Robert welcomes back Susan Hough, counselor, philanthropist, and life partner, to explore how each of us carries on the central feelings we had with our original family. These repeated behaviors are usually outside of our awareness and show up most strongly in our intimate relationships. Robert and Susan discuss why we need to heal childhood patterns while talking candidly about their past relationships as well as their current one. The audience can see a real and honest way in which this plays out. It is completely normal to have these patterns surface again and again. It is nothing to be embarrassed about, instead, we get to learn from it to become better partners and happier more intentional people.
Our childhood is a place we often do not permit ourselves to look deeply because there is so much caught up in it. However, if we don’t, these unprocessed feelings seep into other relationships, often inappropriately and to our detriment. Robert offers tools to begin identifying, as specifically as possible, the challenging feelings. Emotions that were either directed at you or that you knew were there even if they were unspoken and your emotional reactions to them as a child. From this step of recognition, Robert introduces the next step, which is moving toward a place of caring for these feelings and yourself when these challenging emotions or defenses bubble up. This is a great place to implement the Introspective Guides to help identify your core needs, and welcome your partner into this process to create a dialogue about what their needs are in these challenging times and in general. This is a chance for you to become more resilient, to be more responsive, to open your heart to yourself, to be able to have a more intimate relationship with a significant other, and also have a more significant relationship with yourself.
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Awareness That Heals, Episode 89.
Robert Strock (00:03):
We can’t be intimate if we’re suppressing ourselves. We can’t be intimate if we’re just emotionally indulgent. We can only be intimate if we’re aware of ourselves and we want to care.
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 (00:58):
A very warm welcome again to Awareness That Heals where we do our very best. 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 and see that these difficulties are incredibly important pointers to what it is that we need. For example, if we are sad, we wanna know what we need to be happy. If we’re angry, we wanna know how we can find peace. And it’s important to realize that all of us have difficult feelings, whether we recognize them or not. And when we have this awareness of where we are and we recognize we want to care for ourselves at the same time, that sets up the absolute ideal conditions for us to grow, be fulfilled, to be inspired, in our individual lives, and to contribute to the world by finding and living from our best selves.
Today we’re going to be focusing on the Introspective Guides and something that is quite subtle, which is seeing how we each carry on the central feelings we had with our original family. And how usually outside of our awareness, we have very strong reactions in childhood that get reproduced when we’re in relationships with people, especially that we’re very close to and living with, or our strongest most intimate relationship. And it’s not a very well-understood area by most people that are outside of the psychological field. This is often referred to as an attached relationship or attachment. It is often quite shocking how most of us will reproduce these feelings in the intimate relationships we’re in, even when they’re very inappropriate. Now, we may not show these feelings, but they’re gonna, for lack of better words, burp up or they’re gonna be regurgitated from our childhood. And it’s important that we recognize that this is completely normal and universal and that we don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed of it, and that instead that we learn from it.
Now, it may be that these repeated feelings are there completely inappropriately for the relationship itself, not inappropriate that we feel them, but not feelings that we necessarily wanna express to our partner because they don’t relate to the relationship, they relate to your early childhood. However, it’s also possible sometimes that these feelings may not have the degree of importance in the relationship, as they did in childhood, but they may still have some value. So it’s quite important that we notice them and we ask ourselves, is this my past childhood or is this my present relationship? So before we go more deeply into this, I’d like to introduce Susan, who’s the director of Wisdom Spring, a 501c3 nonprofit foundation, and also someone who’s been working for decades, with high schoolers, in multiple projects. One of them is helping teens live their gifts, find their gifts. And another one is helping organize them in a creative way, including a walk that is able to raise funds that’s allowed her to build 45 wells in India and Africa. Susan also just happens to be my life partner, as well. Susan, welcome, and thanks so much again for joining us.
Susan Hough (04:57):
I couldn’t be more happy to be here again. And I’m looking for to delving into this because I think it’s a place where we don’t give ourself permission to really look deeply at, because there’s so much caught up in, in it for us to, uh, go there. But if we don’t, it starts to seep into not just, uh, from our family of origins, but into our relationships. I know that well, way too well, except for you, which is me having finally, uh, found a way to, uh, finally heal some parts of me so that I could be in a healthy, intimate relationship. So, thank you for having me here.
Robert Strock (05:37):
So as we did in the last episode, we need to start with you identifying, as specifically as possible, the challenging feelings that were both directed at you or the challenging situations that were directed at you and your emotional reactions, which you may not have even expressed at all, but you had. So you’re being asked to look at the deepest feelings that you had in reaction to each member of your family and realize that it’s virtually impossible for you not to have had some challenging feelings with each family member. Now, there are an occasional perfect relationship, but if you have more than one, I’d be skeptical and really encouraging you to really value the seeing of what your emotional reactions were and realizing the more you can see those clearly, the more it’s gonna help you in your present, deepest relationships, especially if it applies to someone that you’re living with.
Now, obviously, it does not stop there with just identifying your feelings, that it’s crucial that you find that place, as we talked about a lot in the last episode, where you wanna care for yourself. Now, that may sound obvious to you, but I promise you, when you’re having a difficult emotion, it’s not obvious that you want to care for yourself while you are in that difficult emotion. As a matter of fact, it’s almost miraculous when you actually have those two things being held at the same time. If you’re angry, very few people are gonna be able to have an awareness of, whoops, I want to find a way to care for myself and especially the other asshole. You know, I, it’s like, no, it’s very, very uncommon. If you’re really scared, you’re very likely to just stay with a scared and be thinking about the scared, and you’re not very likely, how do I care for myself while I’m afraid? So this is a big deal to get these two points simultaneously.
Susan Hough (08:01):
I just wanna say how the pattern from childhood can continue on into the patterns of relationship. And in fact, of course, I, I did do that having had a mom who was critical of me virtually all the time, and a father who, uh, was a safe place to go and sometimes loving, but he was erratic and angry a lot. So I couldn’t even really feel comfortable going there. And a sister who, I mean, she was the beautiful one and the smart one. So I mean, she didn’t have any reason to wanna stop that pattern because it was nice her being the beautiful and smart one. But what I really, um, recognized more is like I just repeated the pattern again. I was in, uh, my first marriage and realized that, you know, he, um, he was my mother. I didn’t know that consciously at the time.
I was reliving the pattern of childhood and, and picked a partner who, you know, um, at one point he, after having had a child, he said, well, you know, if you have another child after that next child, you’re gonna, you’re gonna have to get a boob job because you’re just not gonna be attractive if you don’t. And I can also remember being at a party after just giving birth, being back, back to my normal size, being at a party going in, uh, later than him and overhearing this guy going, Hey, Al’s wife is gonna be here. And, uh, he says, she’s not that attractive anymore. And I was horrified, I was heartbroken. My whole, you know, body. And then the other guy’s like, well, you know, I, I heard she was attractive. I don’t know, you know, and, and it was because the other guy knew me and saw me walk in and saw that I heard it, and then the guy was continually saying, that’s not true.
I think you’re beautiful. And all I could think of is, hey, I’m the ugly one; I’m the ugly one. And, um, and that I kept choosing the same thing. And of course, I chose an addict, which we know how that goes. So I wanted to please, please, please, I couldn’t be as attractive enough in my own mind. And it, it kept continuing. So when I got with you and you said, what needs do you have? I was like, needs with a partnership. And you had me look at the needs list and say, you, your top five needs, and I’ll tell you my top five needs. I was like, is this really for real? And yet, what a great exercise to really start to focus on what do you need, especially when you’re in a challenge and even when you’re not in a challenge, so that you, with your partner, you have a dialogue about how important needs are.
Robert Strock (10:40):
Yeah, it’s a great replay of how it isn’t always obvious, you know, how the childhood pattern is repeated. So Susan’s mentioning that it was also in a form of addiction, but that’s a form of obviously being completely unavailable and not really being centered towards your partner. Like her mother was pretty, was totally unavailable. And so it’s important not to be simplistic and look at it more subtly when you say, well, gee, did my mother do it exactly the same way? No, it might, it might not be exactly the same way. Someone can be completely unavailable in a hundred different ways. So Susan’s giving us a really good example of that and how you can see that in yourself. So as you reflect on what she’s saying, let yourself see how might that have been true or how was that true for you? And I wanna emphasize also that sometimes we go to the exact opposite extreme.
And so that is also a common reaction and it still is caused from childhood where you might have a disconnected parent. So what you do to try to lessen that is you become ridiculously over-the-top loving, or you may end up having a completely different kind of disconnection. And there are all kinds of ways of going to the opposite extreme where it doesn’t seem like it’s the same as your parent, but you know, it may be that instead of an angry parent, you have a depressed parent, you know, but, but they’re still both emotionally unavailable. So it’s, it’s very, very important to see this repetition. And in psychology, it’s referred to as repetition compulsion, where you compulsively repeat the same pattern over and over again. That it can be repeating itself in ways that either can be the opposite or the other extreme.
Susan Hough (12:43):
And I did pick the other extreme, then I went to the other extreme. I picked somebody who, um, adored me, but he wasn’t, didn’t wanna go deep. So he was withdrawn in a different way. He adored me, but he didn’t really wanna talk about things I wanted talked about. And he didn’t challenge me in the same way. And he, even to the extent when we were struggling and I’m like, we have to go to counseling, he would show up at the last 15 minutes of the counseling session with the same excuses I caught, caught up in traffic, and I’d be like, really, give me a break. And that, I mean, that went on for a couple months and then finally I was like, this is not gonna be repairable. But I, you know, it, it took me a while to get that I was repeating the patterns and that they looked completely different. One was acting out in one way and one was just not available emotionally or, and didn’t wanna go as deep as I did.
Robert Strock (13:39):
It’s a great example. It’s a great example of going from one extreme to the other. You know, it’s like you go from one place where you’re being criticized and then you go to another place where you can’t be criticized, you’re gonna be idealized and, and somebody that’s, that’s clearly, uh, infatuated and going to be complimenting you. And you’re not gonna be worried about them really being overtly critical. But there’s an emptiness in the, in the not being met both ways. So as you’re hearing Susan speak about that, as you’re hearing me speak about it, look at the one area, the one feeling that you’re most inclined to not see as much as it is there, meaning it’s either more intense or it’s there and you don’t pay attention to it. If you’re gonna say one feeling that arises inside you that’s challenging and you can see it is also a reflection of what happened in your childhood.
What’s the one feeling that you have that you haven’t really given attention to, number one. And of course, if you haven’t given it attention, you can see that you haven’t cared for it or haven’t looked at how to care for it. And start to get glimpse that this is part of your future, next several decades of homework. Not that you should do this, but you get to do this. This is a chance for you to be more fulfilled. This is a chance for you to be more accepting of yourself. This is a chance for you to be more resilient, to be more responsive, to open your heart to yourself, to be able to, to have a more intimate relationship with a significant other. And obviously also to have a more significant relationship with yourself.
Susan Hough (15:22):
So I would say that my biggest challenge was aloneness and withdrawal. And I kept picking aloneness. You know, it took me a long time to decide to, to pick another one, another relationship because I really did have to go through and work through, um, how I was picking things that were, you know, being my parents, my childhood trauma and all that. And, and aloneness, insecurity, and abandonment, which when you think about it, I was premature by three months and, and my mom didn’t like me cuz I was ugly and all that, that it really is still something that I have to be aware of even with you because I can jump in and be snarky cuz I’ve never been allowed to be snarky because I wasn’t allowed to, you know, be, uh, aggressive at all that I have to be careful to really think about when I do that, to clean it up or be aware and then to clean it up and then to actually think about you. And sometimes I’m not even aware of how I can throw it because it’s so not a part of my normal.
Robert Strock (16:30):
Yeah, well you’re the best washing machine I’ve ever been with, that’s for sure. In terms of cleaning it up. So you are somebody who, you know, without question, it’s a central part of my attraction is how much you do clean it up. And also, I just wanna correct one thing you said that you said, I I was ugly, that my mother thought I was ugly cuz you weren’t ugly <laugh>, even though I don’t have any pictures to see it.
Susan Hough (16:55):
I hope I wasn’t, I don’t think I was. Yeah, but there you go. Thank you for pointing that out.
Robert Strock (17:01):
So, I’m gonna just list some of the feelings that may have been there, but I’m asking you to see which of these feelings and then see if any of your significant others in childhood, in your family or your love relationship have this as a central feature that you have these feelings. Anger, fear, anxiety, impatience, competitiveness. I’m gonna stop with competitiveness, cuz I remember so well my brother and I were both really competitive golfers and I remember so well being on the golf course numerous times. And I’m on the golf course, and if you know what a putt is, he’s putting and I’m just praying for the putt to miss and acting like, you know, I’m rooting for him. And if you look back at your childhood, you’ve gotta have moments like that. And especially if you’re in a situation, a dually competitive situation, or you had a situation like Susan had where you were told you were ugly, how could you not have incredible resistance and anger and withdrawal to something like that?
There’s just no way that that could be so, so continuing distrust, dependency, emptiness, withdrawal. Just look and see which of these feelings might actually be the ones that were most primitively there and may superimpose themselves in your current or past attached relationships and be as content or happy with yourself as possible when you see it. Cuz there can be an inclination to go, oh shit, but it, it needs to be something like, oh good, oh good, I can see it, I can see it. Now I can work with it, now I can find the possibility of having that intention to care or to heal or move toward well-being along with that, especially if it’s dynamically vibrant or really a part of your current relationship. Because otherwise there’s a good chance that you’ll just flash and then you’ll just let it go and then you’ll feel more distant and you’ll, you’ll, you’ll seem somehow mysteriously gone if your partners at all observant.
And it will just create distance versus it being a real key to being able to lead you to what you need, and then see, how do I need to articulate this? And as we have covered, we talked about awareness, we talked about the intention to care and we talked about inquiry, asking yourself the question of how are you gonna move toward the caring? There’s also how, how do you communicate and what’s the tone of voice that you’re going to use as you communicate When you become aware of a feeling, let’s say a feeling like anger, and you said, okay, I’m gonna be aware and I’m gonna have the intention to care and I’m gonna have the inquiry and this is what I need. And you discover what you need. There’s a danger of you carrying the feeling into the communication. So, you wanna be careful that the disturbed feeling you have doesn’t lead you into the communication, so you do it with an attitude.
You wanna really be alert. That’s a, a tone of voice is another important strategy that you really notice that as you’re attempting to upgrade your relationship, that you bring in a tone that’s gonna be somehow closer to your heart and not gonna be reflective of your challenging feelings. And this is a lot harder than it sounds. This requires a lifetime of work. So a second thing is really in addition to your feelings are defenses against your feelings, which in the psychological world could be called ego defenses or more defensive feelings, either one. So, I separate vulnerable feelings from a defensive feelings and defensive feelings are feelings that have some element of fight in them. So, as you look at that, and there’s also defenses that have to do with flight. So, it’s fight or flight. So there are all, there’s a whole spectrum of disassociation and withdrawal and just fleeing from the situation, getting into a fantasy world, all kinds of ways of fleeing.
But when we’re looking at defenses, see if any of these apply that might have been defensives you had, that you developed in childhood that you might still be developing. Like for example, many people were exposed to a household where, where the, the parent was either abusive or was absent. They may go into what I would call compensation by being a dedicated student and being a workaholic, and I’m gonna be successful and they’re gonna put all their energy into that. And they’ve forgotten sensitivity, they’ve forgotten connection, they’ve forgotten the intention to heal, and they think success is gonna take its place or any other kind of compensation, athletic competition or intellectual competition. It’s important to see these defenses as also being carried forward into your inter intimate relationships. It could be rationalizing, it’s like, well, I was only saying that because you did this and you’re endlessly rationalizing or could be idealization.
You know, where, where instead of facing the reality you were in, you idealized the person so that you don’t have to deal with a difficult feeling. So it’s sort of exit stage left. It’s like, well, I’m, I’m angry at you, so I’m gonna tell you how good you look today, so that you can just ride a wave above the feelings that you’re in. So impatience, intolerance, irritation, intellectualizing, all of these are things that you may carry forward as I’ve shared some of those that I have myself. So you might ask again, which of the most frequent defenses for you, be aware of them and while you see them, see if you can find that place inside you that wants to care. See if you can really find that place. Again, that’s the magic. Just seeing the awareness of your feelings isn’t enough, and even being aware that you wanna care isn’t enough, but it’s really dynamically the changing of momentum of where you are.
So it turns the corner, but then you need to ask the question of how am I gonna care for myself? How am I gonna care for the other? Then you need to listen to the answer, which is what we call listening to the wisdom or the, or the guidance that you’re receiving. And then you need to convey it if it’s a communication and a tone of voice that really is gonna help you out. So those are the ways, those are some of the ways that you can start to upgrade the, the original starting point of being in the challenging feelings or the challenging defenses. So be honest with yourself as to how much you’re able to easily identify your challenging emotions. And if the answer is it’s kind of hard, be sure to get that list because I promise you, you will be able to circle a number of those emotions.
And the more you circle, the more easy it will be to keep seeing it. And it’s a list that you wanna keep around because you might get it for an hour and then forget it the next hour or the next day. So, you wanna keep those nearby so that you can see that pattern where you’re really going for, not only the awareness, not only the intention to heal, not only asking yourself questions that are gonna help you move towards that intention to heal and care for yourself. But listening to the wisdom and following the thoughts, the actions and the qualities that are really gonna help you move toward that sense of well-being. So as we wind down, you wanna ask yourself, how much do I wanna see myself exactly as I am? How much do I wanna embrace and dignify my life with allowing myself to be aware of where I am when I don’t have to do any performance, I don’t have to make any effort.
And hopefully, you’re befriending yourself as you’re listening to this and you wanna just say, I wanna actually be aware of everything possible that’s going on, and I wanna respond in a way when I’m aware of it, it’s gonna move me in a direction toward well-being, toward caring, toward healing, if that’s the case. If I’m competing, I wanna first be able to acknowledge I’m in competition, and then I wanna be aware of trying to be more accepting of where I am and just focus on my best efforts, but not create that stress of having to be better than you are. I wanna be my best self, but I don’t wanna try to be better than my best self, that’s ridiculous. I can see that yes, I wanna compete in the sense of being my best self, but I don’t wanna try to be better and be coupling the awareness of where you are when you’re challenged with this wish to care for yourself is the fundamental message here.
And seeing how it was in your childhood and then upgrading it by adding this intention to care and then following that forward and seeing how that’s playing out in your current relationships and seeing that that’s gold, that is absolutely the purpose of our life. To be intimate, to be intimate with ourselves, to be intimate with others, to be intimate with the world. And we can’t be intimate if we’re suppressing ourselves. We can’t be intimate if we’re just emotionally indulgent. We can only be intimate if we’re aware of ourselves and we wanna care with whatever is there. And we wanna follow this process of asking ourselves, how do we care for ourselves following the guidance we’re receiving and then seeing as we get older, we get to be wiser and wiser and wiser. We get to know more of ourselves. We get to care for more of ourselves.
We get to be responding to our lives in ways that we are more resilient and are filling our own hearts more and more. So I hope you see the value of the awareness and the intention to care and the following steps, and that you bless yourself with dedicating yourself to this for the rest of your life. And recognize this is one of the benefits of getting older. One of the benefits of aging is that you get to carry on this evolution process and that never dies in this life. It only dies when you die. Stay with the motivation to stay aware and to find that intention to care and to follow the places that are gonna help you age into this life with a reverence and a respect for yourself, and a gratitude for getting to live and to keep expanding right up till your old age. Thanks so much for listening.
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