relationship.
Dealing With Unfinished Business And Forgiveness
Example of unfinished business (27:29)
Unfinished business is somebody's parent just died and now all of a sudden they're, you know, they go on having a fair. There was something unresolved in their relationship with their parent. And now it's sort of like coming out in, you know, they're acting out in whatever way they're acting out. Unfinished business is I don't know how to tolerate being alone. And so when I feel alone in this relationship, I have to go find it somewhere else. Because when I was alone, when I was young, it was not that kind of a loan where you're in the house with people that you know love you and have you in mind. But I felt utterly by myself in the world. And so every time I'm alone, I feel that way here and I'm blaming you for that. But maybe it's something that I'm carrying with me from my past because I never learned how to be with myself. How much of this is and not just infidelity, but how much of like this, like the need for therapy or just your everyday run of the middle dysfunction is childhood dependent and how much of it just it could come anytime. Yeah.
How much of infidelity is childhood dependent? (28:31)
I see both. I mean, sometimes there's something that happens in the present. Like there's a big trauma. There's somebody's, someone close to somebody dies. You know, there's some kind of loss. Usually there's like a big loss in the present. And so people come in for something like that. It might be, you know, the death of a child or the death of a spouse or, you know, a miscarriage or, you know, whatever, a job loss, right? Something like that. It might be, you know, usually there's some kind of way that they're going through the world that is not working. And that's something that's longer term, that's something that they came in with. And usually that's because they're still kind of toggling between their childhood self and their adult self, no matter how old they are. They haven't really let go of whatever was holding them back in the past. So it's kind of like wearing clothes that don't fit you anymore and they don't even realize they're wearing them. They're wearing these childhood clothes. And so, and so that stuff just keeps popping up. And so it creates a lot of difficulty in all kinds of, you know, relationships, both professional and personal. So staying on infidelity for a second. So responsibility, that that's you, just because this is infidelity and death or like the sort of just earthshaking, I can't imagine how hard it must be to get past either of those. So you've got taken responsibility for yourself as the person that cheated. Where does forgiveness fall into this? And does it, I guess. Yeah, I love that you asked about forgiveness because, so there's a whole section in the book about forgiveness. And it's about this idea of there's a mother in the book and she did not protect her children from their father when they were young and they as older adults now, or young adults now, but as older kids don't want to talk with her. They don't want to have a relationship with her and she keeps wanting their forgiveness.
The concept of forgiveness (30:37)
And what I tried to explain to her was that the more she kept trying to get their forgiveness, the more resentful they were going to be. That she could be the mother that they needed now and see where that relationship goes without any expectation of their forgiving what happened in the past. And so what ended up happening was, and a little bit of a spoiler, but what ended up happening was that three of the children decided that they wanted to have a relationship with her because she was able to be the mother that they wanted now, but it didn't erase their pain and they didn't forgive her. They had compassion maybe for her in a new way, but they didn't forgive her. And so we have this saying, "Force forgiveness," that a lot of people say, "Oh, forgive the person who did X, Y, or Z to you and you will be free." That's not always the case. And so it really bothers me when people are forced into this position of, you know, you have to forgive when they don't actually feel forgiveness. So when it comes to infidelity, I'm not about, you know, you have to forgive the person. I think if anything, the person who committed the infidelity has to come to a place of peace with themselves, right? It's not like your partner has to do this. It's sort of like apologies. I think about this a lot when I see people in therapy where, you know, who was the apology for? So when you say, "I'm sorry to someone," are you saying you're sorry because you'll feel better about yourself? Or are you saying, "I'm sorry because, you know, then you're hoping that they'll forgive you," or are you saying, "I'm sorry because you truly feel sorry," and will it help the other person? So sometimes you might want to say, "I'm sorry," but the other person doesn't want to hear that from you, right? So the thing about, you know, when we've done something that we regret doing, whether that's infidelity or something else, how do we come to terms with ourselves and then let the other person come to terms with you however they want to? Woo! Okay. So Rita, the woman that you're talking about from the book, one of the most extraordinary stories in the book, absolutely gut-wrenching when she is, I mean, this is a much older woman, is fascinating in its own right for, you know, is your life ever really over as long as you've got air in your lungs? I mean, that's incredible. And her journey to being able to reach out without wanting to be forgiven, like, got it. That's super powerful. Now let's go to a couple that is staying married and not forgiving the person who cheated. That seems like a recipe for a disaster from my naive, not a therapist's mind. How does that work?
Can you forgive without forgetting? (33:19)
Like how can you be with somebody that doesn't forgive you? Like I could see not forgiving the act and sort of like setting that on a shelf to the side somewhere or something, but like, "Ooh, God, I don't think I would stay in a marriage if I had done something that the person couldn't forgive." Even if rightly so, I just wouldn't want to be in that stew, if that makes sense. Yeah, I mean, I guess that it depends on how you're defining forgive. So I think if you're holding a grudge, no, that's not going to work. So you need to come to a new place vis-a-vis the other person. But you know-- Can you define forgiveness then? Yeah, I mean, I think forgiveness is saying like, you know, you've got to get out of jail free card. Like, you know, like I forgive you. I'm not-- I'm okay with it. You know, I've come to a place of sort of peace with it. I think you have to come to a place of-- I understand it. I understand what happened with us. I understand that you did a lot of hard work and you understand more about you. I had to do some work to understand more about me. But that is always going to be something painful for that person. And that doesn't mean that you're going to lord it over them. That doesn't mean that it's going to come up because that's not going to work. Meaning come up like every time you have an argument that, oh, when you did that thing that really hurt me, we call that, you know, bringing out the kitchen sink. It's like every time you have an argument that like you bring out like every other argument that you've ever had. But it's more about, hey, that was our marriage then. And now we're in a new marriage. And I don't think you-- there are lots of people who say, I don't forgive that. But I'm so in love with this person. And we both grew and we both created a new marriage together and we're stronger than ever. How do people begin to build back that trust?
It takes time to rebuild trust (35:20)
Through actions. So words really don't mean a lot when it comes to trust. Actions over time. And it takes time. And so people really have to be invested if they want to rebuild after an infidelity. And when you're beginning that process, what like is there-- and I mean, this, I guess, could go for anything. It doesn't have to be infidelity. But when there's that real sort of palpable coldness between two people, like-- so I'm thinking of in the book, John, was an extraordinary journey. And I want to set aside Gabe for a second because that, I really want to talk about that. John just is like the coldness that a developed or the distance that it developed between he and his wife. How-- like, what are the techniques to-- when two people truly want to come back together, they've got a shared history, they've got a shared life, they've got the reasons to want to overcome that. How? Well, I think in John's case, his whole thing was-- and I think a lot of men feel this way. They feel like, I have to be the rock, right? There's something that happens, there was a trauma in their lives.
Women want men to be vulnerable (36:27)
And I can't fall apart because if I fall apart, the whole house of cards will come down. And so-- and I see this so much with men in my practice where-- and I think this has to do sort of related to infidelity too, both men and women cheat, of course. But often I'll see that men aren't able to speak up. And part of it is this-- the cultural messages that they get. So men will come in and they'll say to me, I've never told anyone this before. And women will come in and they'll say, I've never told anyone this before, except for my mother, my sister, my best friend. So they've told some people, but it feels like they haven't told anyone. So in couples, when-- let's say it's a heterosexual couple and the woman will say to the man, like, I really want to get to know you.
Exploring Vulnerability And Childhood Trauma
Kristen Bell on the Space for Men to be Vulnerable (37:15)
I feel like there's this distance between us. I feel like you don't share your inner life with me. And so then he does and he starts to open up and he starts crying. And he starts really crying. And often she will look at me like deer and headlights. Like, I don't know what to-- like I'm so uncomfortable with this, even though it's what she asked for. It's like, I don't feel safe when you don't open up to me and I don't feel safe when you open up too much to me when you start crying and I start to feel unsafe. It's like Goldilocks. It's like not too much, not too-- like, not too little. There's just sort of this right amount of emotion that a man can share. And so I hope that's changing in our culture because I think both men and women would be much happier if we could all walk the walk, which is, if you say you want men to be vulnerable, give them the space to be vulnerable. Where do you think we bump up against nature on that one? And I am well aware that trying to tease out nature and nurture is, you know, in any sort of delineated, perfect line is impossible. But I will say, I believe-- and I'll be very curious to hear what you think-- that-- so science points that we are roughly 50% hardwired and 50% malleable. And if that's true, I would say that certainly some of that hardwiring has to do with our sex. And like when you tell the story that, you know, guys will say, "Oh, I've never told anybody this and girls are like, 'Oh, I've never told anybody but--' like, I don't-- I don't feel and I could be totally wrong. I'm willing to accept that. I don't feel like I'm-- I feel that way. No one ever told me not to cry. In fact, my mom always encouraged it. But I would. There are many things that like anxiety, for instance. It took me so long to tell my wife that I felt anxious. And some of that for sure is like, I wanted to be tough. But also like, when I say-- when I got around guys that were tough for the first time in my life, I took to that like a fish to water. Like I've been waiting for it my whole life. Like there was something that spoke to me in a way that being, you know, very well raised, I would say by my mother to be open and vulnerable and all that. It didn't have that like glowing orb of resonance that it had when I finally got around guys that were a little bit more rough and tumble. And that like where the-- where the sexes begin to differ seems important enough at least as a person to reflect on yourself. Like what lane would I feel more comfortable in? And so I'm curious like how that plays out if you think that there really is like in this particular example. I heard you talk about this before and I'm so glad you brought it up now because I'm so curious to get your answer on whether you think like there is just a certain amount of like women will have some kind of reaction if the guy doesn't have a certain amount of stoicism. Nobody wants to be dating a rock but like a certain amount of stoicism like if somebody rolled up and was physically threatening that the guy isn't going to crumble. Yeah, I mean I think these are sort of like cultural expectations that we have. With no biological imperative. Oh, I don't know. I don't know. But I can tell you that when men do come in my office and they do open up the kinds of things that they think about, that they worry about, that they feel are very similar to the kinds of things that women think about and worry about and feel. What does it mean to be loved? What does it mean to love? What does it mean to be accepted? What does it mean to be a good parent? What does it mean to be a good son or daughter? People have the same concerns about life. What does it mean to succeed? All of those questions. What does it mean to be a good friend? So I think we just don't give men the space to talk about some of these things. I'm not saying that men and women are wired exactly the same thing they're exactly alike. But I will say that there's so much more commonality and that when people can be open to that commonality, I think that the relationships are much richer.
The John and Gabe Example (41:43)
I wish that we had seven hours. There are so many things to go down with you. One thing I would stab myself in the face if we didn't have plenty of time to talk about is Gabe Trauma. Tell people that John and Gabe, what their relationship was and how it came out and then I was going to ask if you saw it coming. Yeah. So not to create a whole spoiler in the book, but for those people who haven't read it. But John is this person who when I first meet him, he is incredibly successful in his work. He works in Hollywood and he's very unlikable. He's very abrasive. He thinks he's better than everybody else. He's having trouble sleeping. He's having trouble with his wife. He feels like everybody is an idiot and he knows better. People said to me, "Why would you treat him? Why would you see this person when he was so insulting to you from day one?" It's because I think that people's behavior speaks the unspeakable. He definitely, when you talk about Gabe, that was the unspeakable. There was something that had happened in his life that he had talked to nobody about. He also had some sort of stuff from his childhood that he lost his mother when he was young. And so it was really about, I knew I was going to have to figure out what was the source of his pain because people act a certain way because they have to keep you at a distance so that you can't see their pain. So he could keep everybody at bay with his obnoxious behavior then nobody could get close to him and nobody could see his pain. And when I found out what it was and it was, I wasn't expecting what it was, it was really traumatic for him and he'd been carrying this around for years. And he talked to nobody about it because he felt like he had to be the strong person in the family. He had to be the person who couldn't, what he called it, falling apart. What he came to learn was that it actually weakens people. So when you think you're being strong by pushing down your feelings, you're actually, you know, your psychological immune system is like in overload and you become incredibly shut down and you can't really live. You're like alive but dead. You're alive, you're going through the motions but you're not living at all. And so it was once he was able to feel the pain and experience the pain and share that, he was able to live again. And so it's like sort of counterintuitive. We think, oh, I will die if I feel this kind of pain. No, you will die if you don't feel this kind of pain.
not redoing the holocaust (44:29)
Yeah, that was so well articulated in the book. And Lori, I have to imagine people lavish you with praise for how well the book is written because the book is written freakishly well. The way that you interweave the stories. I was truly moved and for people that watch my podcast, they will sense my sincerity to my toes. It was just handled so, so well with the way that you're sort of parallel tracking the different lessons and how what you needed to learn in therapy is tied to the people that you're being a therapist for and like the way that the different realizations begin to unlock things in your life and their life. And man, it was just absolutely crazy and like childhood and trauma freak me out. Childhood freaks me out because I don't like that you can't undo something, that there's this magical period in your childhood and if that's fucked up. Like, hey, sorry, it's just like you're in trouble for the rest of your life. Well, no, so I have a really different view of that. So I think that a lot of people, yeah, well, yes, because that was such a grim view of life. You know, some people feel like they get into young adulthood and they feel like they want to redo, they want to redo on their childhoods and you can't move forward until you accept the fact that you don't get to get, you don't get a redo on your childhood. And if you can live with that loss, right, I don't get a redo on my childhood, but here's what I get. I get the freedom of adulthood and you will not be free in adulthood if you are holding on to this hope for a better past. You can not move forward to a better future if you are holding on to the hope for a better past. So that's the work of therapy. The work of therapy is you're not going to get a redo. How do we deal with that loss? And then how do you use the freedom that you have now to create the kind of present and future that you want that you didn't get to have? So how do you deal with that loss?
how to do with the loss of not having a perfect childhood (46:29)
Do you just have people reframe it? Is it focusing them on what they could have if they were willing to let go? Is letting go the right word? Like, what is that? Well, I think there's this fantasy. There's this fantasy of, you know, if my past had been this way, then everything would have worked out perfectly. And I think it's helping people to see a more balanced view of their lives. And I think it's also to help them see the, you know, what they have learned from the experiences that they've had so they can integrate that experience into their lives. So, you know, when we talk about moving forward from the past, we're not talking about, you know, forgetting it happened or pretending it didn't happen or saying, I don't feel pain around that because you will. But it's more about how do I integrate that experience into my life so that I don't compartmentalize it and it comes out in all these unconscious ways that where I self-sabotage left and right because that's what people do when they're not integrating the experience into their lives. They self-sabotage in all kinds of ways. But how do I integrate that into the experience of my life so that I can make some kind of peace with it even though it will be painful and then move forward so that I can taste the freedom that I never had. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Lauries contact info (47:43)
Where can people find out more about you? You've got so much going on. Oh, well, first of all, I'm so glad the book resonated with you in that way. You know, so many people have talked about how even though their situations might not look anything like the people in the book and that's why I picked those people specifically because it seems like all five of us are so different from one another and maybe even from the reader, but we can all see ourselves in every single one of those five. So people can get the book anywhere they get their books, you know, independent bookstores, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, wherever. And people can watch my TED Talk at TED.com. They can listen to the new podcast called Dear Therapists on Apple Podcasts or anywhere they get their podcasts. They can read my weekly Atlantic column, Dear Therapist, and they can follow me on Instagram, Twitter, you know, wherever they feel like catching up with what I'm up to. Very cool. Well, thank you again, Laurie, so much for coming on the show. It's amazing. It will definitely continue drinking deeply of your world. I think it's really, really extraordinary. I look forward to seeing what you do next. And speaking of things that are next, boys and girls, if you haven't already, be sure to subscribe. And until next time, my friends, be legendary. Take care. The word dharma means a lot of things and it's always hard to translate ancient Sanskrit words into modern-day English, but the closest two definitions are your true nature and your eternal purpose.