Life is full of conflicting information. We are constantly managing and doing our best to hold opposing emotions and conditioning at the same time. On the one hand, we have feelings that are the least desirable. Alternatively, we have the most desirable qualities of trust, love, and compassion. It is not only important to see these as opposites but to recognize that we are taught to work hard, be disciplined, be successful, be attractive, and have financial means. As we process and wrestle with our conditioning as well as our emotional extremes the paradox emerges. Robert helps us start with the most difficult feelings so we have the best chance to discover what we need. Therefore, giving us the best chance to feel good.
It is never too late to go back and realize that you have been judging yourself or that you have been shut down. From this awareness, a pivot can occur. That intention to care can begin to become a definition that you identify with more than what you do or how young you are, or how wealthy you are because that intention to care will help you in all directions, no matter where you are. Join Robert and Dave as they continue to deeply delve into these key practices highlighting moving from internal awareness to communicating with our partners and those we are close to. This includes using the right tone, asking for your needs more than once, and reassessing how important this need is to you.
Resources related to this episode
Robert Strock Website
Robert’s Book, Awareness that Heals
Free Downloadable Introspective Guides
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Awareness That Heals, Episode 62.
Robert Strock: (00:05)
So, by facing the difficult feelings, the paradox is it gives us the best chance to feel good.
The Awareness That Heals podcast helps its listeners learn to develop the capacity, to have a more healing response to emotions and situations rather than becoming stuck. Your host, Robert Strock has practiced psychotherapy for more than 45 years. He wrote the book, “Awareness That Heals: Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges,” to help develop self-caring and the capacity to respond in an effective way to life’s challenges. Especially at times when we are most prone to be critical or to withdraw together, we will explore how to become aware of our challenging feelings and at the same time find alternative ways to live a more fulfilling and inspiring life.
Robert Strock: (00:54)
Thanks again for joining us at Awareness That Heals where we give it our all to focus on bringing heart and wisdom to our life’s challenges. We start again and again, with being aware of what is most difficult for us. Now, I say that realizing that for many people, that’s exactly the opposite of the way we were taught because we were taught we wanna try to feel good. We want to try to feel, uh, together. We wanna have a happy life. And the reason why we start with what’s difficult for us is because life is a paradox. And if we’re trying to feel good and we’re avoiding, what’s difficult for us, it’s gonna bite us in the butt, in our unconscious. So, it’s very, very important why we start with what’s most difficult for us. And we see these difficulties are universal for all of us that are human, whether we recognize them or not.
Robert Strock: (02:01)
And most importantly, this not a masochistic exercise, we’re doing this so we can learn how to care for ourselves at these crucial times. And this sets up the ideal conditions for us to be fulfilled in our individual lives and to contribute to the world by finding and living from our best selves. And these best selves include what’s most difficult and what’s healing or moving in a healing direction more accurately. Today, we’re gonna continue to delve more and more deeply into what I would call the key practice that’s absorbing all the prior practices into it that’s helped thousands of people to make this simple, but not always easy to find link between the most challenging feelings and situations we faced each day and how we can move toward healing and well-being.
Robert Strock: (03:09)
This is a grounded, inspirational way to live. And I say that because again, we’re dealing with opposites and doing our best to hold it at the same time. You know, most people in general are not doing either one. So, we’re talking about doing two things in our inner life where most people really aren’t taught to be dedicated to either one, let alone both, let alone potentially at the same time. So, it starts again with authentically facing what is challenging and difficult and inquiring. How do I, how do you, how do we best take care of ourselves and those around us? So, I’d like to start off by introducing my closest friend for the last 50 years, Dave and my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation.
Robert, thank you. And as we progress through, as you said, what is the key practice? Um, I, I can’t help, but think how much foundation has been set in the Awareness That Heals podcasts and the book of course itself, uh, to get to this point, I would like to ask you to elaborate on that when you made the statement about opposites that were, were not even aware necessarily or doing or functioning to see the opposites and, and what that means, uh, and what those opposites are and why they are opposite.
Robert Strock: (04:58)
Well, when we have challenging feelings, it wouldn’t be a big lead for most of us to say our most challenging feelings are the least desirable emotions or experience that we face. Our deepest suffering is our least desirable place. Uh, unless, unless we’re really masochistic, in which case we’d say will, uh, you know, I’m suffering. I love it for most of us virtually all of us. We don’t like it when we’re really suffering and especially the enduring serious kinds of suffering. And so, then we go to the exact opposite place, which is the parts of ourselves that have the very best qualities that are going to lead us toward healing and the aspiration to be in a state of well-being, like kindness and honesty and strength and empathy, communication. Those qualities are qualities that if you look closely, life will teach us those qualities, lead us to a state of being where we’re happy, where we’re inspired, where we’re fulfilled.
Robert Strock: (06:27)
So, on the one hand, we have feelings that are by far the least desirable. And then we have the opposites, which are by far the most desirable, which is certain qualities of peace and trust and love and compassion. And it’s really important, not only to see it as the opposites, but it’s also potentially important to see that we’re taught large in life to work hard, be disciplined, to be successful, uh, to be attractive, to have some financial means to have some power. But all of those things we’re taught don’t mean anything, if we don’t have these more desirable qualities. If they lead us to peace, that’s great. They certainly are likely to lead us to a greater chance of freedom, maybe to have a partner. But if we don’t develop these qualities themselves, the qualities of the ultimate experience of life, the, where we have a sense of well-being, this is not subjective.
Robert Strock: (07:45)
The, the words that we use to describe it are subjective, but the actual qualities of peace, it leads me to think of, would you rather be peaceful or would you rather be agitated? Would, would you rather be trusting or would you rather be distrusting, you know, would you rather be strong or would you rather be weak? Would you rather be kind or would rather be mean. Now most of us, unless we have some kind of personality disorder, those are not very hard questions. So, it’s a very clear distinction as to why it’s paradoxical, that we start with the most difficult feelings so that we have the best chance of having that be a birthing of discovery of what we need to take care of those difficult feelings. So, by facing the difficult feelings, the paradox is it gives us the best chance to feel good.
As you were speaking. I, I couldn’t help. And this is a, a very old memory of our first effort when we were jointly doing a master’s thesis in psychology, and it was centered around something that was called substitute centers. And as you were speaking, and you were talking about what we’re taught, success, money, attractiveness, et cetera, and the, and the, the huge variety of things that we focus outward to find, uh, I couldn’t help, but think of that thesis. And I know, I know you have things to say about that, and I’d like to hear them.
Robert Strock: (09:33)
Well, thanks for a, a, a memory flashback. I, I haven’t thought of substitute centers for about 30 years. So, as we defined it at that time, substitute centers were things like wanting to be young forever, even when we’re not young, wanting to be married, even when we’re not married, wanting to be wealthy, when we’re not wealthy, wanting to have kids when, and not having kids, and saying, wanting it to happen. Now they’re centers of our attention that are not possible in the present and are not inherently guaranteed to be deeply fulfilling. Most importantly, that we are centered on that because that’s what we’re taught. And they are a substitute for the quality of life and the qualities of life that by definition, and again, allowing for semantical changes by definition, these qualities are like a cat, purring, they’re yelping for joy. They’re at peace, and it’s not a debate whether or not the center is really a center.
Robert Strock: (11:01)
We’re feeling phenomenal. It is a debate in society. You know, one could say, oh, this is a philosophy of life to be interested in, quality of life, which is the ultimate travesty of our conditioning, that qualities of life. It’s not obvious that we as human beings all have the same basic quality of life, needs and the substitute centers that are brought into us of these drives toward greater wealth. And by the way, that’s not to put down wealth. It’s nice to have some wealth so we can be self-sufficient. And so we can have some of the things we like. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. There’s a lot right. But the key is the payoff on a heart level, on an existential experiencial level, where we actually get to feel great, the wanting to feel great or wanting to feel the best we possibly can.
Robert Strock: (12:09)
So, for example, sometimes feeling great means that we’re really feeling tender or kind toward ourself while we’re suffering. So it’s not simplistically. Like we just wanna feel great all the time. No, we wanna respond. We wanna be the responder that can bring the best quality of life to wherever we are and have that not be seen as a, as a philosophy. And instead of being a follower of these substitute centers that we can see that the center of life is our quality of life. So going back to a couple episodes ago, because we were going to go into the last episode, the one that was prior, which had to do with the fact that we can communicate perfectly what our needs are, be aware of our feelings, have a perfect tone, have the timing be right. Even using the words that our partner would most understand and still receive, I’m not interested.
Robert Strock: (13:23)
And how do we really take care of ourselves? And we started to answer that in the last episode, you know, that we need to start with getting a perspective of how important is this to us. We need to ask ourselves with an inquiry, how important is this need to communicate in this area to us, relative to the whole relationship? So, inquiry is the most important beginning feature, which obviously requires us to have also an awareness that we’re suffering and an intention to wanna move toward healing, rather than just acting out before we can even get to the inquiry, which requires a lot of maturity. And how do we take care of ourselves when our partner shows us by example, or in words, no, I don’t want to ask you about your day as we started to talk about in the last episode. So, it’s important to take a look at where are you and how would you characterize yourself in the expression of your needs?
Robert Strock: (14:38)
Are you someone that number one is aware of your needs? And as we emphasize again, and again, most of us are not aware of our needs or our challenging feelings. So, it is really helpful to go to awarenessthatheals.org and download those free guides that give us 75 challenging emotions and 75 needs that will support us when we’re being challenged. So are you, someone that is aware of your needs and aware of your feelings, and if you’re someone that is aware of them, are you someone that communicates to them or are you afraid to, because you can kind of see by what’s been going on that your partner’s not that into it. Are you afraid, or do you express those needs in a way that has a chip on your shoulder? Probably based on being frustrated from prior relationships or maybe the present relationship, what’s your tone of voice?
Robert Strock: (15:46)
You know, how do you express yourself? Look at your core needs. As I’m speaking right now, and really more accurately look at one core need and look at how you express yourself in that one core need. And if you see that, oh my God, I do have a chip on my shoulder. And I always do have an attitude when I do it. See if you can see that and not be self-rejecting and see if you can say something like, oh, I can see that from the true witness, from a place that’s really clean. I can see that I have an attitude. That’s good. Now I have a chance of developing, as we talked about last episode, a bare tolerance, and be able to express it in a way that’s just sincere. That’s more neutral. That’s not negative. That’s not complaining, you know, or maybe you’re someone that is very happy to ask for what you need, but you’re not interested very much in giving your partner needs.
Robert Strock: (17:04)
And you could look at that and go, oh my God, I’m so self-centered, how horrible, or you could look at it right now and say, oh, I can see why I’ve been suffering so much. I haven’t been very receptive to my partner and asked them how their day was, you know, ask them what they’re feeling in the moment, ask them what they’d like to do. So, maybe that’s your pattern. So, it’s very helpful to see what your relationship is to your awareness and how you handle your awareness or lack of awareness to your feelings and your needs. And that gives you a master key to being able to develop from wherever you are. The key thing is wherever you are, do your best, not to just end that with a judgment toward yourself, or if you catch yourself, after you’ve judged yourself, it’s never too late to go back and say, oh, I’ve been shut down and I’ve been judging myself and I don’t want to, I want to move in a direction that’s gonna care for my life that’s gonna care for my wife or care for my husband.
Robert Strock: (18:26)
And that intention to care hopefully starts to become a definition of you that you identify with, maybe even more than what you do, or how young you are, or how wealthy you are, because that intention to care is gonna help you in all directions, no matter where you are. And if you look closely, you’ll see that the directions of your life that are least developed, you’re probably not that nice to yourself. And that becomes the key opportunity to make an evolutionary step in your life. But not if you just keep it in your head, this has to be you visualizing the situation and really taking a look at, am I motivated? Do I actually have an activation of that intention to care? Do I really want to bring this to the people close to me? Maybe it’s a family member. Maybe it’s a friend, maybe it’s a business associate and not letting your feelings that are challenging run you, rule you, or not letting yourself stay with suppressing them, but being interested because you want to live a life that has the maximum quality. And that’s what I would call a positive self-centeredness. And of course, a positive self-centeredness is also a positive toward otherness, as well.
Sticking for a moment with the example of say a relationship where communication needs are not from one side or the other being met and a recognition, that’s the case, a recognition that maybe it’s been the case for a while, as you wake up to it, how do you navigate the ongoingness of that without, from the point of view of your partner, being someone who is complaining or being someone who is seen as critical and potentially even having a reaction, um, as it’s brought up again in an impatience even, or a, I’ve told you, you know, I’m, I’m just not into it.
Robert Strock: (21:13)
Well, the beauty of your question is that it sounds like we’re going backwards. It sounds like we’re a dodo on a superficial level, but the truth of the matter is we’re all gonna go backwards, we’re all gonna regress. And hopefully it’s just a stage. And so, when we see that we are starting to regress that we’re complaining, even though we, we got it very clear that we made our best attempts. And for those of you that have not listened to prior episodes, that have emphasized, that I encourage not only communicating from your heart and your tone of voice as sensitively as possible, but doing it at least three times to where you yourself would know, I can’t do it any better and it still didn’t work. So, we’re presuming that you’ve done that. And now you’ve regressed to where you thought you were gonna accept that, but it’s leaking again into your relationship.
Robert Strock: (22:26)
You see the link and you may be very prone to say, oh my God, I thought I knew this. And here I am leaking again. That’s what it’s all about, is two steps forward, one step back, three steps forward, one step back. And maybe eventually, you know, it only happens once a year. You know, that, that you can develop to that point. But the key is that present awareness that doesn’t rely on the fact that, oh, I already knew that as if that knowing is real, knowing the real knowing that we’re talking about is not intellectual. Knowing the real knowing is when it’s live, your awareness is with it. When you’re starting to complain, oh, I’m complaining. And then you are hopefully going back to, do I wanna find a place inside me that wants to care, or do I wanna just keep complaining? And if the answer is, I wanna keep complaining, then you have a clue that you, you thought you resolved it before, but you didn’t resolve it before because maybe you haven’t set enough boundaries.
Robert Strock: (23:49)
Maybe you’ve been too afraid to set the boundaries. Maybe you need to not be as giving in a certain area that you feel like you’ve reached out so far beyond your partner. Maybe you need to take care of yourself more. Maybe you need to develop more friendships. You need to spend more time with your family. Maybe you need to go to the beach. Maybe you need to take the vacation by yourself where you’ve always wanted to, and you’ve overly accommodated your partner. So, every time something reappears, you get to re-inquire, it looks like I didn’t really resolve it. Did I come to the right conclusion? And I’m just reacting, like I was when I was two or three years old? Or, did I actually come to the wrong conclusion cuz I thought I was okay with it. I’m not.
And just to elaborate on this, is it as simple as in that first three efforts at expressing the need with the tone, that is as good as you can do, as good as you can make it, as open as you can be. Does it need to be coupled with letting your partner or whoever it may be know how important or maybe not important, you know, where it falls on the scale of, uh vitalness to you where I don’t know, ultimately for example, if this particular need, gone unmet, is one I can continue to live with long term.
Robert Strock: (25:24)
It becomes much more important to share that in the communication. If the need itself is more important because you don’t wanna just have them take this as the ordinary conversations between the two of you. If this is potentially an area, for example, where you’ve been sleeping together with your husband or wife for five years, and this may make it to where you want to have separate bedrooms, this is a step that happens in couples all throughout the world and they miss this key step. Then you’re gonna wanna say this is a huge need. That would probably be included, actually more accurately, it would be included if you’re giving the three pure clear communications where you would give a perspective, and this is a very, very important need. Now, if after that happened, it would probably be better not to talk about the consequences right off the bat and give a chance for that to register.
Robert Strock: (26:34)
But there would be a follow up after the first three best efforts to be able to say, you know what, I’ve been thinking about it and it’s affecting me enough to where I want more independence. And I actually am thinking about moving into the other bedroom or moving into the other bedroom half the time, cuz I’m hoping at one level that it will have you take me more seriously. And if you don’t, I’m taking care of myself either way, cuz I’m making a statement to you that I’m unhappy enough to where I’d like to sleep alone half the time. So, Dave is bringing out a very important point, which is when you’re expressing your needs, ultimately it is important, it is crucial that you give the person you’re talking to a perspective of how important it is to you. And also that you don’t go over the top and go too far to where it’s tied into a threat.
Robert Strock: (27:48)
And for sure you wanna make sure that you’ve contemplated long enough that you’re not exaggerating the importance even without the threat. Like you don’t wanna be the boy who or the woman who cried wolf and say this is a very important need, when it’s actually not a very important need because implicitly and especially if you’ve done it more than once, if you say it’s a very important need, your partner’s gonna know if you’ve taken actions before that this is something that represents a threat to your relationship in some, not necessarily the ultimate threat, but it might mean that you’re gonna be moving in more independent directions. So all of these are important subtleties to how you can navigate from starting with your awareness of your most challenging feelings, your intention to heal and all the way to communicating it, sensitively all the way to giving it perspective and then really contemplating it well enough and broad enough and thorough enough that you know, you’re not just reacting out of impulsive of wanting what you want when you want it. Even looking at am I offering in the broader picture meeting my partner’s needs as much as the needs I’m asking for, cuz if you’re not, if you’re not doing that, then that’s a, a really valid reason to double check and say, you know what?
Robert Strock: (29:30)
I might be asking for communication. And they may not be very good at communicating, but they are supporting our lifestyle and they’re nice to me. And maybe with me being a complete dependent in that, in that regard, maybe it’s too much to ask when they’re taking care of another core need that I’m not doing anything. So, you wanna really look at this from a mutual lens when you’re asking for a particular need. And if you’ve cleared all those perspectives,
Robert Strock: (30:08)
That’s when you can really express your needs sensitively and then ultimately bring them to a perspective and be assured that you’ve given at the time to convey whatever boundaries you need to have or whatever adjustments you need to make or whatever internal inquiries you have to keep going to get clear how you can best take care of yourself and your relationship. Because if you take best care of yourself, that means by definition, the way that we’re defining it, that you’re also doing your best to be harmless and not acting out with your partner as well. We’re not talking about taking care of yourself and screwing your partner. We’re talking about needs that are really taking sensitive care of you in our being as harmless as possible to your partner. Thanks so much for your attention.
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