Same Time Next Week? | S1 Ep1 | Oliver's Therapy Story
Season 1 | Episode 1
Oliver's Therapy Story: Healing from the Depths of Shame
If you saw Oliver, you’d see a big, bearded, force to be reckoned with. What you wouldn’t see is the soft-hearted father of girls who cried during “Disney on Ice.” In this episode, Oliver talks about growing up with fundamentalist expectations of “manliness,” his struggle to find a safe therapist in his adulthood, and his journey to healing from an extremely traumatic experience that stuck with him for years after it happened.
Oliver dives into specifics about what methods worked for him in therapy, how he went from deep shame to gratefulness, and how his perception of himself has changed after years of work with his trusted therapist.
- Struggle to find a good therapist
- What it's like to feel safe with a therapist
- Going to therapy with your spouse
- Masculinity and emotions
- Using EMDR to overcome trauma and shame
- How trauma gets stuck in your brain
- Masculine messages in childhood
- Conflict and healing in a relationship
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. This first guest is my friend Oliver. He's a film producer, musician and all around great guy. Quick disclaimer, this is a pilot episode recorded interest in summer 2019 pre pandemic, and that's why you won't hear any reference to the pandemic during the episode. What What does therapy mean to you that too cheesy of a question? No.
No. Man, I mean, I guess I kinda have to back up my journey with therapy has been very slow, clumsy, hit or miss. confusing. And still in process. I mean, I, before I got married, my wife and I decided to jump into like premarital therapy. We did this like premarital course we were involved in a church at the time.
Michael Shahan 1:17
Prepare and enrich?
No, those are like nice tools. Oh, yeah, it was like it was helpful in the same way that like, before you go skydiving, somebody like strapping you in and just telling you, like, all you got to do is hold on. Like, it was not that like functional. It was just like, you're gonna have to talk about sex, you have to talk about expectations and money. And it's like, it's not bad stuff. Because a lot of couples probably come in without even that. But Heather and I already had like this kind of baseline of like communication. We're both really kind of touchy feely people anyway. So Heather, was a therapist, and Dr. Tim, at friends University was the very first therapy I ever did in my life. And oh, walking into that office for the very first time engaged with my fiance, with her professor, if you will, was pretty terrifying. Because I come from a very conservative in a negative way, Christian background, where therapy is for people that really have problems. And if you actually get this Christian thing right, you wouldn't need therapy because you know...
Michael Shahan 2:20
So walking in already almost you felt like you had failed or something? Oliver 2:23 Yes. Or like I was less than. Or like I was gonna get ganged up on. And I think a lot of fear for a lot of husbands or boyfriends, or fiance's - males that haven't done therapy before that are kind of pushed into it or asked to do it. There's that fear, that insecurity of like, I'm gonna get ganged up on.
Michael Shahan 2:37
Because my wife can't speak directly to me, and she's gonna take this therapist and come after me. And I've heard that from a lot of men!
Michael Shahan 2:43
Because, you know, we're such incredibly insecure creatures, as men.
Michael Shahan 2:47
Oh, totally. Because we're so fragile.
Right, very fragile. And with all the pressure to be not, it's even that much more intense to actually be vulnerable right. Anyway, that was really scary. And Dr. Tim, he was not like that. It was a phenomenal experience for me. I mean, in so many ways, this was 2012 before we even got married, which, you know, seven years ago, and he called out things in me that I didn't understand.
Michael Shahan 3:10
But then later, I was like, Oh, my God, Dr. Tim was right. Like what he diagnosed in me, not like a condition, but...
Michael Shahan 3:18
What he saw in you, and the patterns he saw in you...
Right When I was like, "I'm feeling this frustration, and this, this that," and like what he was able to say about that confused me in the moment. It felt right, you know, but it confused me. And then like, years later, I was like, Wow, he was spot on.
Michael Shahan 3:29
Years! Because we didn't do therapy again until 2015. So the first three years of marriage, you know, didn't do anything like that. All was not peaches and cream. But we were just pushing our way forward, having kids and making decisions, starting new careers and all that. But 2015 started couples therapy again. And that was, again, kind of scary. And the therapist, the therapist sucked. And so I won't even talk about that.
Michael Shahan 3:38
I mean, that can happen. It does happen.
And like, it was hard to know that and you know why it's hard?
Michael Shahan 4:02
It was hard in the moment to know that it was bad therapy?
I didn't know it was bad until I found a therapist that was good. And you know, what the difference was? One I felt safe with and one I didn't. But I didn't know I didn't feel safe because my whole life, I felt unsafe with authority figures because I grew up in the church. And like in the church, it's so hard to feel safe. When there's all this pressure to be something especially as a man. I'm not saying it's less hard for women but there's a difference in how we're supposed to show up in our lives. I was i was trying so hard to be this head of the household, male headship leader, all these words that I grew up, dude, I didn't feel any of that. You know, in so many ways I was just trying to mitigate my bad behavior in front of my wife, you know, because I always just screwed everything up.
Michael Shahan 4:51
I love that you said that that safety piece because another therapist and I were just talking actually this morning about, she went to the Suicide Prevention training, and he was talking about how important it was to connect. Humans need connection, we need connection. And that was what they talked about. But instead, what you need to talk about first, in her opinion was safety. Because we can't connect until we feel safe. Which is huge.
Right. And if you don't have a vision for what safety is, yeah, you can never connect on safety.
Michael Shahan 5:13
That's wild that you really had no idea what it felt like. What was it you said? You didn't know what it was like to be safe until you actually felt it with the therapist? That's, wow. What felt different? Being with somebody who you felt safe with versus somebody you didn't?
Well, I think when I switch to a different individual, and they were both men, the first therapist that I did not feel safe with was a man, the second one was a man. I'm gonna say that because now I see only women, which is just interesting. It just kind of happen. I mean, it's a totally different vibe. And I recommend all men to see a female therapist, it just brings out different things. But anyway, what I felt when I was actually feeling safe was like, there was no, like...anything I said, felt, did, acted, or reacted to was met with just the same level of catching. That was not present with the first therapist. And the reason it wasn't, in so many words, was because there was this underlying assumption of Christianity. Which I will never say is inherently bad. But if that's all you know, and therapy kind of comes second, there's such an inherent risk of the expectations of being a type of person dealing with things that type of way. Cultural pressure of being a Christian can get in the way of actual real work.
Michael Shahan 6:28
So there's less expectations of you when there is safety?
Yes. Everything fades away and...
Michael Shahan 6:35
You get permission to be whatever, to feel whatever.
Right. I distinctly remember having a moment with my first therapist, who I did not feel safe with. I was isolating this thing in me that I didn't have language for. And I was calling it shame. I didn't know the Enneagram at this point. I'm a four on the Enneagram. This is like, we swim in this stuff all day. I didn't know what to call it. But shame kind of came up as a word that made sense for what my experience was in my own marriage and in myself. And I kind of brought that up to the therapist of like, you know, I think that what I deal with is a measure of shame, like self contempt is something that's with me all the time. And his immediate response to that was, "Well, Jesus died for that. So first of all, why shouldn't have that."
Michael Shahan 7:15
Wow, wow. Even without the "Jesus died for that," part. That we shouldn't feel bad or have than in itself...
If you believed the stuff that you say you believe, you shouldn't have this stuff. That was told to me as an adult. And it took me another like six months with that guy to realize how much I hated everything.
Michael Shahan 7:33
Wow, it took you that long to even like realize...
I'm a pretty conflict averse person
Michael Shahan 7:38
It's so hard for me to be direct and like confront somebody. Especially when it's gonna hurt their feelings like, "Hey, I don't want to pay you anymore, because I don't like this and nothing is happening." So it just took me a long, long time. And I finally did and when I switched to a guy who held no pretense, I don't know what he believed he never shared it with me. That was so important. Because I came up in that really intense religious tradition, almost a fundamentalist tradition, as a kid, like very black and white. A really unfortunate way of like, seeing your fellow man. Or yourself. And I was taught to fundamentally hate myself, because I'm such a shit. Right?
Michael Shahan 8:13
Which is shame.
Right. But that's like the fundamental belief in the type of doctrine I grew up in. So when I switched, it was like this place of like, I say, "Hey, I think I deal with a measure of shame or self contempt." And the response being like, "I can't imagine that. I can't imagine what kind of hurt you have because of that. I can't imagine how that hurts your marriage, or the way it might make you feel like a failure as a father." Because I kids at this point. What I then react with is like, "Ah, wow, I can be myself." And when and only when, in my opinion, there's that level of safety can you actually make progress.
Michael Shahan 8:52
I think you're spot on. There's something called core emotional affect, is what it's called. This lady named Diana Fosha says that it's what comes out of us when we're not stopping it. Like when there's no shame involved, when there's no fear, whatever, we're just saying whatever comes out of us purely naturally, in the moment emotionally. She says that in itself, if you can allow that to happen, is healing in itself. It's like we're built to heal that way. But so much stuff gets in the way. So so much of therapy, that sounds like part of what you're saying and what I've seen is that just allowing people to feel whatever they feel is in itself, healing. Right? But that doesn't exist when there's not safety because there's not safety for you to feel what you feel.
And because you have to "make meaning" of all your emotions in those toxic places. And if you don't have to make meaning of them, you can let them show up.
Michael Shahan 9:40
Say that one more time.
Well, I just feel like if you're not "forced to make meaning" I my quotes in there air...of the feelings you have, then you can just let them exist. And when they just exist, you can then explore and be like, okay, what's happening here?
Michael Shahan 9:55
Wow, do you feel like you're forced to make meaning of any feeling or just painful feelings? For you personally?
That's a great question. Definitely the painful ones. Probably not as much for like, the more positive ones, because those are so much simpler to deal with. . But it's like if I have all this anger that shows up immediately all these messages come with it like, "You should feel this. You're a bad person. You're dangerous. You aren't safe." You know, all this meaning that's, I mean, maybe that's not the right way to let the right word for that. But it's the self-judgment of my own feeling experience,
Michael Shahan 10:33
It makes sense! It's making meaning of, "this is what this anger means." It means "that I'm something" or "this is something" rather than just being a feeling.
Right. And this goes into like, I mean, a whole different realm of like, the dialectical, the DBT stuff that we were talking about earlier. But like, what that has also taught me is like, if you don't judge it, you can then do the other "making meaning." The opposite of judging is what? Just analyzing what's the actual word they use, you either judge it which is like this negative thing, which puts all this cultural pressure, self-contempt, all these things on the feelings? Instead of letting them exist, and then exploring them. And asking yourself, Well, why am I actually angry? You know, "My wife just left for this party without me. And she had said that she was going to do that. But when she did it, it hurt my feelings, and I'm really pissed off. And why am I so mad at her? And now I'm thinking about all the things she's ever done wrong. And instead of feeling like a shithead, or a bad husband or a bad person, it's like, wait a minute, I'm probably mad because this reminds me of my dad. And the way my dad would be really impatient with me. And he would leave without me or do things without me and I felt left behind. And now I'm in an experience 30 years later with my wife.
Michael Shahan 11:48
Touching that same wound.
Right. And if I was judging that and feeling like a bad person, I shouldn't be angry, I would never get to see my father. And then when I can see my father in that feeling, that feeling goes away. And I get to look at my wife as a regular old individual and not go hurt her the way I've been hurting her for years,
Michael Shahan 12:03
Because she's not the one who hurt you. Even though your brain in the moment is saying like when our brain connects to these past pains, like, if you're in a brain scan, your brain would light up like that pain was actually happening from your dad. Like, your body and your brain part of it don't know the difference when you're that dysregulated.
Because her behavior has stepped in a big deep footprint. So she's there, she's a part of it. But that footprint triggers all that old stuff.
Michael Shahan 12:25
It brings up all that stuff. Our earliest needs to belong and need for attachment and to be secure and safe and loved, right.
And when I talked to other men about their feelings, and and all this work, it's like, "Look, your hurts your wounds, your sadness, your pain from your past, it's not your fault. But it is your responsibility." And you're the only one that can be responsible for affecting how you react to the modern current situation that's causing all that pain.
Michael Shahan 12:48
What a great "both and." Some people want to say, "Oh you're saying it's the parents fault?" It's like, no. Are you saying that, "You have all responsibility, and nobody did anything to affect you?" No. It's like, you're somewhere in the middle.
Right. And again, it's just this really kind observing of yourself.
Michael Shahan 13:04
Wow, inner compassion. We have different theories, different religions have talked about that, like Buddhism calls it the "inner witness." All sorts of...yeah, I love that so much. That's we hit on a huge piece already. This is so good.
I don't know if we're going to have a real clear line here but we can just go and see what happens.
Michael Shahan 13:23
I've had a couple clients tell me sometimes, especially when they leave or every once in a while I'll check in and to see what's been working. What do you not like about this? What do you like what's meaningful? Whatever, I'm gonna do more of that. And a couple times I've heard people say like, when you say this phrase like, "Well, of course you something something something." Like, "Well, of course you're angry at him and it reminds you this this this!" I think it does that similar thing for them. It lets them compassionate look at themselves when they can't. Almost like this model of that. It sounds like that. That's kind of what you're saying. And I love doing that! It comes so naturally, especially, speaking of the enneagram, as an anagram nine, it comes so natural to me because it's so easy to see other people's point of view. Because they treat it's so it's so wild. How? Yeah, it's crazy. When I'm in a good place in life, I'm learning that I can actually see myself like I see my clients. Because usually I judge myself, I can have somebody close to me, like, "I killed three people." And I'm like, "Wow, I get it. There's so much frustration." And then and I like get mad at somebody in traffic and think, "Oh, I'm such a piece of garbage. I'm so angry!" Like, it's such a different reaction to other people than myself. Why do you think it's so hard to have compassion for yourself rather than other people?
Oh, you know, I think I'm in the middle of exploring that. I don't know. I don't know what it is about, just the fact that it's my existence. And because we don't know the inner world of other people. If we knew the other people, we probably hate them. There's a reason we can vail some of that.
Michael Shahan 14:59
So like we see our deepest, darkest. But we only see other people's best? And so it's easy to judge ourselves by our... is that kind of...
I assume that's probably a part of it.
Michael Shahan 15:08
I don't know the answer that question. I just figured I'd lob it out there to see what you see what you had to say?
Yeah, I have no idea. I don't know how to answer that. That one's an ongoing.
Michael Shahan 15:16
That's okay you don't have to! Wow, what else? So, you're saying safety made a huge difference, because safety allowed you to feel whatever you felt. You didn't have to lock it away, you can see it for what it is, and then it would kind of disappear,
Right. And then began a three year journey of me like, I think, doing some of the most important work in my entire life emotionally. Where, you know, Chris, and I made so much progress, because he was a he did a lot of EMDR, which is a technique where you bilateral stimulate your brain and is supposed to mirror REM sleep in processing and reprocessing traumatic things. Or even in his case, he thought it was really helpful with compulsions or addictions, behavior modification, that kind of thing. And he would do it really informally, which I appreciated. I would be having a stressful experience, or we'd bring up something painful from the past, and we'd just jumped right into it. He'd use his hand, he'd go back and forth, left and right. And just, that was really important to me, because there was a couple times where I've had, you know, just personally, it's not like a panic attack. It's more of like a shame attack that shows up in my life where I just get crippling anxiety about something that either has happened or might happen. And I, in many ways have lost the ability to function. Like, I'm just so overwhelmed with anxiety. And it stems to this place of feeling out of control and feeling too much for the world. And I've been able to trace it all the way back to certain things. Which blew my mind when I first got there. But before I was able to do that, it was like, "Well, hey, I had this traumatic experience in college that triggers these feelings that every time I see a police officer as an adult, as a grown ass, man, I get uncomfortable." And I'm nervous that like they're looking at me, or they know, and they're gonna pull me over like it just it was really hard. And so we would process that feeling with EMDR. And it just...
Michael Shahan 17:02
Wow, so even using, like the current triggers that seem almost like a just a side note, like not super important to your emotions. And did it eventually lead to these deep things?
It did. Yeah. And the thing that's beautiful about EMDR is like, or difficult, is you have to get in the zone. Like you have to be feeling the active feeling that you're trying to always avoid to get it to reprocess. So I get into these modes of feeling this panic and anxiety and that my life is over. I'm going to go to jail. I'm a bad person.
Michael Shahan 17:31
Were you feeling that in the moment?
Yeah. Like I got into that in his office with him. And then yeah, we do the back and forth EMDR. And by the end of the session, most of the time, for me at least, I felt completely different. And over time, it started to change. And Dude, I can look back on that specific memory and look at it with grace and compassion and see myself as a human being. And I'd never have been able to do that.
Michael Shahan 17:49
Yes! How did you look at it before? When you look back on that memory?
Shame, fear. I'm a fuckup. Like all this stuff that was just like it has ruined my life. And I've been running from the ruining for years. And I got married, and I had kids and I have a career. But the ruining is still on the way. I'm going to be ruined by this.
Michael Shahan 18:10
Like so that that feeling stuck with you? Wow, I have this EMDR infographic that I created actually years ago, that is I use the phrase "physiological memory." So it's like when you're remembering it's present, you feel it, it's in you, you feel just like you've rather than like... I'm reading this in a book and it's like, instead of "it did happen," it's the physiological memory when you're triggered by it says "it's happening now." And we just cannot process and our brain gets stuck, right, stuck and stuck and stuck and stuck. And then we don't want to go process it because it's so hard. We get so stuck. So why think about it and only block it out. And yeah, so you're saying the EMDR let you see that memory differently.
But to speak to your physiological memory thing? Yeah, this happened in June of 2011. And every spring when the when the humidity of summer would show up outside it would trigger me. I'm not even kidding. When the warm air would show up, it would put me in that place.
Michael Shahan 19:01
Just warm air?
Just warm air. Because that's how powerful the trauma was of like it's in my cells. And my body is terrified.
Michael Shahan 19:10
Wow. I don't know if you heard it described to you this way. But like when a memory is not processed because of trauma, it's stored in lots of parts of your brain. And if any one part of that gets touched: a sound, a sight, a smell... then it it just brings it right back in
Right and I investigated the whole web of these triggers. And you know "trigger" is kind of a buzzword right now but it literally was a trigger.
Michael Shahan 19:32
I would love to speak to that and right like it is way overused.
Right and it's used in a in a pejorative way like to try and make people feel bad about having feelings. Which it's really unfortunate that has been hijacked, because it's great imagery, because it's like, like a snap like this happens. And guess what? As an individual that had a traumatic experience, even if it was years ago. I'm now in that experience. Right?
Michael Shahan 19:55
It can be decades right your brain still get stuck.
And like for me, we investigated the whole web of those triggers like there was a record an artist, I love that his music, when it shows up will send me there. The warm weather and the humidity will send me there. Driving past a police officer will send me there. I mean, just all this stuff.
Michael Shahan 20:14
Wow. So like those specific sounds or sites or whatever, like almost because of the trigger and what it does to you, you start to feel shame.
Right? Or even like drinking alcohol, because it was, it was a night where I drank too much made a huge mistake ended up in jail. You know, I can so easily talk about it now.
Michael Shahan 20:31
Because you probably couldn't without the EMDR?
I could not. It was my biggest secret.
Michael Shahan 20:36
Because it felt so shameful. And if anybody hears this, then...
I remember my friends that were there that night with me, I made them promise me, don't you dare share this with anyone?
Michael Shahan 20:43
No way. What a huge difference that EMDR made then right?
And we like to go through all these little things and get to this place of like healing. And then looking back on that moment and being like, you know what, I don't have to sit around wondering anymore in anxiety why that happened. I get to just be thankful that it did. Because now I'm somebody I'm more proud of, and I'm closer to who I am. When I was living a trajectory at that point in my life that was gonna go deeper into my own self deception and lies.
Michael Shahan 21:12
Wow so you can almost be thankful for that moment? That's a huge shift from "don't tell anybody that's my biggest secret." To "I'm thankful for that."
I'm not even kidding. And that was all EMDR and a really gracious, thoughtful therapist that was able to guide me through that chaos.
Michael Shahan 21:28
Can I take just a second to speak to what EMDR is for people who listen to this? And if they do in the future, if this becomes an actual thing. Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. Your eyes move back and forth. That's how it started. This lady realized that if your eyes move back and forth while thinking of something disturbing it, for some reason, feels less disturbing. People think it's connected REM sleep, like you said. Nobody really knows for sure, which is crazy. But that doesn't make it bad science. And so when memories, it's like so this memory for you of going to jail is filed in your memory under this belief of "I'm a bad person. I'm a failure."
Not just filed, it's the proof.
Michael Shahan 22:03
Yes. So yeah. So you pull that memory out of the memory and boom, this is what it's connected to. So EMDR when you desensitize the memory. So you think about it, you you look at it, you watch it while with the with the back and forth. It desensitizes it and the brain is able to take a step back and say, "Wait a second, that's not the story that that tells." When it's so emotionally arousing, we always create these really negative stories about ourselves for whatever reason, right? And so when the decent like when it gets decent size we measure, I asked my clients, "How disturbing is this level of 10 to 0?" They're like, "eight." They're freaking out. And then we do once we do the back and forth buzzing and with the hand buzzers or the eyes, and it lowers and lowers and lowers. And they're like, "Wait a second. I wasn't a bad person then." And something just clicks and they start processing it differently. I just wanted to explain that something to people, right. And it's such a cool, like, case study perfect of what EMDR can look like.
Right. And also with EMDR. I think we all kind of react differently to it. Because again, there's not like this hard science about it. But yeah, it does work..
Michael Shahan 23:00
Yes, sure. I know, you get really interested, like, you've talked to me about some of your EMDR experiences, right?
Well, the thing about me that was so interesting was I've had like EMDR visions.
Michael Shahan 23:07
Yes. Yeah. And have I told you that every four on the Enneagram that I've done that with has that right? They're very, very similar experience.
Don't tell me other people have that.
Michael Shahan 23:16
Oh, sorry. Just kidding. There's literally no other Fours on the planet.
Oh, yeah, I'm like that, again, there was a really powerful moment with that particular memory, where I got to go into a room with myself the morning after, and go comfort myself and put my hand on my chest and hold my head in my hands and just love that man. Like, these beautiful things that I couldn't have just made up. But anyway, I guess that brought us safety got us to that. Yeah. And there's a part of your brain that actually has no timestamp. So when it sees that memory, it knows that didn't actually happen. But it almost like your body starts to read like this memory as "Oh, I was comforted. So I was okay. So I was able to be calm." Like, when we rework memories in EMDR, which happens sometimes. I had this memory of where I stopped my dad from running down the hallway, and like yelling and spanking me and stuff. Like my adult self stepped in this memory and stopped my dad, like, "Don't. He's just a kid." Because my memory before was like, I was so bad. I shouldn't have been doing that. And then I was like, I was just four. I was four years old, I was just having fun. I was being creative, stop stomping on that. And like, I know, I know, cognitively that that I didn't time travel back to that. But there's a part of my brain that doesn't know that that literally thinks in that moment, I was protected. And so I was able to kind of let go, Right. Which means that you did. And that's like, the whole thing with me. That's active redemption in my in the way I see it of like, yeah, so of course, we're not actually moving back in time. But your brain like you just said does not know the difference. And so that's an active redemptive act to go and change the narrative that you've lived under for so long. And again, it's not about trying to mess with your past and erase memories and anything like that. It's about viewing yourself for who you actually are. Which is fundamentally a good person.
Michael Shahan 25:00
Wow because you because you kind of lie to yourself when there's a traumatic memories. It's "I am bad. I did this wrong."
There's no way to not internalize that when you're a kid because your emotions are so big.
Michael Shahan 25:08
And you know what's crazy is is so as kids so much of us choose those negative narratives about ourselves because the alternative is worse. The alternative is a situation where you're being abused or neglect, whatever. To fully realize as a kid that the adults that are supposed to take care of me aren't. They're not capable. I'm kind of helpless. I have no control over any of this. And nobody's there to love me and protect me. That is so painful to even realize that we would rather say, "I guess I'm the problem. I guess I did something wrong. I should be ashamed. I was the one who got in trouble. That's literally easier, as horrible as it is to feel. That's easier than admitting no control. Oliver 25:48 We could walk that down the trail of compulsion and compulsive behavior and how that develops into addiction. And how kids do things to survive. And they're actually heroic, beautiful things that then don't stop when you become an adult. And that becomes addiction. It all starts as a way of just literally coping with your life. And you know, for a lot of us, that's sexuality. That's alcohol. That's process addictions.
Michael Shahan 26:13
All these things trying to be okay and survive.
And as a kid, it's perfectly okay. Because that's all you have. And then you become an adult and it starts causing problems. Your life becomes unmanageable. You're like, Well, yeah, how did I get here?
Michael Shahan 26:23
Yeah, like, I don't like this, but I can't stop it! I'm trying to white knuckle the behavior itself, rather than going back and redeeming, like having that redeeming piece. I have so many people say like, "Wow, I wasn't expecting this." Like the have misconstrued expectations of what therapy looks like. They think it's like a very Freudian, like, you lay on the couch and talk and I just take notes behind you. It's so much more than that. There's so much more than that, right? That's right. So the sort of safety was huge for you. And I would even say that probably was formed like a basis for EMDR. Because if people don't feel safe with their therapist, their brain won't let the processing happen.
Right. And I used to, I used to laugh all the time, like just giggle during EMDR. Because I was so uncomfortable. It was relayed to me, my secondary reactive is laughing. When I want to cry. When I want to cry in a vulnerable moment, I start giggling. I'm not even kidding. Like, and I just like, had to apologize all the time. He's like, please stop apologizing.
Michael Shahan 27:23
I've had to apologize to clients. They've said something really heavy and I laugh. That's not a joke. And I was like, "Hey, I'm so sorry." Like, I've even I've when I learned what that was. I'm like, I just wanna let you know... How did you react to that? Did you feel shame? Do you feel unsafe? Now? Like, I didn't mean that. I really want you to know that when I don't know how to handle things. And what you're telling me is so heavy that I do this. And I'm sorry. And like, that's part of repairing that is a good part of therapy. That creates safety too.
Right. I don't know when this will be posted. I don't know if this is even appropriate to bring out but I just saw the Joker okay with Joaquin Phoenix. So he's like an extreme case of like such trauma, physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, unbelievable abuse, that the way he manifests these secondary reactive emotions are horrifying. He maniacally laughs when he's trying to cry. And he's so hurt and so abused and so neglected, and just so spit on that he becomes this psychopathic murderer. While he laughs.
Michael Shahan 28:29
Wow because that's because that's going back to because that's easier than taking it all and accepting that you're... like that hurts less to do that.
Joaquin Phoenix is a phenomenal actor and the way he pulls off this, because you know, like classic Joker lore, it's like, "Hahaha, like the Joker. He's laughing." Even Heath Ledger's character it was, he probably enjoys this. Joaquin showed the sadness of the Joker. And it was so powerful man. Like you need to see it. I mean, it's just an expose on what pain can do to somebody.
Michael Shahan 28:55
I can't even watch the Grinch anymore without like thinking, "Oh, he's got some heavy trauma. That's why he's like this." Stupid, right? I mean, it's even...
Life gets complicated when you affirm humanity in everybody, right?!
Michael Shahan 29:07
And just when you're a therapist, too. Like, even when you learn about the brain and trauma and what it does, like the Moana movie, that right there. The bad guy or whatever, quote, unquote, was the bad guy because she was hurt and she had her heart taken away. That's it right there.
I cry every time. I weep every time. I don't even... Side note. I have two daughters.
Michael Shahan 29:29
My five year old and I went to Disney on Ice in April. And I just cried the whole time. She was there trying to have a good time and here her dad is...
Michael Shahan 29:39
I want to physically describe what you look like for people who don't know what you look like. How tall are you? Oliver 29:43 6'2" to 240 pounds...
Michael Shahan 29:
45 6'2" 240 pounds, big beard, great muscly t shirt. Right? Crying... that's so good. Not to like, say unhealthy things about masculine expectations, but they exist. I don't know. I love that. So I love that you're comfortable with that.
Well, again. I think that's a result of everything we're talking about. I would have never done that before.
Michael Shahan 30:05
Shut up. Do you think you would have connected to it but not felt permission to cry? Or do you think you would not even be connected to it?
I grew up feeling so ashamed that I had the propensity to cry in movies. And Dude, I used to be so embarrassed, I have these memories of going to, to premieres with my friends and like, fifth, sixth, seventh grade and feeling like such an outcast and such a less than type of feeling because I was either struggling not to cry, or I didn't want to just go play basketball right after the movie, because I was so moved.
Michael Shahan 30:32
How lonely is that?
Terribly lonely, do unreal.
Michael Shahan 30:35
So you felt like you looked around you and thought that my reaction isn't okay.
Right. And you know, what happened was just anger came out. I just would get mad at all my friends and they had no idea what to do with me. Here I'm having an emotional experience. I am somebody who is deeply moved by music and film. And I always have been, it's just so confusing to handle that as a young kid, a young boy, where all the other boys around me go watch a movie, then they go eat, then they go play basketball, then they go to bed. It just felt like I was the only one that had these feelings, which I know is not true. But as a kid, as a kid, we started to develop that complex and less "I'm less than" or I'm not as strong. Or I'll never be like my father, who was very stoic, you know, I'll never be able to, to be successful because of that. All those narratives that just again, make meaning of a feeling.
Michael Shahan 31:18
Yeah. And they're so simplistic in their negativity. It's like, I'm bad, right? And I guess, because what your brain can't do then is like, see the nuance of all of it. Like, it's actually the systemic cultural expectation, right? That like your friends may be feeling this too, but they can't show it. And like all these, like, you don't know any of that.
Right and maybe all three of us were having the same experience!
Michael Shahan 31:34
Maybe! That's entirely possible.
There's no way to know. When you're a kid, there's no way to see outside of yourself.
Michael Shahan 31:39
Yeah. So we create this almost like simplistic meaning from our pain, and it's always negative, right? When the pain is like really heavy, it's always negative.
So it brings me a measure of honor to be now a full grown up, you know, with a grown up job and a grown up family and grown up, you know, like doing the things that I thought I'd never do. And to just weep my eyes out at a movie. The present measure of honor that I can like, admit that in fact, I take pride in that because you know, what that reveals is that I've got a heart. And my heart is working. And like, as a father, that's so important to me. I mean, it like chokes me up even talking about it. The ability to connect with, that is so important to me. And it wouldn't have happened without all that therapy.
Michael Shahan 32:20
Man. I mean, I'm getting misty-eyed to just hearing you talk about that. I love that you even call it an honor to be able to like someone who... man I love hearing that. That inspires me. I love how your change inspires me even, even in just like this tiny way.
It can't not, man. This stuff's universal.
Michael Shahan 32:39
So change for you. How hard has this process for you been since you've started therapy? That's a really broad question.
Right? You know, I think therapy is like, it's a lot like exercise, it comes in waves. You know, there'll be three months in a row, where I'm spending all this money every week, and I'm making no progress in my mind. And then like, I have an interaction with my wife, and I watch myself be different.
Michael Shahan 33:04
Wow, it's like, "I have abs now!" If you're relating this to...
Yeah! You wake up after six months of working out and you feel like you made no progress. And you wake up and then this yourself in the mirror like, Whoa. Or somebody hasn't seen in a while. It's like you look good. Like, Oh, my God, I do.
Michael Shahan 33:17
So you're saying the same concept almost applies to this?
I mean, you have to put in the steady work and the commitment of it. But like, there have been so many times where I've had this awakening of like, look at what I was just capable of that I wasn't before. That in my emotional understanding of myself, or my relationship to my wife, or my co worker, or whoever. Or my child. Look at me be patient with my little girl for the first time in this area, because she triggers something about my father, again, you know what I mean? All those things.
Michael Shahan 33:46
Sure. And that's the great thing about relationships of any kind is it's like it's going to bring out these deep wounds in you. It's that people go from relationship relationship, I think to try to find someone who doesn't. And then when brings out the wound, we blame them and try to find somebody else. In reality, we're just gonna repeat the same pattern, right? It just it just point if we're, if we allow it, wounds in relationships can point us back to our own needs.
And you know, I don't know what you'd say about this as you're growing in your enneagram knowledge. But like, I feel like the enneagram is kind of just a bunch of different compartments of "Who's responsible for my pain?"
Michael Shahan 34:21
What do you mean by that?
Like, like, if you're a one, maybe the external world is responsible for your pain. So you hit it so hard. If I'm a four man, I'm responsible for my own pain. So I go inside and I feel shame. . If you're an eight, maybe you see it and other people and so justice is so important. You know, it's almost like we all feel the pain and we're all trying to find a way to to remediate it.
Michael Shahan 34:43
That's like the story you said about like about myself like this pain. You made this I'm ashamed. I'm a bad person, meaning from it, I think, different each enneagram number makes a different meaning from the pain.
Right. And I've heard Ian Cron who wrote the road back to you and the host of the typology podcast, one my favorites. He always kind of says this "both and" of like, your Enneagram type is either becomes evident in your first point of trauma, or it's caused by your first point of trauma. We don't want to we're not gonna try to say what it is. But it's a unique understanding of that pain that you feel as a kid that kind of lets you grow into the type that you are.
Michael Shahan 35:20
Yeah. Like, it's like the whole argument like, are you born your number? And then you're more easily wounded by certain things? Or are you born nothing. And then this wound pushes you into that.
And neither tends to matter. But what it does is, it reveals to you the thread of what the enneagram is, knowledge is helpful for which is going back and actually healing it. . And like, Look, as a 4, I get to be a person. Which is so hard for me, let me let me make sense of that. Yeah, as a four I get to be just another person. Which is my biggest fear and something I desperately want to be unique. But some of the most beautiful moments of wholeness in my life are what I like, step away from that fear of being useless, worthless, whatever, that makes me want to be exceptional. And just be a person with somebody else. That's where it all happens. And that's because of overcoming that fear by knowledge of the past and share stuff. It all wraps together.
Michael Shahan 35:59
Yeah. Beatrice Chestnut talks about using this three step process of the healing. This first step is dis-identifying frame personality. So seeing it in action, right, seeing what you do the things that you do. How I shut down as a nine. How you want to be unique as a four. And the second step is to figure out and do some digging about where that came from. Like, why that happened, when the earliest times you felt like it didn't work for you? And when it hasn't worked for you? How does it work for you now? How is it hurting you? And then the third step is to let it down. Having situations where you try. Like now that I see it in action, I know what it's coming from, I can take the risk to not need that for a moment and see what happens.
Right. And I'll just like, kind of share an anecdotal example of that, literally my life that I'm happy to share. I joined this DBT group. DBT is something that we can define somewhere else. But it's basically just a group therapy situation. And the first time I came to this group, my thought, and I'm embarrassed about this, but this is just me, I was like, look at all these broken, people that are under functioning, that have things that I don't deal with, like, I shouldn't be here, I'm better than everybody. I don't need this. In the first couple of weeks were really hard. It's hard for me to connect with anybody there because I saw myself as unique and different and gifted. And when that finally started to melt away, and I considered myself as (and I sound like an arrogant prick right now, but that's kind of what fours like to do.) Anyway, when I saw myself as just another person in that group, that's when it started to all take effect. I'm equal. Everyone in that group is they are equal to me.
Michael Shahan 37:38
That shifted things for you?
Michael Shahan 37:40
What did it shift?
I actually started learning and engaging with the material and meeting people and forming relationships and being vulnerable and speaking up and all those things that I wouldn't do before.
Michael Shahan 37:50
Why did seeing yourself as just another person of the group lead you to those things? Why do you think that happened?
Well, honestly, I think it's, I think that when I start to feel I mean, I'm talking about being a (enneagram) four specifically. When I when I feel those unique or exceptional feelings, it's it's just a way of coping with shame. Because I actually feel l less than everybody.
Michael Shahan 38:13
So when you're saying "I feel like I'm a prick," That's part of you that's actually coping with the shame? To see yourself that unique?
Yeah. And if I'm incredibly self deprecating on the opposite side of that, it's just backwards arrogance. It's the same thing. Neither are me actually living into who I am. And what I live in who I am because I feel safe. I am then able to affirm that and others, and then I can be vulnerable, and then boom, progress is made.
Michael Shahan 38:34
Wow. That makes sense to me. Every number has their addiction. To end addiction is to cope with the fear or pain. If this happens, I can't handle it. From a nine, it's disconnection.
Right? Like all my I have a couple of really good friends that are sevens, including my wife. And when painful feelings show up, they run. They can't handle it. They're like, NOPE! Next thing! For me, when painful feelings show up, I just sit and absorb it.
Michael Shahan 39:00
That's so different
And it's not that mine is better. It's still kind of like...
Michael Shahan 39:04
It's just different way of dealing with pain.
Right and it's still unproductive. You know, I like take a bath in my pain. And they're like running out of the room. Both of us are challenges to like, learn how to just see it for what it is. Which is what we've been talking about earlier.
Michael Shahan 39:16
Which is crazy because we all cope with pain, and that's okay. But when we cope with pain in relationship, it disconnects us from the other person. In "I cannot cope with my pain while being connected to you. Because my coping shuts me off from you." Does that make sense?
Michael Shahan 39:30
Like, I can't hug you with open arms if you have your hands in front of me blocking me. Which is crazy. It creates a cycle in people like: you have pain, you cope, then my pain gets touched. And then I want to cope. And in couples, it creates this pain cycle. Which is wild.
Right. I know. And you know, back in the day in early marriage for me when we would have relational conflict., I remember just describing my experience in that relational conflict is like my world greys-out . Like I'm in this gray water and I can't even see my hands in front of my face. I feel so upside down and all around. Because I had no language, no technique, no scaffolding, no understanding of any of this. And man, flash forward just four years, I'm not saying I've arrived anywhere, because it's very clear that I have not .
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