In this episode of Voices of Your Village, I get to fangirl and hang out with Lori Gottlieb, therapist, and author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. In this NY Times Bestselling book, the reader gets snapshots into therapy sessions with four people Lori is working with, as well as her own therapy sessions with her own therapist. We get to chat about the question,
Lori is a psychotherapist with a very diverse background. After college and prior to becoming a therapist, she worked in film and television, attended medical school for a short time, and then worked as a journalist for many years. As a therapist, she also writes books, with Maybe You Should Talk to Someone being her latest, which has been on the NY Times Best Seller list for 10 weeks and counting. One of my favorite quotes from Lori’s book is,
In our village, we talk a lot about coping mechanisms versus coping strategies - numbing a feeling versus sitting in it and processing it. This particular quote is reminiscent of this concept, and Lori and I were able to dive into this a bit. Lori mentions that people think they can move on only if they can get rid of a feeling, but the truth is, if you try to push down your feelings, you just make them stronger. They tend to come out in other ways. This is especially relevant to our tiny humans - if a child pushes a feeling away, it’s most likely going to come out behaviorally or as a change in their general temperament.
Instead, we shut down and go numb, but we don’t resolve the thing that caused that feeling. If you push it away, you can’t do anything with it, and it will affect you whether you acknowledge it or not. One of the best things we can do for our tiny humans, as Lori said, is to help them deal with the full range of their feelings. She also reminds us that putting just as much value on listening to our kiddos as talking to our kiddos is so powerful.
It can be hard to not want to numb the pain for our own kiddos because it’s hard to see our own kiddos hurting, but it’s so important not to do that. We’ve got to let our kiddos sit in the pain. Lori describes how she doesn’t try to make her own son feel better or take away the pain for him. Instead, she tries to help him figure out how to get through the pain himself. She also mentions the importance of making it known to the tiny humans that they’re not alone in this. If we as parents and caregivers signal to our kiddos that we are uncomfortable with their sadness, for example, then what the child will do is try to instead hide their feelings. If we want to be close to someone, whether it be a partner or our kiddos, we have to be open and receptive to their feelings. We can’t tell them that they can tell us or come to us with anything, but then feel profoundly uncomfortable when they actually do. We have to keep in mind that when we are “trying to make someone feel better,” we’re actually trying to make ourselves feel better.
Kids catch on to this really quickly. For example, in my experience, I’ve witnessed kiddos waiting until their parent leaves at drop-off to begin crying because they caught on that seeing them cry makes their parent upset. Lori emphasized that our kiddos are not responsible for our feelings, which I dive deeply into in Episode 66.
Lori states that one of the things she is trying to accomplish with her book is to help people, especially parents, see their “blind spots.” She mentions the “intergenerational transmission” of doing things as parents. Many of us say we will do things differently than our parents, but then we end up doing the same exact things. On the surface, it may look like we are doing something differently, but we’re really just doing a different version of what our parents did. Because we may not even realize we are doing it, Lori believes we are more likely to identify some part of ourselves in other people’s stories and uncover those blind spots, leading to a self-awareness. This is one way that being a fly on the wall in the therapy sessions of the people in her book is so powerful.
We discuss a little bit about therapy and how it’s vital for a person to do work outside of the sessions, because as Lori shared, “Insight is the booby prize of therapy.” It isn’t enough to “check the box” for attending; you actually need to go out of your comfort zone and do something different than you did before. It isn’t enough to just understand why you do something - taking that information and making an actual change in your behavior is what is going to make a difference.
Lori states that what kids really want from their parents is predictability. They want to know what the expectations are and what will happen if they don’t meet them. Knowing why the expectation is in place is also important. These moments actually build trust and feelings of safety. Lori shared an analogy:
A fishbowl would feel too constraining, and an ocean is too big to feel safe. An aquarium allows enough space, but also some healthy boundaries so that they’re going to feel extremely safe.
Really listening to our own feelings is extremely important. We tend to categorize and label feelings as “good” feelings or “bad” feelings. but as Lori says, all feelings are actually good feelings because they send us messages. What are our feelings actually telling us? They tell us what we really want. For example, feeling envy, a feeling that is typically labeled as a “bad” feeling, can actually tell us what we want, and if we have the self-awareness, can lead to positive change in our lives if we take that information and use it to make a change or action to get what it is we are envious about into our own lives. This is why all feelings are “good” feelings.
We chatted about having patience for our kiddos’ emotions. Lori believes a large part of having impatience with our kids is actually having impatience with ourselves because of something bigger that we’re bringing to the table. Take some breaths and be kind to yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself about how you’re feeling.
Don’t feel bad that your kid is annoying you right now - they probably really are being annoying.
Have compassion and realize you’re doing a good job and you’re having a normal reaction, and you don’t have to act on the reaction. When you feel like you could be out of control, just do nothing - do a puzzle, take a walk with your kiddo - these things will regulate both of you. You don’t have to always immediately respond - when you’re in a heightened emotional state and take a moment, that is actually positive modeling for them for when they are in a heightened emotional state - they see you regulating your emotions.
Lastly, I asked Lori how she takes care of herself to avoid empathy fatigue in her work. Lori describes, which we also see in the book, the consultation groups that therapists are a part of. In these consultation groups, therapists talk weekly to discuss their cases with each other. This gives them the opportunity to get feedback and ideas for their sessions, but to also share their own emotional experiences from working with patients. What does your village look like? Who do you turn to for support?