This week Robert discusses core childhood relationships and how they can unconsciously affect us in our adult lives. He is joined by his life partner and fellow counselor, and philanthropist, Susan Hough. We are guided on how to use awareness of our feelings and needs by using the Introspective Guides, which can be found at AwarenessThatHeals.org, Robert talks through identifying each of your strongest childhood relationships and the feelings associated with them. It can be shocking what surfaces because our reactions often still reflect our childhood responses. Most of us are in the habit of either suppressing or criticizing those feelings because they frequently don’t make sense in our current relationships. People in our original family and the people that we live with experience the most acute responses to our challenging reactions and emotions. The key is not to get rid of feelings, but to do our best to be aware of them, respect them, and foster a response that will support you when they arise. What feelings and sabotaging reactions play out today that are similar to what happened in your childhood?
Robert will guide you through a 4-step process of Self-Assessment, Intention to Heal, Inquiry, and Self-Communication. Join Robert and Susan as they share their own childhood experiences to illustrate how these have played out in their own lives. It is important not to compare yourself to what you think you should feel but to hopefully feel new ways to support yourself with this heightened awareness. It then becomes possible to guide yourself from the challenging emotions toward your deepest needs.
Note: Below, you’ll find timecodes for specific sections of the podcast. To get the most value out of the podcast, I encourage you to listen to the complete episode. However, there are times when you want to skip ahead or repeat a particular section. By clicking on the timecode, you’ll be able to jump to that specific section of the podcast. Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. For an exact quote or comment, please contact us.
Awareness That Heals, Episode 88.
Robert Strock (00:03)
Part of the reason why feelings are so important is because they’re always clues as to what we need. So it’s very, very important because in our culture, this was not an ABC of being a parent. Here’s the list of the challenging emotions; here’s the list of needs. No, that wasn’t the way most of us were raised. As a matter of fact, I don’t know anybody that was raised that way.
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 (01:08):
Thanks again so much for joining us at Awareness That Heals, where we focus on bringing heart and wisdom to our life’s challenges. And we start again and again with being aware of what is most difficult for us. And we do this because if we’re not aware of what’s difficult for us, how are we gonna make it easier? And these difficulties are universal for all of us, whether we recognize them or not, and how we can care for ourselves at these crucial times. So, it’s really important, as you’re hearing this, that we’re focusing on two things at once, what’s challenging and how do we respond to the challenges. 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. Today we’re gonna be focusing on the Introspective Guides again, but this time we’re gonna be focusing on our original relationships with our core family and how those relationships and the emotional patterns or the lack of emotions really set us up in our lives and has a big impact.
And all too often the impact is unconscious. So we’re really gonna focus on what was your original relationship with each of your core family members? What were the strongest feelings that you had with them, or lack of feelings, the way you dealt with it, and how that still affects you in your current relationships, especially the ones that you’re living with. This is often referred to in the psychological field as relationships that deal with attachment or attached relationships. It’s often quite shocking, even embarrassing, when we see how in our relationships that we’re living with, what surfaces our reactions that were there in our childhood. And it doesn’t make sense so often unless we realize that it’s a virtual guarantee that that’s the way it’s gonna be. And so most of us are in a habit of either suppressing or criticizing those feelings because they don’t necessarily make sense in our current relationship or even more problematic they lead to a certain kind of acting out or withdrawing that isn’t warranted in our current living together relationship, but is part of what we learned that we continue to live unless we become more aware of how we were affected in our early childhood.
Before we go more deeply into this, I’d like to introduce Susan, who is the director of a 501(c)(3) Foundation, Wisdom Spring. She’s been working with teens for decades at several high schools on living their gifts and walking for water in third-world countries and creating wells through their productive use of walks and other creative endeavors. And she also happens to be my life partner, as some of you might very well know. Susan, welcome.
Susan Hough (04:28):
Hi. I’m just so honored to be with you. You know, as you know, you’ve helped to deepen my life on multiple levels and my endeavors humanitarian wise and my endeavors as a teacher of teens, and also in, in my own personal, uh, deepening of my knowledge around my own personal issues and those are my clients. So, I am so grateful in so many ways and so touched that I, again, get to be on Awareness That Heals. So, thank you Robert.
Robert Strock (04:58):
Well, likewise, I’m very, very grateful that you’re, that you’re joining us and bringing your wisdom and really that extra special gift of transparency. You know, the one thing that anybody that’s ever known Susan or worked with Susan, is that she’s really incomparably reflecting her transparency, and working with it with great integrity.
Susan Hough (05:20):
And I have a lot that I could talk about <laugh>, where I had to work on it with this show when you say attached relationships. So, um, yeah, let’s just put it that way. I’m ready to go and ready to tell stories and, and really broaden the depth of, of just how much you can move through, if you, if you really continue on the path of, of wanting to honor where you’ve been and also be able to have the intention to heal.
Robert Strock (05:49):
So it’s important to understand that attached relationships is something that if you’re not in the field of psychology, can be very, very confusing, especially how it plays out in life, because it’s one of those things where, for people that are a little bit more honest with themselves, they wonder, God, why is it that I am more of an asshole and I’m more reactive and I’m more withdrawn and more demanding or you know, I might be more loving too and hopefully I’m a lot more loving too. But why is it that I’m more reactive? And the answer is, what is understood is attached relationships, which means where people were in our original family and the people that we live with, they get to have the treats of all of our challenging reactions and emotions. And it’s just natural that when you are living with somebody that is going to be carried on.
And so through the 50 years plus of working with people, it’s always been a relief for people when they realize, oh, that, that’s why I’m a bit more of an ass or a bit more of, uh, reactive with my partner. I never understood why it was so much easier to be with my friends or easier in certain ways than, than it is to be with my partner at the difficult moment or why I can’t work through issues as easily. And not a hundred percent true, but it’s probably 75% true. So it’s a really important thing to have that understanding and it’s why we’re doing these, what it’s likely to be a couple podcasts on looking at your relationship to your attached family and what the ongoing effect is. And the thing that’s important to understand is even as you become aware of it, and hopefully your awareness will increase through these two shows, don’t have any illusion that that awareness is going to eliminate the feelings and maybe not even a lot of the actions that you are doing at first.
And the key thing is gradually and gently growing to where you can see, ah, that doesn’t really belong here with my partner. I’m hoping that even if I have the feelings, that I can be a responder that can admit that to my partner and, and admit that to myself first and understand that. So I’d like to start by asking you to look at your original family and look at your emotional reactions that were strongest. And if you were to isolate whether you have no siblings or one or two or more, either you had one parent or two parents, if you were going to list a few, like maybe three feelings with each live member of your family, what would be a few feelings that you would acknowledge, especially the challenging ones? Not so much the love at this stage we’re talking about things like fear, anxiety, helplessness, anger, irritation, annoyance, feeling like a victim.
What are the feelings that you would associate with each of your close family members that were living in the house with you? And then as you’re doing that and do this all the way through, because you may not catch it right away, fast forward to the people that you’ve lived with or the person that you’ve lived with. Cuz you may have only lived with one person and if you haven’t lived with anyone, come as close as you’ve come, you know, that you were spending three nights a week with, or that you spent a night with or that you were in a, in a relationship with for three weeks. Cuz some people have never even been in a relationship, obviously. So whoever you’ve been most attached to, let that be the person you’ve asked yourself. Okay, what were the most challenging feelings that I had to encounter, as just the very beginning touchstone.
Now if it’s hard for you to identify, I would say at least three feelings, then I would encourage you to go to awarenessthatheals.org and download the free Introspective Guides that’s on the homepage on the top bar and you can just download for free and it will identify not only the 75 most challenging emotions, but will also identify what’ll be the essential needs and qualities that will most support you when you’re in a challenging emotion. So it’s very, very important, because in our culture this was not an ABC of being a parent. Here’s the list of the challenging emotions; here’s the list of needs. No, that wasn’t the way most of us were raised. As a matter of fact, I don’t know anybody that was raised that way. It’s also not what we were taught at school. So it’s important to be very gentle with yourself and also humble that I don’t know it all.
You know, I don’t have this, I’m not very conversant, you know, even if you’re a therapist, it’s not at all uncommon for therapists to be unaware of needs and even unaware of some of their feelings. So having that list to be able to reference, especially when you’re in a state that you know, you don’t quite feel good, but you’re not quite sure what it is. And then you’re very likely not confident of, okay, well here’s the clear path and here are the clear steps I need to take. Here are the needs I have, the qualities that I need to develop, the thoughts I need to think, the actions I need to do, the actions I don’t need to do, to really take care of the difficult feelings. So, just do a little bit of a self-assessment as we’re starting out, how much do you think you really are conversant and really are articulate and inwardly aware of your needs in particular, but also these attached feelings or these feelings that are challenging and troublesome for you, especially in the depth relationships that you’ve been in. So we might start with common emotions like sadness or fear, anxiety, aloneness, frustration, withdrawal, being intolerant. Those are just a handful outta the 75 that you may have as yours. But don’t limit yourself to this list. Look and see which ones resonate most for you.
Susan Hough (12:17):
So I guess it’s, it’s interesting cuz I couldn’t put a lot of those on my list. I had a mom who, when I came into the world I was premature, so I mean that influenced her. But I also had a birthmark at a very young age. So, um, there were no pictures of me. And I can remember very young seeing pictures of my sister and saying, you know, are there pictures of me? And they were like, no, you were too ugly and you didn’t appear all that smart, so we didn’t take any pictures of you, you know. And, and so I, I remember very young, not consciously, but feeling not attractive, not cute, you know, not smart, shame. And I felt alone in it. Like it wasn’t something I, I even knew how to give voice to it that early age. And um, that I had my kind of own private reality going on and uh, I disassociated from my relationship to them and I went totally on the outside and um, made everything out there with friendships and neighbors and all that, my reality.
So it was hard, it was hard. And um, I didn’t even get it. And, and in some of the things I didn’t even get until I started really using your Introspective Guides to what degree I didn’t get it. Like I, I moved through a lot of it. I was able to gather my independence and, and be able to work with teens without it, but it’s deepened me is what I would like to say. And it’s given me more of a language. And I think one of the best things you, you said to me early on was the feelings were there as a good thing, but you didn’t wanna let the feelings kind of take you underwater.
Robert Strock (14:05):
And I mean, obviously it’s kind of a breathtaking, uh, opening to have a mother say that to you. It’s, it’s just so horrifically difficult. But equally unusual is your resourcefulness that obviously you came into this world with, to be able to focus on neighbors and friends and to be able to have enough independence to be able to develop another reality. And not many people would’ve had that capacity. So even before you worked with teens, obviously way before you met me and even before you worked with the teens that are working with at high school now, when you were five, you already had developed an independent capacity to be protective of yourself cuz you knew facing that kind of comment, which we both know, that you received a whole bunch like that, was something that was not capable of developing a relationship unless you simply wanted to surrender and be and be killed.
So the internal capacity to individuate, at least at one significant level is something to really take note of. But that doesn’t mean that the other emotions aren’t still with you and that they aren’t still a challenging, that you don’t have to carry those with you at some level in your life. But what it does mean is you’re a much better candidate to be able to be resourceful and to be able to be, have another reality beyond just feeling emotions. And so the heightened awareness emotions and the ability to guide yourself is really what we’re talking about ultimately. But you, you actually practiced it when you were five. So it’s important to highlight and it’s also important for nobody out there to compare themselves to you because if you had that kind of background, overwhelming percentage would’ve been, uh, lifelong depressed, uh, very low self-esteem wounded victim, those, those would’ve been the, the feelings that would’ve not only been felt, but would’ve been a major part of your identity.
So, if that’s you out there, don’t feel bad for feeling bad <laugh>. Allow yourself to realize, wow, she’s telling a story that’s not unlike mine. And I’m thankful to have that be out in the open, cuz I am, and that’s exactly what we’re hoping for, for all of you that are listening to feel good about acknowledging the difficult. It’s not a betrayal of your family, it doesn’t mean you’re gonna get a megaphone and announce it in your block and everybody you know. But for you to have a private awareness or a treasured share awareness with your close friends or your lover is really, really important. So one of the things that would be, I believe quite helpful to see how do you work with this when you’re aware of one of these feelings, and again, as I’m speaking, continue to develop your awareness of the feelings with each significant family member or partner that you’ve had or are having is the first step is always awareness, being aware.
And it’s not just being aware, it’s an awareness that, I don’t know whether I use the word glad that you’re aware, but there’s a reverence, there’s a reverence for awareness. So it’s, there’s a, there’s an awareness, but it’s also not a critical awareness. It’s a, it’s a neutral awareness where somewhere inside, you know, you’d rather be aware than be unaware. You know, even though it might be more pleasant to be unaware that you, you know, if you bury it, it’s gonna have consequences in the long term. So starts with awareness and then, then the second step and try to really stay with your example is finding and looking for a place inside you that knows it wants to care for you, wants to care for others that wants to move toward wellbeing, wants to move toward healing as being the important second step. All of those are different ways of describing the second step.
I call it “intention to heal” or “intention to care,” most frequently. And then as you find that place and, and see if you’re finding it, look at a particular person and then look and see if you can find, right after you look at that person, and you sense what the emotion was that you received from them and that you felt towards them. Look and see if you can find that place inside you that says, oh wait a minute, I don’t want this feeling to dominate me. I wanna move toward caring. See if you can find that place. And then if you find that place enough, then recognize that it’s very likely that the next step is gonna wanna be asking yourself the question, how can I move toward this caring or healing or wellbeing? And call that the third step, which is inquiry, which is asking yourself positive questions.
It’s not like, what the fuck is wrong with me? It’s more like, what is right with me or how can I care for me? And it’s very important that you follow that second step of wanting to care for yourself, to ask a question that’s gonna be in alignment with looking for the caring. Cuz there are ways of asking questions that are ways to set yourself up to reinforce the feeling like a sarcastic question or a focusing on what’s wrong rather than what’s right. And then the fourth step is really communicating more and more with yourself. This whole process is four steps and finding a significant other. And if you don’t have a significant other and you can afford it, finding a therapist and finding a guide that can help you move in this direction and understanding that this won’t necessarily be their therapy, uh, session with you., but you have sort of a sense of the direction you want to go because some therapists work in different ways.
But this is a way that is sort of universal, where it doesn’t matter whether you’re born in Russia or China, it matters in the sense that you’ll have different difficult feelings. But it doesn’t matter in the sense that you need to be aware of whatever your inner experience is and you need to move toward caring or else it’s gonna be an awfully long difficult life. So this is radical actually for most people because most people, even to be aware of a challenging feeling makes you a little weird, makes you countercultural, makes you be a philosopher or a shrink or you’re talking shrink talk. And it’s really, really important that you don’t get caught in other people’s perceptions because if you’re listening to this podcast, the odds are very, very high that you don’t identify with this being a weird thing.
That you realize that your feelings are important and that your needs are important and that you honor yourself and that hopefully it’s gonna be even more central, because when you take care of your needs and you take care of other people’s needs, your life is definitely gonna be better off. And when you become more aware of some of the feelings that humble us, it’s also gonna be a major improvement on our quality of life. And it’s going to require several repetitions or more accurately several thousand repetitions of doing this to have it really become organic. Cuz, for a while there needs to be reminders and reminders and reminders. But when that goes on long enough, it becomes sort of first nature to wonder what is it that I’m feeling? What is it that I’m needing? And that becomes not something esoteric or philosophical, but becomes something that is clearly something that’s coming from your heart, something that’s coming from your depths that wants to have your life be fulfilled.
So maybe we’ll continue by looking at how my life was affected, at least a short version of it, of what happened in my original family. And in my family my mother was very, very dedicated to us and there was never any question about feeling safe or having her intelligence behind us, but she was pretty bitchy, uh, intermittently. And so I, without awareness, went into a state of withdrawal and I just withdrew kind of like what Susan described. So I would interact with her almost by rote just to be a good enough kid to not draw more of her ire. But my withdrawal was much more of a unconscious event. I did it just instinctively. And the other thing I did, and these are things that showed up later in my life, which is why I’m mentioning it, is I also got pretty good at intellectualizing, in, in terms of I was able to, at one level, I’d have my feeling and I’d be living in another reality over here and then I’d be intellectualizing with my mother.
Well, I learned how to intellectualize about my feelings later on and didn’t realize that I wasn’t necessarily contacting my feelings when I did that. And that was particularly significant in my early, early relationship. My first relationship where I lived with someone. In fact, in the first relationship what happened was my partner was extremely emotional and I would just withdraw. And I wasn’t expressing my needs. I wasn’t really aware of the depths of, of being able to articulate, of saying, you know, could you try to say that with a little less anger or frustration or intensity because she was extremely intense and I’m intense too, but she brought it to a different level. So I would intellectualize this, I would say it to her, but I didn’t have my body in it. I didn’t have my intensity in it.
So it just came from my head. So what went on for a couple of years was she carried the feelings for the relationship and I carried the mind and I was withdrawing unwittingly and I was just speaking from my mind and it was really toward the end of our relationship where I was aware that, you know what I have these needs. And I started to express them and saying, gee, I need, I need this to happen, I needed that to happen. And in reality, what became clear is that our needs in certain areas were not compatible when I started to express it. And so I started to move through some of the withdrawal. But in order to do that I had to fight my instincts cuz my instincts were just to wanna please, to want to communicate, and to want to do it over and over again.
So we would communicate about things 30, 40, 50 times when really I only wanted to communicate once and she would get emotional about it and then we’d be off communicating about that again and I would be often, you know, withdrawing and, and intellectualizing. When I finally started to join my body more, it actually became clear that not only in this way were we too different cuz we were on the different end of the emotional spectrum and how intense we wanted to express it, but also we had other needs that got uncovered. But from the point of view of you, I’m wanting you to see that this withdrawal, absolutely I brought into this relationship in a major way which allowed her to be a able to get more and more intense. As a matter of fact, I’ll tell you a short story. When I finally decided, do you know what, I’m sick and tired of you having all the intensity.
And so I screamed at her as loud as she was and I said I was kind of proud of myself and just really, really yelled and, and, and it was clear she was not gonna be able to out yell me. So she calmly looked at me and walked over to the other room, and I was a big fan of The Moody Blues, which was a big group in my day, and I had bought a gold needle on my record player and it was my, probably my sacred possession cause I had spent a lot of money to get that gold needle. And she just walked over there realizing that I was suddenly gonna become competitive with her emotionally. She went up to the record player and she just ripped the arm off. Now for me, my mouth was just wide open, I was completely shocked. So I realized trying to battle her emotional intensity with my emotional intensity was not gonna work.
But I had to find some kind of a middle way, you know, to communicate more in my body, but not to try to out-compete her at a level where she was a pro and I was and I was a rookie. So these are lessons to learn that when we learn a certain way of being, we might need to move steps in the other direction and not move to the other extreme, which is oftentimes the tendency when we become aware of what our pattern has been. So I saw at a pretty young age that me intellectualizing, without really sharing my depth of feeling about it, and without expressing my needs was utterly ineffective. But I also didn’t see at that point, but I see it now that my subconscious, this is a little subtle, so you have to really pay close attention to this.
My subconscious was not aware that I was still doing this. And through the years for decades, I still was not aware and I had to be aware after the fact because my depth of awareness, which I call capital A Awareness, which means my awareness is actually able to be implemented in the moment, versus it being in my head and I could just see it, but that doesn’t mean I could change my responses and my reactions and express the depth of my needs. It just means I could see it. So I was ineffective at being able to convert this awareness into actually being implemented over and over and over again. So even when we’re aware, our subconscious is still carrying on the patterns. And it’s so critical that you understand this. And I try to highlight this with clients all over the place saying, you’ll die without feeling too.
No, don’t, don’t try to get over it now. You’re not gonna even get over it when you’re dead. You know, and maybe when you’re dead you will, but not now, when not, not when you’re dying. Primitive feelings, primitive reactions are still gonna be there throughout your life. So the key is not to try to get rid of feelings, the key is to try to be aware of them, respect them, and then do your best to go to that intention of care or heal. But don’t have any illusion that your subconscious is going to eliminate these feelings. They’re just gonna keep going on and on and on. They may very well lose the degree of steam they had or the degree of power or control they had over you. But the desire to eliminate them is a futile endeavor and will unquestionably discourage you. Even a lot of therapists are trying to oftentimes support you to get over feelings and certainly many spiritual teachers are trying to help you get over feelings.
I believe that’s unhelpful, much more helpful to be saying it’s perfectly fine no matter what I feel forever, forever. But it’s not okay to be dominated by it and it’s not, not okay to suppress it because it’s gonna cost me and it’s gonna cost others and I’m going to not respond as intimately when I have to suppress or reject what it is that I feel. Cause if you feel something you don’t like and then you stay with not liking it, now you have two problems. At least, if you have a, a feeling that you don’t particularly like and you don’t indulge in the part of you that doesn’t like it and you move toward an acceptance, then you’re moving into that capital A Awareness and then that sets you up more to find the, the intention to care for yourself. So, the question really becomes asking yourself, what are your biggest feelings and sabotaging reactions, either emotionally or actually what you do or don’t do that are similar to what happened in your childhood that are still with you in the relationship that you’re most close to.
It’s most reflective if you’re living with someone. But again, depending on your situation, you’re, you’re looking where you’re most attached and where are their feelings that maybe you might glimpse ’em and say, yeah, I can see the feelings but they don’t really matter cause I don’t wanna act them out. But if you take a closer look and see them more clearly, you might see there might still be a need there that you’re ignoring. You ma not be responding to the feelings or needing to energize the feelings, but they may be a hint cuz part of the reason why these feelings are so important is because they’re always clues as to what we need. So, I’d like to wind this episode down with you really looking again at what your strongest few feelings are with each of those original relationships that were in your family and anyone that you’ve had the deepest relationship with.
And see if you can identify those and see if you can find that place that wants to care. Because when you have those two together, it’s like an act of magic. When you really are aware of a feeling that’s challenging and you’re not judging it and you know you want to care, you’re ripe. It’s like you’ve just planted a seed in the garden and you know there’s gonna be some fruit that’s gonna come. So I’m very hopeful that you’re valuing even the subtlest, even what you may even call the stupidest of feelings that you take away the judgment and that you value it and that you identify it as much as possible with these key relationships and you try to stay with that part of you that knows it wants to care. And if you can stay with that, then you’ve really gotten the major essence of what we’re starting off in looking at our relationship to original family and how it influences the rest of our life. Thanks so much for your attention.
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