Same Time Next Week? | S1 Ep3 | Vanessa's Therapy Story
Season 1 | Episode 3
Vanessa's Therapy Story: You're worthy of healing
Vanessa is an entrepreneur, a daughter of immigrants, a mom of four, and a fierce Enneagram 3 who has openly wrestled with discovering her own worth and value. In this episode, Vanessa talks about what it was like to search for a therapist who would gently guide her to figure out what she needed from herself, rather than give her a list of things she needed to fix. And, she discusses how she continues to grow and disrupt generational trauma for her own children.
Now, Vanessa is helping other people discover their own worth and value through Enneagram Coaching. Her personal healing story paired with her heart to help other people find their own healing journeys is incredibly powerful.
- Life as the daughter of immigrants
- Extreme pressure to succeed
- Stopping generational trauma
- Ending a therapist relationship
- Identifying your coping mechanisms and your actual needs
- Wrestling with control
- Attachment to your therapist
- Healing as a collective effort
- Re-parenting and working through memories stored in your body
- Finding your self-worth
Michael Shahan 0:01
Hi. Welcome to the same time next week, the podcast where we demystify the therapy experience by talking with people who share their own personal therapy journeys. In each episode, we begin to uncover what therapy actually is, how it works, what helps, what doesn't, and everything in between. I'm Michael Shahan, a marriage and family therapist in Kansas City. Let's get started. Today's guest is Vanessa Fernandez. She's an Enneagram teacher and coach with a focus on bridging the gap between Enneagram information and true-life transformation. Hope you enjoy the conversation.
Vanessa Fernandez 0:39
So my name is Vanessa Fernandez and I live in Miami, Florida. I'm a daughter of immigrants. My family's from Cuba. And I have four little ones. And my my career currently is doing Enneagram work and helping people heal from identity misalignment and, I Love doing inner work love helping other people do inner work. And yeah, that's it.
Michael Shahan 1:09
Yeah, that's, that's super obvious has always been obvious to me ever since I met you. So I met you on Instagram. I don't know how we how did we initially get connected? I forgot how that worked. But I don't remember we both we had some call where we got to know each other and talk about doing a post together or something. Yeah. Show? Yeah, I remember just how realizing how similar minded we were in Enneagram and work and all that stuff. It was crazy. How similar that was?
Vanessa Fernandez 1:35
Well, I could share sort of what, what kept me from starting therapy for a while and then kind of how I felt finally that I was ready. Yeah, yeah. I was just talking with a friend of mine about this actually how growing up in an immigrant family and kind of a very, like, we don't show weakness, we don't talk about our problems to anyone outside of like our family, our community, very tight knit, and very much like opposed to, you know, admitting that you have problems or going outside of your family to solve any of those problems. And there's just a lot of stigma. And a lot of just, we don't do that, like that's a form of weakness, that's a form of vulnerability. That's not okay. And I think there's a lot of fear in... Well, there's a lot of fear in all communities. But in immigrant communities, there's a lot of fear and a lot of survival mindset. And part of that, we need to have survival mindset, just because there's a lot that, you know, families are dealing with trying to make their way in a new environment and a new culture. But survival tends to keep us from thriving, right. So that was kind of like closed doors, closed off walls, hush, hush, we don't talk about our issues, that may be safe, but it gets in the way of actual healing. And so I had to first really kind of just get to enough of a rock bottom and also be open to the fact that vulnerability is not weakness, and to be open to the fact that it's okay to not only admit problems, but seek outside help for them. That was like probably one of the bigger obstacles that I had to overcome to even be open to like, seeking out a therapist.
Michael Shahan 3:34
Wow, even the idea of coming to somebody with what you need help with. Like even the idea of not just therapy, but even not even talking to anybody about what you need help with their quote problems or weaknesses, like was frowned on?
Vanessa Fernandez 3:50
Yeah, because yeah, there's like this thought that I you know, as an immigrant, you're not fully accepted in the culture that you're in. And acceptance is almost like, key to survival. And so, you know, you have to, you have to always be top of the class, top of the, whatever, over-achieving over-exceeding and so to say, Hey, I'm struggling with X, Y, and Z, or, hey, my marriage isn't doing so good, or, hey, my mental health has issues. You can't ever show those cracks,
Michael Shahan 4:24
because it doesn't allow you to succeed in in the way that you're needing to be okay
Vanessa Fernandez 4:30
You go in feeling like you're already on an uphill climb, because everyone else in the culture feels ahead, right. So you're trying to play catch up. And the only way to gain new ground is to never have a weakness never have a soft spot. Never. Right. So that's, yeah, that was definitely something that had to like, be unlearned, for me to be able to like, come in.
Michael Shahan 4:52
How did you never do that? I don't. Wow, that's like how did you even unlearn that enough to get to a place where you're okay, reaching out to therapists, like, how did you do that?
Vanessa Fernandez 5:03
I don't know that it was one specific thing that cracked it open. I think it was a lot of smaller experiences. I think it was, I think, you know, I'm a millennial. So I think even just in the culture, there was a lot more of destigmatizing therapy. And so sort of just being aware of, hey, maybe this is something I should consider, and then that internal voice is like, No, we don't do that, you know. So it took some time of battling within myself. But I think, I think also, I just had a realization that the trauma of the generational trauma doesn't just go away. And I know, when I became a mother there, I felt almost like your own pride is going to cause you to pass on things to your children that they don't deserve. And so I think that was a big catalyst of like, let me just surrender whatever this pride is, whatever this thinking of having to be No, no weakness, no problems, no, nothing. That's just going to perpetuate the generational trauma that I see in my family. So that was also a huge, I think, turning point for me.
Michael Shahan 6:16
Yeah, I think it's actually can be a really common thing for people to sort of have kids and to see, like, here's what's gonna happen. It's very obvious what's gonna happen if I don't work on myself. Like it makes it just right in your face.
Vanessa Fernandez 6:28
Yeah, yeah. Kids are a mirror kids are such a mirror to us of our own. So you kind of have a choice at that point, either look in the mirror, or completely shut down from a connection to your child and yourself. Like those are, I feel like those are really kind of the only two options that you have. So
Michael Shahan 6:49
Wow, sure, that makes sense. Yeah. Because it's, it's so uncomfortable to see. And maybe easier to shut down and not but you for whatever reason, you saw that and realize that this is important enough to take that really difficult step because you could like, logically tell yourself all day that like, it's not weakness, this is important, but I'm sure the step itself toward therapy was really hard.
Vanessa Fernandez 7:10
Yeah, yeah. Well, I'm, I'm an empath. So I can feel emotions in others as well. And I think at a certain point, I realized I'm the toxic best friend, right. Like I'm the one who's perpetuating some of the some of the patterns in my relationships. And that doesn't feel great, right? Like to know that your own inability to love yourself or be at home in yourself is causing these defense mechanisms to hurt people around you. Like I just had to, you know, I just, it just kept smacking me in the face. And I think, thankfully, it was enough that it woke me up to be like, do something, you know, do something, even if it doesn't work, right. Even if all of my ancestors worst fears are that therapy doesn't work, even if it doesn't work, do something. And
Michael Shahan 8:02
So not going to like this is going to work. It has to work. But like, hey, at least this is a different way to fail if I do fail, so let's try it. Yeah. Wow. So that's, I just love so much in the stuff you say about mental health and stuff. It's just so it's so crazy. It is so so when you first reach out to therapists, what was that like for you? How did you find a therapist? What was going on in your mind? Like, what was that even? Like?
Vanessa Fernandez 8:34
Yeah, so thankfully, I actually have a lot of friends who are therapists. And that made it really a lot easier in one sense and hard in another because I called I called up the, you know, the counseling center or whatever. And I was like, hey, I need a therapist, but it can't be so and so or so. And so or this person, or that person or that person, because I know them and like so it took me a while to kind of find someone who I didn't know already had free schedule. And actually, my first therapist didn't end up being the right fit for me. Which was difficult for me to navigate also, because I felt like I might be like, rejecting her or hurt her feelings or
Michael Shahan: Tell me about that.
Vanessa Fernandez: It was so hard. It was so hard. Well, first, I didn't really know how therapy works. So I just kind of a showing up. And my personality is such that I always want to impress everyone that I'm around. So, I was having to battle wanting to impress my therapist with how bad my life was.
Wow. If you want to speak to your enneagram number you can do it now.
Yeah so I'm an enneagram three. I just wanted to...I don't know...
Michael Shahan 9:51
So you wanted to impress your therapist with how bad your life was? Let's talk about that more.
Unknown Speaker 9:57
I don't know. Yeah, it doesn't Makes sense. But it's, I mean, anytime that we feel vulnerable or somewhat afraid, our defense mechanisms are just going to come out. And that's the one I, that's what I go to. So that was kind of my first like, really trying to be mindful of that instinct. And, and not allow it to take over. But as and I didn't know how therapy would work. So I just ended up like kind of just talking and giving her a background on what she was dealing with for the first hour. And I don't think she said, I don't think she said, maybe three sentences the whole hour. And so I was like, okay, it's only the first hour, it's fine, because I kind of walked away thinking she didn't give me any advice. She didn't tell me anything to do. I think I just thought that it was like, you know, like, you see, like Lucy and peanuts. Like I go up, I tell her my problem. She gives me advice, I give her a nickel, and then I walk away. Okay. That's the extent of my therapy sort of reference. But she didn't give me any, like advice. And I was kind of like, well, was she supposed to give me advice? Was she supposed to help me, you know, figure out what to do or how to fix myself? And she didn't. So I was like, Alright, well, we'll try another week. Of course, I'm not gonna give up after one week. And the second week was much the same. Actually, the second week, I had some really great insights. But it was almost more simply because I was taking the space to talk it out. Sure. The insights are coming from within. Yeah, I'm sure not necessarily from her, which is that kind of, yeah, that kind of put off a little light bulb in my head of like, oh, maybe this is part of it. Like, maybe it's not so much. I go to an expert, and they tell me what to do. But I sit with someone and they make space for me to actually have the permission to take a whole hour and just talk about and feel and process my own life. I would never do that. I would literally never do that. And that in and of itself was kind of a lightbulb moment. But then, in this huge, does it Yeah, yeah. In the previous in the next couple of sessions, she started to give me a lot of advice. And it kind of ended up feeling kind of lecture-y, like lecturing me on things. And that's when I first kind of started feeling like maybe maybe she's not the right fit for me. Because there were moments where I didn't feel that there were questions asked, but there was like assumptions made and, and things like that, but but I really liked her as a person. So it was very, very difficult for me to end our relationship. But several friends of mine said, you know, Listen, don't stay in a therapy relationship if you don't feel like if you don't feel safe and heard and seen by your therapist, you know? So I ended up ending that relationship. And it's so hard. Yeah. But it was, I wonder if even that will not wonder I know that even in that was part of my healing process, right, to be able to set those boundaries and know what I needed. And affirm that to myself and others.
Michael Shahan 13:19
So even experientially acting out those places that you needed to grow with boundaries and your own needs and stuff like wow, wow. And through like, he could maybe call it quote, failed there. But it actually wasn't at all It sounds like like, you learned a lot about what you need and how to ask for it. And then you can't ask for it. And all this stuff. You've been through the process, even though she didn't work out for you long term like, Wow, that's cool.
Vanessa Fernandez 13:43
Oh, yeah, for sure. I learned a ton about myself. And she wasn't she wasn't a terrible therapist at all. She was a wonderful person. I really liked her a lot. And I, I did have some insights through my time with her. But yeah, it just ended up not being the best fit for me. So I kind of took a break from therapy for a little while because I didn't know where to go. And I think I think that's one of my most difficult parts of the therapy experience is finding the right therapist, like, and actually knowing what questions to ask and what what types of therapy there are like, I had no clue. I was just like, yeah, I need help. Somebody help me. Yeah, yeah. So the more the more that I just started learning and becoming my own advocate and researching I kind of settled into, okay, this is the kind of therapy that resonates with me. And even my approach to humanity and what humans need and how humans function like I had to it without in and of itself was a journey to find the right therapist for myself.
Michael Shahan 14:55
Yeah. Do you mind sharing kind of what it is that you sort of landed on like this kind therapy is what I need?
Vanessa Fernandez 15:01
Yeah, I need therapy, I realized that I needed therapy that would redirect me back to my own inner knowing, rather than therapy that was like expert tell client what client need and client pay expert
Michael Shahan 15:17
Sure, like a medical model kind of doctor patient. Yeah, you have the answers telling what to do.
Vanessa Fernandez 15:24
Yeah. Like, here are my symptoms, give me a prescription, I'll do it. And that was my actually, that was actually my initial approach to therapy. So I'm not surprised that that's the kind of therapist that kind of ended up with in the beginning, because that's what I thought it should be. And, you know, through the, through the years of just like figuring out I realized, no, I actually needed therapists who can hear what's underneath the words, and can ask me the deep questions that return me back to my inner knowing, and, and really hold space for me and help me be more compassionate with myself. Rather than try and give me tips and tricks to fix things in my life.
Michael Shahan 16:10
Yeah, now, coming from a very different angle, like fix things in my life, so I can feel better about myself versus be more compassion for myself, no matter what's happening. It was like a very different direction to come at self compassion from Yeah. How did your therapist you said, helping you be more compassionate for yourself? Like, how did that happen? Even like in the therapy room?
Vanessa Fernandez 16:30
So my therapist that I have now, who I love, she just asked me them the most terrible questions, but no, she asked me the best questions, but they just, they just rip me open. And I get like, partially upset at her. And then of course, I just, I love it, because that's what I need. But she'll just, she'll ask me those questions, like, you know, why, like, let's say, I'm saying, I need you know, I need my sister to be such and such, because she's descended on it. And she'll be like, well, what part of you needs your sister to be such and such, like, where that need coming from, you know, she'll really pull it back to the parts of me that I don't love about myself, or the parts of me that are reacting to the stimulus around me. And she really just keeps pulling me back into that inner knowing pulling me back into that inner self loathing, right. But the more that I have inner self loathing, the more susceptible I am to acting out when I feel my personhood is being attacked. And, and so, anyways, that's been really, really beautiful for me, and has felt like we're getting to the root of the issues, rather than just putting band aids on things, and
Michael Shahan 17:48
yeah, kind of just doing something different. And then you're sort of the same underlying sort of ego patterns present, we'll just find a different way to do the same thing.
Vanessa Fernandez 17:56
Yeah, cuz I find a lot of that. I mean, I'm, as an enneagram three, I'm always trying to self improve, right, that's, that's kind of like very second nature to me. Yeah. And so I kind of don't need more of the same in that respect. And because what that is, for me, when I'm trying to self improve, I'm trying to be in control, I'm trying to be really in control of how others perceive me of how I show up in the world and what I can accomplish and how I can manage my emotions. So I don't lash out at so and so so they don't get mad at me. So we don't have a whole conflict. So that that ruins my agenda for the day. Like, it's all a matter of control.
Michael Shahan 18:34
So it's not self improving, just a self improve, it's self improving, so that you can have these other needs met of like being seen as certain way and not having conflict and being productive and all that stuff.
Vanessa Fernandez 18:46
Yes, yes. And, and what what therapy has helped me with is to look at that need to control in and of itself and ask myself, why is that there? You know? Yeah, so if I just had therapy, where I was just getting more insight on how to control more of my life, it would just feed feed the beast, and it's
Michael Shahan 19:05
It's just getting better at what you've always done, rather than doing something drastically different.
Vanessa Fernandez 19:10
Yeah. And oftentimes, my need for control stems from a position of not feeling safe, not feeling seen, not feeling loved, not feeling like, you know, so the self compassion plays such a big part in being able to release the need for control and the need for control kind of is what fuels all of my surface level behaviors, which sure that's so that's what we all come into therapy for, right? The surface level behaviors aren't Yes,
Michael Shahan 19:38
nobody's people probably don't, especially the first time come in saying I need help letting go of control because it creates these patterns in my life. Like I'm sure that you didn't say that session one.
Vanessa Fernandez 19:47
No, no, but but my therapist, so gently led me to that point. I think that's what I appreciate most from her is her patience. Well, she's gently lead me To my own understanding and realization, and those are some of the most beautiful, like, I can even pinpoint sessions with her where I had those moments of insight of like, oh, oh, I see it. Yeah. And she didn't. She didn't push it on me or try to I mean, I'm sure she could see in like 2.5 seconds what my deal was, but she let me she let me find it out for myself.
Michael Shahan 20:25
Yeah, I heard a therapist. He was a former therapist say once he talks about in therapy, it's the client vulnerably shares the depths of their being while the therapist neither invades nor abandons them. I love that so much. Because it's like not invading. Here's what the deal is, here's what you need to do. And I'm not leaving you. Because that's too much for me, I can just be here neither invading nor abandoning. And I it sounds like, perfectly like describe what you're saying, like you didn't feel invaded. And there was patiencs with her and allowing you to sort of do it any other way doing it what it just feel like just strengthening your old patterns like like that. I'm coming to a therapist to give me advice. That's what you thought. But then you realize like this part of it doesn't like that. You're just like, I don't even want that anyway. So what do I want? This is weird. But like, there's part of you realizing the whole time. That's not what you want it or need it, but you just couldn't see it.
Vanessa Fernandez 21:14
Yeah, wow. And I think that would be almost my biggest advice to someone who is like considering or in the process of finding is that oftentimes you don't know what you don't know. And you don't know what you need, until you kind of step out into, you know, having conversations with different therapists or even going to therapy for a few months, and feeling it out. And, and really, you got to get in the water to learn how to swim like it can't, you can't just kind of figure it out until you're kind of in the middle of at least that's been my experience.
Which is uncomfortable. But yeah,
Michael Shahan 21:50
I think it makes a lot of sense. I think that's what a lot of people sort of like, without using this language of almost everybody that comes to me is basically at the core saying, the things I've always been doing that have worked for me are no longer working anymore. And I don't know what to do. Kind of at the core, I think is they're not using that language. But like, I've always done this, and it's always worked. It's always helped me feel okay, or with this, but now it's not now it's causing all sorts of problems. Like, what's wrong with me? A lot of times where it goes, but it's just yeah, which I
Vanessa Fernandez 22:18
I think that is 100% at the core of it. And I think when you go to a therapist, or you know, really anyone for advice, but especially in therapy, you're you're saying, Can you provide me another perspective? Like, can you Oh, is there another path? Is there another option? Is there another way? Because in my mind, according to the way that my perspective looks, I have this or this, right? LIke I have given totally on life, or stay stuck how I am and I don't like either of these options. But I want a third way to make my my way through this situation.
Michael Shahan 22:54
Yeah, that you can't even see or have access to from where you're at, in your own personality.
Vanessa Fernandez 22:59
Yeah, I have a question for you. Because how many of your especially new clients, do you feel like all of them are coming in with some some sense of desperation? A little bit like on the edge of kind of like, I'm, I'm on really shaky ground. I don't know if I can even pull myself out of this. Like, is that? Do you almost feel like you have to take a few sessions just to like, help them come down from that, like flight or fight? I'm in a desperate space, energy before you can really dig in? Like, I know, that's my experience. But I know that Yeah, or I think
Michael Shahan 23:40
I think it's really common, I think it's really common, very, very common... desperation. Otherwise, unless somebody sort of is more and more lately, this be like, I see the value of mental health, and I want to just do like self care and do this fairly regularly to work out like that. I think that's different. That's, that's more of a younger person thing. Like it's becoming more and more common, but I think a lot of people very much, it's desperation. It's like the last ditch effort, nothing else is working. And because a lot of the phrase I love is like that, what is it? When the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change, change happens. So like, when my life sucks, and I don't know what to do about it, but it's bearable, because doing anything different feels even harder to me right now. And so I don't want to try to do something different. And then there's a slow, like, I think, depending on the context of what's going around them and or internally or in the world like that, that that begins to be balanced, the balance starts to shift. Like, I'm starting to think it's way harder to be where I'm at than to make a change. I'm willing to take the risk even because it actually feels worth it. Yeah, that's kind of like it's it's like that desperation, like it's beginning to get really hard to be where they're at and they can't do it anymore. And a lot of times, it takes really bad stuff happening. And I've actually heard people say like Enneagram threes can be the worst, quote, worst, whether it's bad or good, like it's their life to completely fall apart. Because their coping mechanism itself is to like, look good and self improve it right. And so they can look really, really functional and can tell themselves that they're really functional others j&k for a long time.
Vanessa Fernandez 25:15
Well, there's, yeah, well, there's that. But then also enneagram threes, we like to lie to ourselves, and then we believe those lies, you know? So we were really? Yeah, like I, I'll tell myself, Oh, it's not that bad. It's not that bad, I can figure it out, we have so much of like, this false confidence of, I can figure it out, I can do anything. I just have to work harder, and I'll find a way. And so it does. It takes a lot to really get us to that point where we wave the white flag. And yes, and say, No, I actually need some outside help. I actually need to show someone my mess. And that is like, so hard.
Michael Shahan 25:56
I mean, I'm thinking of all my three clients, like I think pretty much every single one, their life has fallen apart. Yeah, whether it's really messy divorce way late in life, or severe drinking problem and kicked out of your work and like, or DUIs or I don't know, just stuff that like, just they can't handle anymore. And they're in they can't lie to themselves anymore.
Vanessa Fernandez 26:18
Yeah. And that's where it's, that's where I and I think we've talked about this the the blessing of your life falling apart. You have a good quote about it something about how beautiful something something, the wounds that led me to the was that a quote that you told me?
Sounds really wise, I hope I said it!
It was some some mystic who said that there are these the wounds that lead us to the point of needing grace and pressing into, you know, this collectivism of community care, which I would love to talk about how therapy is a form of community care, and collectivism. And how, I mean, threes are great at this, but I think anyone living in America and certainly anyone who's coming from an immigrant family, we have this like, I'm going to pull myself up by my bootstraps, individualism, self-made, by myself, for myself on my own. It's such a lie. And I think that it does keep us oftentimes from therapy, from opening up to others. A lot of and I think it plagues actually probably men more than it does women that the toxic masculinity of I don't, I don't sit around with my bros and talk about my mental health, you know, like women we kind of do. Yeah, at least with your core girls, you will, but I don't sure sure how therapy can actually be like, a form of activism of pressing into the truth that we heal in community, we don't heal by ourselves. And that in and of itself, I think is just powerful. To stand in that to be a part of something like that.
Michael Shahan 28:09
Is the quote, you're showing my earlier the first there's the fall, and then there's the recovery from the fall both are the mercy of God. Yes. Yes, yes. Okay. I love that so much, because it's like it. I love that idea that because people come with a lot of shame. They're like, why didn't I do this earlier? Why don't have to get here is like, cuz it was working for you. Like, why would you stop? Like, there's no shame in that? Like, who would stop doing what works for them? Because they just kind of wanted? I don't know, like, yeah, yeah, that's just what has to happen, that train has to be derailed to learn that this isn't working anymore.
Vanessa Fernandez 28:40
Yeah, one of my favorite things to tell people when they start going down those the shame spiral, if that is, you know, you were doing the best you could with what you had in that moment. And sometimes the best that we can do in that moment with the resources with the knowledge with the, you know, support that we have at that time, is maybe, quote unquote, unhealthy behaviors. But that was the best you could do, to try and regulate your nervous system to try and make sense of what was happening to you to try and get a grasp at some sort of balance, you know, and I think that, that brings at least has brought me a lot of freedom to say I'm not gonna let shame keep me from a future of healing. I'm not gonna let shame over my past. Keep me from a possible future of healing. That's just not Yeah, doesn't make sense.
Michael Shahan 29:33
Which is so as big as a big piece of enneagram threes for sure that shame piece, that feeling like you're not good enough in your head identity piece, that dead center that identity heart triad and being so confused and cut off from that and need. Yeah, yeah.
Vanessa Fernandez 29:50
Yeah. Wow. Yeah. And I think a lot of a lot of times therapy, and this is where I was, like, frustrated at the beginning when I didn't really know what therapy was, but a lot of times, therapy is It's about being okay to just be and not having to do, or at least my therapy has been. Yeah. And, and so that, you know, that's tough. I want to I want a five step plan, I want to put it on my to do list. I want to, you know, knock it out, you tell me, I'm gonna, it's gonna take me three months, I want to do it a month and a half, like I you know, I want that. Right? Um,
Michael Shahan 30:29
I think it's such a, it's, when I see that in clients, like, like, they'll come and say, like, Alright, here's what I need to do, and I need you to help me with it. Like my first reaction. I was like, okay, that's what you think. But like, that's, like, not gonna say, Nope, you're wrong, but almost that gently guiding, it's like, Is this working for you like this? is are we gonna do? I think like therapy can't just be more of the same thing. Yeah, that you're doing in a different way like that. Have you heard term isomorphism? before? It's sort of this idea that kind of, in a nutshell, very abstractly, the idea that the way you do one thing is the way you do everything. And so like the patterns that that you have, and that you do in one thing, are the same patterns in another context, just but it's hard to see that. And so to come to therapy, of course, you're going to initially come at it with like, here's what I need. Because here's what I think I need without realizing that what you think you need has actually gotten you to really bad places so far.
Vanessa Fernandez 31:26
Well, yeah, I mean, and that's, that overlaps a lot with enneagram work and kind of the story of that I was telling of how like, I wanted more control, I wanted more tips and tricks on how to have more control, we always think that our defense mechanisms are going to free us from our defense mechanisms, right? Like, these are my defense mechanisms so the only way that I can get free of is by trying harder in my way of defending. And all that does is take us deeper. And and I think that's the beauty of having a therapist, anyone outside of yourself really who's wise and who can help you. Because it's like, it's like a magnet, we just want to pull into that defense mechanism. Yeah, you really are not. I mean, I don't know, maybe there are people who are like super strong and healthy, but I just don't see myself ever having on my own, taken a path of being rather than doing or taking a path of surrendering rather than controlling like I would, unless I had a guide, who was who is intentionally and kindly pulling me back to more of a healthy space, I just wouldn't sit on my own no matter how many books I read, I wouldn't sit on my own and be able to go that direction. I just I mean, I don't see it.
Michael Shahan 32:51
Because the defense mechanism itself would keep you from doing that. Like try everything. That's, there's a that's, I love that you said that just because my enneagram nine-ness. So much of in the past what I want out of therapy, like I wanted to feel good all the time. I want to feel okay, all the time and comfortable and be okay. Like, which is very much a nine goal. Yep. Yeah. Like, it's more of the same. If I if I'm wanting I even found myself when I learned about meditating, like, cool, this is gonna help me feel at peace all the time. Excellent. Right, that was my goal. And I sort of CO opted it to meet my own personality goals. Yeah, which is hard not to do.
Vanessa Fernandez 33:27
Because it, it just makes sense to our brains, right? Like, it just makes sense that like, Okay, this is if I'm not, if I'm not doing the right behavior, I need to get better control of it, or I need to numb out more because, you know, like, so. Yeah, I think that's where, again, that healing and collectivism and healing with others is so important. And you know, we're both enneagram nerds, but the enneagram symbol is a circle. And when you think of a circle, kind of like, if all points are pulling against each other, it creates that perfect circle. So as we kind of like pull, you know, even thinking of like magnetism and the forces between and how, you know, we as we challenge each other as we put, you know, my husband's a nine, which is almost directly opposite energy of mine. So as like as we pull on each other, that those alternating forces they really do like in collectivism is where we find I think, balance and wholeness and healing and we can kind of rub, rub each other and, and sharpen each other and just help with that whole process.
Michael Shahan 34:38
That's so cool. I love how that even came out in a very practical way with you and your therapist. Yeah, and in that collective and collectiveness in that sense, and that sort of one on one relationship and the therapy room, there's so much vulnerability was shared and experienced and so, what for you? Because I know that was probably really, really hard for you to be vulnerable and show up as your like authentic self and all your masks and everything to your therapist, what led let you do that in the first place? What created safety? What created the motivation? How did you even allow yourself to do that? What did you need to get there?
Vanessa Fernandez 35:18
I think it's so I don't know that I've gotten there. Honestly, I think I, I almost every session, have to sit with myself and center myself and allow myself to be vulnerable. Because if I don't, my instinct really does take over. And I'll just, I'll just BS my therapist, or I'll try. She's, my therapist is so good. She She knows, but I will still try. And so it really is a, you know, weekly or when however often I see my therapist, it's it's, it's a practice.
Michael Shahan 36:00
Yeah, yeah, not like I figured out now I do it every time. It's like a crazy thing that you have to sort of step out of,
Vanessa Fernandez 36:06
Yeah, it's always there. For me, it's always there. And so my only way around it is to be mindful of it. And to so I say three things before, really before any vulnerable conversation, but definitely before therapy, I tell myself, you are safe. You are loved. And you are held in this moment. And that kind of addresses sort of the three centers of intelligence and the three areas where, you know, Am I safe? Am I loved? And am I held in this moment? And that's kind of the the underlying sort of question or the underlying areas where we doubt that there is abundant safety, that there is abundant love that there is abundant provision for us. So when I, when I say those things, it's kind of like my mantra to pull myself back to what I know to be true. And kind of tell my ego, like, calm down there, you know, yeah,
Michael Shahan 37:12
Yeah, like almost comfort your ego, like, if comforting yourself. So ego can has to be less active to sort of force those things to be the truth. Like, I know that they are gonna have to work so hard to get those things.
Vanessa Fernandez 37:24
Yeah, yeah. And there's this. I love the book, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. And she has this part in it, where she says, you know, we're going on a road trip. And ego is always good. She calls it fear, fear ego, I see them as interchangeable. So she says, fear is gonna come along on this trip, and the trip is living my life, right? And fears always going to be in the car with us. But fear doesn't get to drive. Fear doesn't get to make the decisions. Fear doesn't get to touch the map. But fear can sit there and fear can talk to me from the backseat, but I'm driving the car, I have the map and I make the decisions on where we go. And I love that because we don't need to hate our ego, we don't need to hate our fear. We don't need to demonize it or try to kick it out of the car. If anything, I feel like the more I try to, you know, like, get rid of my ego quote unquote, the more it fights back, and I'm just wasting energy. Yes. So it's almost like, just just be curious about it and just try and yeah, approach it with compassion. And I kind of think of my ego as a toddler. And I have four kids. So I know all about the toddler phase. And you know, you can't win your toddlers losing it. You can't join the crazy of the toddler. Like you're just gonna create more crazy can. But you also can't dismiss and just say stop crying, right? Never. Yeah, never works.
Oh, you could, people try it. But yes, if you actually want to have...
Never, never in my history of motherhood has me saying stop crying actually resulted in my toddler crying?
Oh, Okay, you're right! I didn't think about that before. Thanks Mom.
So it's only when it's only when I get on their level. And I connect with what they're feeling in this moment. And I ask them questions, and we get curious. And I remind them that they're safe and loved and held that we can start to, you know, settle into some form of peace and love and connection and understanding. It's the same as my ego. Like, I really have to kind of get on a level. Yes, I have to get curious about it and say, listen, you're safe, you're loved, you're held. Everything is as it should be. So now let's go into this time of therapy. And that's, that's been my practice. It's been really helpful for me.
Michael Shahan 39:41
I love that. That makes a lot of sense. What is something about therapy that surprised you that you weren't expecting, given just kind of the current understanding that you had a therapy before you started?
Vanessa Fernandez 39:55
Yeah, so definitely just that shift between going to an expert and getting a list of, I don't know, I don't know, homework, like, I was really expecting to get homework from my therapist, like do the homework and you know, get get an A. So shifting from that over to actually like, my body knows what's going on. And I just need to slow down and listen to it. And that's where questions, you know, having such beautiful, insightful questions for me has been the most impactful thing in my therapy relationship. I read the body keeps the score, and I know that you're a fan of that book also. And that was also incredibly helpful. I almost feel like that should be required reading for all humans, because it's just, it's just so it's just so interesting, and on the one hand, but also very life changing, because it helps, it helped me to listen more to my body, first of all, and just become more aware and curious around it. And then honor the clues and the cues that my body was giving me, especially when I'm being triggered, right, especially when things that have hurt me in the past, I'm starting to come into an environment where some of those same circumstances or patterns are forming. And that has been very surprising to me about therapy is just how much my body already knows how much is already stored in myself.
M: which is such an antidote to those three messages, I need to gain more, I need to add more, because I don’t have enough.
Vanessa Fernandez: Yeah, and it’s more about sitting and uncovering what’s already there, what’s already present, rather than adding new information. And, you know, a lot of enneagram work is the work of subtraction, not the work of addition. And I find that there are it’s the work of unlearning, not necessarily gaining something you don’t have.
Michael Shahan: It’s getting rid of what’s keeping you back.
Vanessa Fernandez: Yeah, because I think we do, it kind of speaks to that desperation I know I came into therapy thinking I’m missing something, tell me what I’m missing, give me what I lack, I lack some part of insight or knowledge or habits or I’m missing something, you gotta give it to me, and what I’m actually finding is, therapy is more of saying, you have everything you need, you just have to come down out of fear and rest in what you have. You know, it’s when I’m swirling in fear that I start acting out, lashing out, self destructing, whatever. So, that’s been a big shift for me, from fear and and lack into safety and abundance and doing that work is a lot of my work in therapy that I’m currently doing and probably will be for the rest of my life.
Michael Shahan: Did you expect going into therapy that it would take a long time, did you think it would going to be a quick, figure it out, and then it would be quote, better?
Vanessa Fernandez: I wasn’t sure honestly I was pretty skeptical going into therapy that I could even solve the problems that I was wanting to solve. I kind of thought I don’t think this is going to help, but I don’t wanna give up until I’ve tried all things, so let me try it to almost check it off the list of, well I’ve tried therapy and that didn’t work.
Michael Shahan: Right, like I know that that didn’t work and I can move onto other things.
Vanessa Fernandez: Right, and so I was kind of skeptical just going in but now that I’m in it and it’s been a little while I feel like I would never stop. Like there’s no point where I mean, maybe if it’s like gurus or people are who super enlightened, but I know myself and I don’t feel like there’s going to be a point in my life where I don’t need to have someone who is holding space for me, someone who is asking me those questions, someone who is, honestly you know I feel like there are a lot of parallels between therapy and parenting. Where I see my therapist, not that they are a substitute for my parents, but you know, I see a therapist as like holding space and allowing you to become. Like, standing in the room as you are becoming who you are supposed to be. And I feel like with my approach to parenting, that’s similar to what I’m trying to do for my kids, is just like affirm that they are safe, that they are loved, help them self regulate their emotions, help them to get curious and ask them good questions. And then just hold space for them to become what they are going to become, trusting that they are complete as they are and have everything they need. Right? And I feel like that’s what my therapist is trying to get me to do. Just like standing in that space, helping me become who I need to become and that’s going to be forever for me, I feel like.
Michael Shahan: It sounds like you are talking about attachment, I’m not sure if you are familiar with that language. But like, having a secure attachment. Like, me knowing that you are accepted and you belong no matter what, and it allows us to grow and become who we are and explore, and do things new, otherwise we can’t, and we’re stuck and we are not ourselves and are able to grow and do things because our parents, no matter how perfect they are or how good they were or how hard they tried, they have their own stuff, and there is going to be stuff that they don’t accept about us. And so those parts, we tend to sort of cut those parts off so that we can belong. So to undo that and know that we do belong and then let those parts out, to sort of grow and become what they need to become, on their own finally is huge.
Vanessa Fernandez: Yeah, so, a lot of the work when I’m working with couples or I’m doing stuff around relationships or family sessions, one of the foundational sort of concepts that I always work with people are, whatever you cannot accept in yourself is what you are going to have a hard time accepting and loving in others. So rather than trying to like, force yourself, so let’s say for example that I feel like everyone in my life moves too slow. So like, I move fast, everyone else moves too slow, my poor husband, bless his heart, he is always moving too slow for me. But here is the thing, I can try to make myself be more patient. Okay and that has not been very successful for me, however, what has been successful, is allowing myself to slow down. Allowing myself to be okay with taking rests, because the reason everyone else is too slow is because I never allow myself to slow down, and so that’s what I have trouble tolerating in others. So any time we have disdain for others, it’s a reflection about how we feel ourselves, and so the therapy work is not about, like, us being more patient. Like, give your husband more slack, it’s like why can’t you slow down? Why are you always rushing? So uncomfortable! However, that internal shift of knowing that I’m valuable even though I’m not accomplishing something, of know that I have worth even if I’m not working every moment of every day. The more I sink into that, the less I feel irritated about the speed of everyone else. And I’m not even trying to be patient, I’m just naturally okay with it.
Michael Shahan: You’re not forcing yourself to be more okay with it, by breathing deeply or counting to ten, it comes from this inner place of having to tolerate that so you don’t have to change it in other people.
Vanessa Fernandez: yes, because I’ve accepted it about myself and so now there’s like that freedom and expansion to accept it in others. And even to see it as a thing of beauty, right? Like something that adds to my life, not takes away that’s a big part of, I think, inner work for a lot of us is like okay, what am I not accepting in myself, where can I not accept chaos or incompetence or whatever it is.
Absolutely, if you can’t accept it, you’re going to sort of, project it onto your own kids and people around you, but your kids in a huge way. They are sort of this barometer of your own unacceptance in your own life.
Do you find that re-parenting is something that's helpful? It's not something that I've been doing in parenting but it's something I've been doing outside of therapy and I've found it super helpful. Have you found that helpful with you or with your clients?
Yeah, if I, tell me what you mean by re-parenting?
Some of the work I’ve been doing is pulling out memories from childhood where I did not feel seen, I did not feel heard, I did not feel like my worth was, you know, I was not standing in my worth, it wasn’t recognized by those around me. And reprogramming that memory and imagining either my parents responding in a way that would have affirmed my worth. Or if that’s too difficult, responding as my child self affirming my worth, my boundaries, my personhood. Or if that’s too hard, imagining myself today going into that memory and standing up for younger myself, and advocating for my younger self. That’s been very powerful for me to confront some of those narratives that have made up my structural like foundation.
That is some of the best work I do with clients, period. It can look different with different people in different ways, but very much going back to those memories where sort of, this happened, and your mind made this meaning of it, creating this narrative, where I’m not good enough or this, when in reality that’s probably not what it was. But that’s what we made of it and I think something like, 75% of our brains cannot distinguish fantasy from reality. So going back and sort of reprogramming those memories, you’re not convincing yourself that it didn’t happen because narratively and intellectually you know it happened. But even imagining detailed experience of it being different, completely shifts your brain. Like, oh, we were taken care of, we were safe, we can stop worrying about that now. We don’t have to keep worrying about it and doing it, it’s huge how much that change, different theories call it different things. What’s wild is, so sometimes what I do is therapy called EMBR, it’s I move in reprocessing, when the memories become desensitized you can sort of tolerate them more, I mean that usually happens on its own, but sometimes I’ll guide clients through it, sometimes they’ll be sitting there thinking like, I just want to give my younger self a hug. And I say, oh yeah, do it! Watch that happen and see how you react. I don’t have to say, like take care of your younger self, once those narratives are like desensitized, they want to do it, they know what they want and need. It’s just, then, they didn’t or they couldn’t have it.
That’s so beautiful and again that speaks to me of the fact that our bodies hold so much wisdom and our instincts, the reason that those events in our lives, I think, wound us is because something inside of us knows that as humans we are worthy of respect, we are worthy of value, we are worthy of being seen and loved and held, and so something in our body is reacting to those things being violated. And of course you know there’s a lot in trauma that disconnects us from our body
Right, like I’m disconnecting from myself so I can give ourselves what we need.
And I think that’s also why a lot of my work with the therapist I have now, at the beginning, revolves around just feeling more at home in my body before even asking my body, hey what are you trying to tell me? What do you know? I had to reconnect, I had to like, meet an old friend and even small things like, feeding my body when I was hungry, noticing my cues, noticing when I felt tired and allowing myself to stop working. Some of those things I would just blow past, you know, things like food water and sleep. Just blowing past those things for so many years, I had to just stop and really like sink into this physical form and say, you know what, when I’m hungry, I honor that and give myself food. And I know that sounds so basic but that was a huge part for me, reconnecting to my person-hood and humanity, because once I reconnected, I could actually know what it’s trying to tell me.
And that’s huge
And a lot of that came from the body score, you know, reading The Body Keeps the Score because it talks a lot about the ways that we disconnect from our bodies as a defense mechanism as a way, really of like, the body compartmentalizing the trauma we’ve experienced.
Trying to survive with the best we can, to be okay can end up being damaging in the long term because it no longer works, we don’t know it’s not working or we don’t know how to stop.
Yeah, can I just say one last thing just because I like, whoever might be listening to this and might be wrestling with whether they should go to therapy, whether they should keep trying, or had a bad experience with a therapist, or whatever obstacles that block us from prioritizing our healing journey. And I was just talking with a friend yesterday about how significant it has been for me to actually be prioritizing my healing journey and even that in and of itself is me giving a message to myself that you are worthy of healing and being whole, like you’re worthy of thriving in this world. Even apart from like, the actual work, just the decisions to do the work in and of itself has really strong power in it as far as like what we are telling ourselves, what we are deciding to do for ourselves and it’s an alignment to our worth. It’s an alignment to affirming the value that we have as humans and so I just want to like kind of, close with that I guess to kind of encourage anyone who is on the fence because I know for me for so long, I just didn’t even feel worthy of healing. I didn’t even feel like I deserved to be someone who could thrive and prioritize myself, and so just like that step was significant even before all the lessons I have learned since then. That can be very powerful.
I love that, sort of like experiential practicing the positive of yourself, rather than just sort of telling yourself them but taking a step in the direction that’s congruent with that. So do you wanna tell everyone where to find you on Instagram and the stuff that you do and things that you are doing currently? Because I think what you’re doing is amazing.
Yeah, thanks! You can find me on Instagram @theEnneagramWorkshop/ theenneagramworkshop.com. This year has been a shift for me in my work, with Enneagram work. I’m really wanting to have a deeper connection with my clients so I’m putting together four different coaching programs as opposed to scheduling one on one, like random meet ups with people. I’ve designed these programs to almost like that my experience of healing and map it out and help walk people through. I often get questions, I don’t know if you do as well, like if I know my enneagram type, how does that help me? Or if I’m going to go into therapy, what are we actually going to do? How does it look like, how do I change, what is the transformation process. What does it look like, you know I’m obsessed with this from forever, so, anyways I’m doing one for women who want to work through their body image, doing one for women who are coming out of a long term relationship, and then for women who are entrepreneurs and want to run their business in a way that’s aligned with their enneagram type, and all of those things have to do with our identity. When you come out of a long term relationship, you’re like, who even am I anymore? When you’re struggling with your body image, you’re like, who am I? Anyways, that’s the work I’m doing, I have wait lists open for all of those programs, and that’s what I’m starting in a few months.
Thank you so much for doing this, sharing and willing to be vulnerable with me. This was awesome.
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