Episode #126: 25-Year Licensed Therapist Michelle Chalfant: Practice Simple Psychology & Grounded Spirituality in ‘The Adult Chair’
My guest today is 25 year licensed therapist Michelle Chalfant. Michelle has a program and podcast called ‘The Adult Chair.’ Through her own desire to get out of suffering and to quiet the negative self-talk, Michelle spent years learning, listening and combining helpful techniques to come up with her show and practice. I felt I was talking to an old friend and deeply connected to Michelle and this conversation. Enjoy
Listen to the episode here:
- Helping Others and Helping the Self [00:03:07]
- Breaking and Creating a New Present [00:09:36]
- A Neurological Reset [00:14:22]
- The Healthy Adult [00:17:06]
- The First Step to Getting Help [00:25:10]
- Dealing with Kids [00:28:49]
- Setting Boundaries [00:40:01]
- Raw and Open Communication [00:56:44]
- Codependency [00:59:14]
- Getting Unstuck [01:10:25]
- Doing Parts Work [01:16:50]
- The Adult Chair Podcast and Book [01:21:46]
- What Do I Work on Next? [01:23:11]
- Labeling Ourselves [01:29:34]
25 Year Licensed Therapist Michelle Chalfant: Practice Simple Psychology & Grounded Spirituality in ‘The Adult Chair’
My guest is Michelle Chalfant. She has a program out and a podcast called The Adult Chair. I know sometimes adulting is hard, but it seems to work out better when we act like one. She has an incredible program because at the end of the day, it’s how we get more peace, happiness, joy, and get the tools that we need to take away the suffering. This isn’t about being heavy-handed.
Michelle’s approach is very joyful, realistic, and a lot of fun. When I met her and we had this conversation, it felt like someone that I had known already for a long time. I appreciate her mission coming out of her own desire to heal, getting those tools, and her approach. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Michelle, you are here for two days. I’m so lucky I got you. You’re from New York originally and now you moved back to North Carolina.
I went to North Carolina in ’96 and then I went to Nashville, Tennessee for thirteen years, then we moved back to Charlotte. We’re thinking about, “Where do we want to go now?”
You can always move. That’s the thing that’s so great.
We’re trying to find our place. I don’t know where our place is.
How long have you been married?
Over 25 years. A long time.
I’m right there with you. 2022 is my 24th wedding anniversary. When you met your husband, were you already a professional working in your field?
I met him in Richmond, Virginia while I was getting my Master’s.
Tell me a little bit about your journey or interests. My favorite is all the psych majors in school. They are like, “I’m going to be a psychology major.” I’m like, “What are you going to do with that?” You went into a practice. We have three daughters and we’ve had enough action in our house that we’ve met plenty of therapists. You go, “I need more tools. I don’t know what’s happening.” There are a few different reasons. Either they have come out of something that helped them or they’ve had a natural inclination or things like that. I’m curious what puts you into wanting to go into that profession.
Both. My whole life, I love helping people. People were always drawn to me and I want to help them intuitively. That was part one. Part two would be, I came from a family that I felt very loved but there was dysfunction. I felt like I’ve got to get myself some help. Back in those days, there was no Google and there was no internet. There were no therapists on every corner. Because I was drawn to helping other people, I said, “I’m going to also do this for myself.” That’s why I went into what I did. It’s twofold.
Without telling other family member’s secrets, how old are you when you’re realizing, “I need something that I’m not getting,” or, “Even though these are nice people and they’re doing their best, this is an unhealthy situation and I need to figure that out.” How can you even recognize that?
I remember thinking in high school very specifically, “I’ve got a lot of negative self-talk. Is this normal? Is this just part of being human?” I didn’t even know. I’m like, “Does everyone feel this way but they’re not talking about it?” On the outside, I looked normal. I always had a boyfriend. I was always in the popular group. I had friends. I went out every weekend, but something inside felt not quite right. I just didn’t know what it was. Fast forward, I started learning in school about anxiety. I’m getting a Master’s in counseling. I’m learning about all this stuff. I’m like, “That’s what was going on with me. I didn’t even know.”
Let’s say you’re 15 or 16 and you appear “normal”. Now it’s celebrated more to talk about feelings. Sometimes almost to a point where I’m like, “Sit with it for a minute and it might pass.” It’s an interesting calibration even as a parent to know. I’ve learned to do a lot of listening, not talking as much. That has been suggested, and then you put it in practice and you go, “That does work so much better.”
There are times when you want to whisper to your children, “Life is hard just so you know.” Not everything has to be considered. It’s this fine line of, “This keeps showing up. This is a real thing.” How are you as a teenager who appears normal? Was it like, “I’m not valuable or important or talented,” or more thoughts like, “I’m scared. I feel self-destructive.” What way did you lean into?
My tagline was I’m damaged goods. I felt very damaged. I even had a visual. I’m very visual. The visual was a box that you might send around the world at Christmas time and it got delivered to the wrong place kind of thing. The tape was falling off and there were holes in the box, and then it landed back on your doorstep. That’s how I felt on the inside but on the outside, it looked great. You would never have known. On the inside, that’s what was going on.
I honestly didn’t know. I thought, “I wonder if everyone has these thoughts. Does everyone have thoughts like this? ‘I hate myself. I’m not good enough. I don’t matter.’” All of that. If you looked at my family, you would say, “She comes from such a great family. They show up at all of her games. They’re very supportive and loving.” On the inside, it was not the case.
You said there was some dysfunction there. What I’m trying to get at is that there are a lot of people navigating these types of things, young and old, male and female. When you look at it and you’re educated and informed, do you think a lot of it was you came into the world this way and you just had to teach yourself some new things and get new skills? Do you think it was set off by the dysfunction in the family?
It was set off by the dysfunction in the family. My father was an identical twin. My father was loving and caring. I felt so loved by my dad, but there were no boundaries. His twin was an alcoholic, not married, and a very angry, raging guy. They were together all the time. It was my mom, my dad, my sister, and I. My dad was always trying to pull my uncle into the family.
He felt guilty because he had a beautiful family and his twin didn’t.
The twin stayed with my grandmother.
Did your parents stay married?
Believe it or not, yes.
Did your mom deal with that?
Believe it or not, yes. My sister and I became very codependent with my mom to take care of her to help her because my dad would choose the twin over my mom. I grew up in that. I remember in high school saying to my dad, “When are you going to make this stop? You can’t let him come over anymore. What are you doing?” He’d say, “You know that when he drinks alcohol, the devil comes out in him. You have to let that go.” I’m like, “What?”
[bctt tweet=”The adult chair is the healthiest version of yourself.”]
What’s interesting for me about that is it’d be even one thing if it was your dad who was the alcoholic, but the fact that you have your uncle that they’re bringing into the house that has those things. It’s an interesting nuance. You go to school and you realize, “Other people have that.” You talk a lot about self-worth and the inner child. How did you start another story? We’re all living in our narratives and our stories. How did you break from one to create a new and present narrative?
It was a journey. Since I was a child, when I look at something and I go, “That’s what I’m going to do,” you better believe I’m going to do it. I wanted to heal myself and I wanted to transform. Looking at my life moving way back when, I want to teach other people how to do this, like, “I’m going to figure this out for myself because I know I’m not the only one.”
The more I started to share with people what was going on with me, people went, “I sometimes have those thoughts, too. Sometimes I don’t feel so good.” Everyone goes out and drinks when we’re in high school, and then in college, everyone’s partying. It’s very normalized, but what I realized was I had functional depression. I didn’t even know until I learned about it. I’m like, “People can live with depression like that?” I didn’t look like I was depressed but I was getting blackout drunk every weekend. I was smoking pot every day.
Take the edge off.
Everyone else was, too, so I didn’t think I was different from anybody. In college, a friend of mine came up and she’s like, “You blackout a lot.” My other roommate and I blacked out a lot. I said, “So does everybody.” They’re like, “You drink a lot.” I’m like, “Really?”
It takes balls that this person can say that to you.
Of course, I denied it. I was like, “Really? I didn’t know.” Right after college, I was like, “Something’s not right.” I learned this is depression. This is anxiety. I’m codependent. My first memory of taking care of my mother was when I was 6 years old. My uncle hated my mother and my mother hated my uncle. My dad had no boundaries so he never stopped any of it. It was chaotic from the beginning. I’m very connected to my mom. I’m taking care of my mom. I abandoned my childhood. That’s where all this came from.
I’m in college and I’m like, “I’ve got to figure this thing out. I have to figure it out for myself.” I started taking classes. I started reading everything I could get my hands on. There was no Google. There was no laptop. There were no therapists in every corner. I don’t even know if there was such a thing as a life coach back then. I’m like, “Where do you go?”
I remember coming home from college and I was standing in line in the mall with my mom or shopping. I started crying and she goes, “Why are you crying?” I said, “I don’t even know.” She said, “What do you think’s going on?” I said, “I think I’m depressed.” She says, “You need to go to a psychiatrist.” I went to a psychiatrist and I filled out a questionnaire. His secretary greeted me and said, “You’re depressed. Here’s your Prozac. Here you go.”
I’m not kidding. This is in the year 1990, something like that. I remember he said, “Here’s a sample of Prozac. Take this for five days. Go get a month’s worth and come back in a month and see me.” I was like, “Can I talk about my uncle? Can I talk about what I went through growing up? I am worried about my mom.” He goes, “You can go down to the mental health clinic in downtown Rochester and do that if you want. I’m just going to give you these meds, the Prozac.” I was like, “I have anxiety. I don’t want to go down to the inner city of Rochester. I’m terrified.”
It never felt right. I took the meds for two days. I had wicked headaches. I want to say this, I’m not anti-meds. I am pro-finding other ways to possibly treat it first. If that doesn’t work, by all means, take meds. My intuition was like, “We’re not doing meds.” That was when I was like, “I’m going to figure this out. I’ve got to figure it out.”
Did you ever talk to your sister?
Yeah, she’s six years younger.
You were the buffer. You were the first line of defense.
I was. I felt it was my job to protect her, too because the uncle would come after us, not in a physical way but he’d get angry. I always would stand when he’d come after my sister. He’d be drunk and he’d say something so I started putting myself in between my mom, me, and my sister. I was on the front line and I would tell him off.
I’m always fascinated by people who can tackle things and then have a reset, if you will, even a neurological reset. How old were you when you thought, “I’ve cleared this out.” What worked the best for you?
It wasn’t just one thing, but what I feel like I created is the one thing. I was taking all these classes and studying under some incredible mentors. Tony Robbins was my guy back then in the early ‘90s. I listened to everything from him. I read one book that he had out. Remember Wayne Dyer?
I loved Wayne Dyer. I had some incredible people that I followed. I was able to study under some of those people and learned a ton. I was chipping away a little bit by a little bit, but I didn’t understand what it was. I knew I felt less damaged as time went on. I met my husband. We’re in a hotel room. He was on a business trip. The television was on. I was in my late twenties. Remember when Oprah had a television show?
I’m watching Oprah and she’s got Dr. Phil on. This is before Dr. Phil ever had a show. I’m watching Dr. Phil. That’s how old. They had someone from the audience come up. He started talking to her and she was telling my story. I physically remember moving to the edge of the bed and I go, “This is what’s going on with me. This is my story.” The anxiety, codependent, the same kind of thing. Dr. Phil said, “I know what’s wrong with you. You don’t love yourself. You need to learn about self-love.” Oprah said, “You’re right. I can sense that, too. She needs to learn how to love herself.” I was literally on the edge of the bed and I’m like, “Tell me how to do it. Here we go.” They kept going and I’m like, “Wait.”
“What about the self-love part?”
Nobody said how we love ourselves. There are different moments where I was like, “I am going forward with this.” I was already blazing down this trail that I said, “Now my quest is, I got to figure out how to love myself because I know I’m not the only one.” That continued on. I studied under some incredible people like Debbie Ford, Byron Katie, and some other people.
I love Katie.
I saw her many years ago in Asheville. She’s so good. I had four days with her.
You have a podcast, The Adult Chair. You first talked a lot about self-worth. For you, is this an anchor in the practice? Everything has building blocks in life.
Self-worth is built into this Adult Chair Model. The Adult Chair Model is a combination of all these beautiful teachers, and all these mentors that I had. I had another mentor named Susan Crumpton who was doing something called chairwork. I’m watching her work with someone in the chairs. I was in a three-year intensive with her and ten other people. It’s a form of Gestalt therapy if you know what chairwork is.
It was a divine intervention moment like lightning came through me. I’m watching you and I go, “What we’re all looking for is how to be healthy adults. That’s what we’re trying to do.” Then it was like, “That’s exactly what we need to do.” With Susan’s blessing, I took these three chairs that she was using, the child, the adolescent, and the adult. I took everything I learned for twenty years, put it together, and molded it into what I now call The Adult Chair Model.
That’s what teaches people how you build self-worth, how you heal codependency, and how you build your self-esteem. We do it from learning how to be healthy adults. The Adult Chair Model is a benchmark for what healthy adults look like because I realized we are physically our ages but we don’t sometimes live like that. We live from teenager land. We live like we’re 12 years old. When we react, we’re not living as adults. We’re living as a younger version of ourselves because we don’t know how to be adults.
It’s hard to be the adult because you feel like you’ve got to play by the rules. Sometimes when other people haven’t made that agreement, they’re not playing by the rules. The adult takes the high road or what appears in that moment to them to be the right way or the high road over what they’re feeling at that moment. They have a long-term plan of, “I want to aspire to get here or conduct myself like this.” It’s not that you ignore your feelings, but you don’t react to them.
Parenting teaches you that. You’ve got to show up as the adult. I’ve had many experiences where internally, I’m like, “I don’t want to talk to them on the phone,” to one of my kids because I’m being bratty or mean. A voice in my head will go, “You’re the adult.” Even with my adult children, I’m the parent so I’ve got to be the adult. It sounds so easy, like, “Just be the adults.” It’s not like you pay your bills and you are independent. Being the adult is something much bigger. Maybe when you were creating The Adult Chair, you could share attributes or traits that would be attached to being an adult.
The Adult Chair is the healthiest version of yourself. We’re conscious. We’re aware. We are able to witness our thoughts and not react to them. Most of us react to our thoughts like that. We take a moment, we wait, and then we respond. We are compassionate with ourselves and with others. We set boundaries. We’re empowered. We know when we’re having emotion and we sit and feel that emotion, which so many of us are not great at doing. That’s a big part of being a healthy adult. You’ve got to start feeling your emotions and letting them come through you.
What do you think people do? Do they push them down or react?
Both. I want to put The Adult Chair in schools for young kids to start learning how to process because of this. We’re not taught what to do with our emotions. We shove them down, we eat them away, we drink them away, we drag them away, we have sex, we watch porn, and we do all of these things. Instead, we use rage. Rage is a way to push people away. Rage is explosive anger. It’s a way to defend. I don’t even consider rage an emotion, but it’s a great way to shove your emotions back. We’re not trained how to do that.
Let’s say you knew what you knew today and you were 14 or 15, what could the young you could have done that would have then prevented less damage to you? It’s hard because we’re living by someone else’s rules. Especially if you’re talking about alcohol, which has a temperamental vibration. When you’re at home and there’s alcohol, you don’t always know. The signals are scary. You’re not sure, “If I say this, will this happen?” Maybe people find themselves in situations. Could you have done something different, even if it was only internally, back then that would have helped you avoid some of that trauma or taking it on as a lack of self-love or something?
When we are that age, we need guidance. We need someone that steps in and says, “I’ve got you. I’ve got your back. This is not okay.” When you think about what I could have done internally, I honestly don’t know. I needed somebody.
You need your mom.
My aunt was very strong and I could lean on her, but she lived eight hours away and I didn’t see her. When she was around, I felt safe. That’s what I realized growing up, I didn’t feel safe. I felt loved. Everyone was at my games. When I was in any sport, they were there watching me, every single thing I did. I heard I love you and I got kissed all the time. I got hugged all the time.
Emotionally speaking, that boundary with my uncle was never set. That’s what I needed. I tried to do it when I was a teenager. He was the powerful one in the family so I started raging as he did. That got everyone’s attention, but it didn’t change anything. What could I have done? It would have been helpful to start feeling my emotions. If only the robot could say, “This is how you feel your emotions,” and I got my hands on it when I was 15, that might have been helpful. I needed someone outside of myself to be that mentor to guide me because I felt like I was guiding everybody else. I was taking care of everybody.
What’s hard is you get in those situations and then you have bad or less than positive behavior, and then you feel bad about yourself. It’s like if you’re drinking and doing all these things, we feel a level of shame for that stuff. We pile that on top of all the other things. Let’s say we have to go through it. We all have gone through things as young people. Now you’re out on the other side and you are responsible for yourself. We don’t get to forever blame. We can understand, “I have certain traits and I understand why, but…” If someone’s at a place where they have certain things they’re going through or experiencing, what is the first step? It’s hard to get help and it’s hard to get good help.
You took the words out of my mouth. It’s hard to get good help because there’s help but not good help.
There’s not a lot of good help because it’s not about giving people the tools themselves. That’s what I always loved about Byron Katie. Katie was like, “I’m not going to tell you how to feel. We’re going to set up a place for you to figure it out and then for you to develop tools to work yourself out of it.” If someone’s reading this, what is the first step in getting good help?
In getting good help or help for yourself?
Help for yourself. You have a podcast, The Adult Chair, and you have a program. Let’s say somebody wants to explore this and they don’t have access to you. What does that first look like?
I can’t tell you the number of people over the last few years that have said that the podcast is their free therapy. They use it supplementally with their therapist or it’s standalone. We get countless emails every day that says, “The podcast has changed my life,” which I’m humbled. It brings me to tears to hear that.
Do you have a guest or is it you talking about a subject matter?
It’s both. A lot of it is just me talking about the model, and then I also have guests on that would complement the model and help them understand even deeper what The Adult Chair is about. I have a coaching certification. We launched that in 2021. We have coaches trained in The Adult Chair Model, like, “This is how you do your work.”
If there’s somebody reading and they say, “Where do I begin?” I would say, learn how to feel your emotions. It sounds like, “That’s easy,” but it’s not. We don’t know how to do it. When I see clients, I’d say, “How does that make you feel when such and such said that to you?” People would say to me, “What do you mean?” I’m like, “What emotion came up?” “I don’t know.” I heard that countless times. They don’t know.
[bctt tweet=”Most of the time, the ego is looking into the future and into the past to keep us safe.”]
What I invite people to do is, “Feel in your body. When your significant other talks to you like that, where do you feel it in your body? You don’t have to label it as, ‘Shame. I’m not worthy,’ or, ‘I’m sad.’ Can you feel the tightness in your body?” “Yeah, I got a knot in my stomach.” When you sit with your emotions, they pass through.
In over 25 years of working with clients, I’ve never had someone sit with an emotion, whether it’s tightness in their stomach or a tightness in their throat, and have it not passed through. It just does. You have to give it attention. You have to turn toward what scares you and what feels uncomfortable for it to transform.
There’s a great book called The Art of Fear by Kristen Ulmer. It’s a very different point of view, as far as it comes from facing your fears. If we pack them down or run from them, they become bigger and it becomes a bigger nightmare. Let’s say you have parents and they have kids and they can be young. Kids are probably even more open to things like this when they are a little younger because we’re weirdos and stuff by the time they hit 12 or 13. Would there be a language that you would invite a parent to say to a kid, like, “What are you feeling? What is going on?” Which way could you teach them to teach their kids how to start doing this?
It’s a language. There’s an emotional language. Start out with like, “How does that make you feel? What’s going on? Do you feel something in your stomach? Do you feel in your body? What happens when we put our hands on your belly together? What happens if we put our hands on your chest? Does that help you?” Speak slowly and invite them to share.
If you’re talking to younger kids, “What does that feel like when your friend pushed you down on the playground today?” Older kids, it’s about doing what you said, which is listening. You don’t offer advice when they’re in high school or college because they don’t want to hear it. Mirroring is amazing. I’ve got my two kids. I remember in high school, I would want to know what was going on.
You’d really want to know what was going on. Boys or girls?
Two boys. I was irritating, like, “Mom, I’m going out tonight.” I go, “Where are you going? What’s going on?”
“What’s her name?”
“Mom, you ask so many questions.” When you mirror, they crack open. It was the coolest thing.
Give me an example of that.
It was so fun. I went to my older son’s room. It might have been his junior-senior high school. I said, “How’s it going?” “Fine.” “How was last night?” It was a Sunday morning. I was talking to him. “It was good.” I just asked one little silly question like, “Did you sleep at so-and-so’s house?” He goes, “Yeah.” “Did you have a good time?” “Yeah.” I sat quietly and waited. All of a sudden, I said, “Were there other kids there?” He goes, “Yep. There are other kids there. So and so were there.”
What I started to do was mirror what he said, not in an annoying way. I said, “Jack, Todd, and Bill were there?” He goes, “Yeah, they were. We had a good time.” “Really?” I kept mirroring what he said, then he kept opening and opening. All of a sudden, he says, “So and so brought three cases of beer. So and so brought Xanax.” I’m like, “Oh, Xanax. Oh, dear. Oh, wow.”
As parents, we go, “Are you out of your mind?” They’re going to shut down. I didn’t want him to shut down. I’m taking a little tiny bit of what he said. I was like, “So you had a party?” “Yeah, it was so fun. So and so was there,” the one that I knew was doing the most drugs, the naughty one. I was like, “So and so was there.” “Yeah, he got wasted.” My affect was pretty flat. I was like, “Okay.” Inside, I was like, “Aargh.”
I hate that. I call it gripping the steering wheel. When you’re in the car and they tell you something you’re like, “Uh-huh.” You try to keep your cool, but you’re gripping the steering wheel because you know the worst thing you can do is to react.
Because they will shut it down.
The fact that they’re even telling you that there’s Xanax at the party means you’re ahead. It’s hard as a parent to hear it.
It’s like, “How are you supposed to guide them? What are we supposed to do?”
“Why is my kid even in a room with Xanax?” We have these ideals. Even though we went through certain things, we think, “I don’t even want my kid to be around that stuff but of course, they’re going to be navigating it.”
They’re going to be around it in their lives. You have to face it. I want them to be equipped and to hopefully make the right decisions as they’re growing up. I got so much information, Gabby. It was amazing. He told me everything that was going on. They were snorting Xanax, but he wasn’t. I said, “They were snorting Xanax? What’s that like? I never did that in high school.” Inside, I was like, “Oh my god.”
As a parent, you’re like, “I hate being a parent. Why do I have these people that I love so much? I hate this.” Like you’re in it.
I wanted to grab them, put them in the room, and never let them out for ten years at least. That’s great to do with kids when they get older. Mirror. Do not react because that’s how they will continue to come to you. I wanted them to always come to me, and they still do.
To be honest, I feel insecure, like, “Is this okay? Am I being strong enough? Am I being too much of a pushover?” You’re always checking, “How am I doing?” Girls are definitely going to tell you what they’re seeing about you. Boys are a little more like, “No, you’re fine.” I was wondering if you ever see parents set up some opportunity where you could invite their kid even if it’s hard for them to say, “I don’t like the way you’re doing this. It doesn’t mean you’re giving me rules I don’t like. It means that when you talk to me in that way, I don’t like it.”
Do you ever have situations where you can set that up? As a parent, try to have somehow an open door or a door where you give your kids a feeling that they could figure out a way to communicate with you and say, “When you come home from work and you’re tired and you slam your bag down and you do this, it makes me feel bad.” I’m oversimplifying. How would one do that?
In high school, I didn’t share with them what was going on with me.
Not you share with them, but them share with you that you’re conducting yourself in a way as the parent, the big boss. Maybe to avoid twenty years of eating, that is my point. Is there a way to get them to be willing to say, “Can I talk to you about something?”
I had boys but they would talk. When those kids were in the car with me or in the kitchen, they would go, “Mom, I forgot to tell you. I might ask this girl out.” I don’t care if I’m cooking a big dinner. I would stop everything and turn. I made sure I was available for those kids. I worked. I had a full-time practice but when they were home, I did my best to be home. I wanted to be available and present. I would be around. I noticed that when they had something going on, they would talk to me.
They hover towards you.
I’m not going to say never. That’s not true. I definitely once in a while had some reactions because I’m human. I practiced not saying a thing. I just say, “Are you going to ask her out? You mean the girl that sleeps with everybody? You like her. Okay.”
Did you ever have a thing where you miss stuff, too? I had some interesting experiences as a parent where it was like, “By the way, you didn’t catch this, this, and this.” Let’s say for example, my brain only works a certain way. There could be things happening that I don’t even recognize. I can be in a group of people and they can be like, “You see how coked out that guy was?” I’d be like, “I didn’t catch that.” There are some interesting things as a parent that you’re like, “I feel like I’m paying attention and I’m here.” Then there are times where you get it upside the head and they’re like, “You miss all that.” Those are always interesting opportunities.
We have to give ourselves grace because parenting is the hardest job. There’s an emotional trigger with these kids and you cannot avoid it. When we get triggered, forget about it. It’s the hardest thing. I remember when I first had my son, my husband’s driving home and he was stuck in traffic. I was so mad. I was like, “Are you kidding? I’ve been home with this kid all day and I’m still in my bathroom. It’s 5:00.” It’s hard from the time they’re babies to the time they leave the house. It’s the hardest job.
In creating The Adult Chair, you’ve talked about being unstuck, the boundaries. Maybe we could dig down on some of these buckets a little bit because this is something common for a lot of people. First of all, you’re saying, getting the emotionality to be a good adult, if you will. What are the things that you associate with that? What are the traits? How would you encourage people to look at that?
To get unstuck you’re saying specifically?
Yeah. You talked about self-worth and you talk a lot about codependency and setting boundaries. There are things you can do to set boundaries. Setting boundaries, even though it sounds so good and easy, is one of the hardest things in the world to do.
It’s so hard. We’re not taught how to do that well either.
Let’s start with the boundaries because we all need those everywhere. You learn a lot through time. For women, it’s harder to set boundaries because it’s like, “You’re pushy,” or, “You’re being a bitch.” It’s like, “I’m not. I’m just trying to set healthy boundaries.” I learned a lot from coaches. Weirdly, I observed men and learned the skill.
I couldn’t get there on my own because I always had to get worked up to finally set a boundary. Instead of, “I’m just dropping off information.” I see that that aggravates you or makes you angry, but I’m not going to take that on, too. Let’s say somebody is like, “I don’t know how to set a boundary.” A boundary at work is different from a boundary at home. How do we do that?
Boundaries are simple requests. That’s it. We have issues with setting boundaries because there’s some part of us that doesn’t feel worth. It’s like, “I don’t feel like I’m worthy to set a boundary.” When we set a boundary, we have to think about the fact that we are protecting something within us. We have to see ourselves like precious diamonds. When you go to a jewelry store, there’s an alarm on the diamonds for a reason. They need protection.
When we as humans can see ourselves in that same way, then we realize, “I got to protect myself.” It’s not a bad thing. We’re worthy. We’re precious beings. When we set boundaries, they’re just simple statements or simple requests. That’s it. What we do as humans is we get caught in the apologies and we get caught in explanations. People don’t even know what the hell we’re talking about. It’s like, “What?”
We’re letting them know something like, “I can’t come to your party. Thank you so much for inviting me. I have other plans. Have a great time.” Done. That’s it. We’re not good at that. Instead, when we get lost in the weeds, we’ll say things like, “I’m so sorry I can’t come to your party because my son is in from out of town. Did I tell you he’s going out to Harvard?” It’s like, “What are you trying to tell me?” Instead of saying, “I can’t come to the party. I have other plans. Thanks for inviting me. Have a great time.” Done.
If someone says something that we find rude. Let’s do that one. That’s a hard one. I might say to you, “Gabby, can we have a conversation? Because you’re one of my dearest friends.” What are you going to say to that? “Of course,” right away. If I say that to you, does that put you in an open place or defensive? You’re like, “I’m one of her dearest friends. She loves me.” Then you say, “Yes, of course.” If you’re open just by that one statement, then I can say to you, “Remember when we were out with other girls the other night for dinner and you made that comment about me? That was supposed to be in private. Could you do me a favor and not do that again? I’d appreciate it.” Done. That’s it.
It’s also done in the spirit of, you’re done with it, too. You’re putting the request up, but you’re not beating someone over the head with it. What if you have a child and you want to make a small request and they are like, “You asked me seventeen times.”
I have to have a consequence.
Let’s make a scenario for a younger child, and then let’s do a teenager.
It is all about knowing the kid. You have three children and they’re all different. You cannot parent them the same. I couldn’t parent mine the same. My one son was a huge soccer star. When I punish him, I would say, “If you don’t do this, you’re not going to go to soccer practice,” and he would just about die. If I said that to my older son, he’d be cheering like, “No soccer,” so I couldn’t do that with him.
You have to know your kids and you have to know what burns them. With boys, video games are huge, so you pull the cords. “Give me the cords,” or you can even ask the kid, “I asked you not to say that to me. You talked to me in that tone of voice. The cords are gone for a week.” That’s when we have to stay connected. This is where we go back to emotions. You’ve got to stay in touch with and process all the emotions that are coming up as a parent.
When that kid comes back at you and says, “What do you mean? You can’t take it away for a week. I need that cord. I’m supposed to play with so and so later today.” “We’ve got to go. Sorry.” Take the cord and walk away. Inside, as parents, we’re like, “I’m disappointed. I’m so upset.” That’s our work as parents. That’s our work to feel our emotions, to feel the guilt, to not give in, and to stay strong for our kids.
How would you set a boundary if you’re the employee, you’re not the boss? It doesn’t even have to be heavy-duty, some kind of inappropriate stuff. Just little nuances. The interesting thing is, how do you set boundaries in these very nuanced ways? Part of being an employee is someone telling you what to do, like, “Can you get me this report?” In the interim, it’s this fine line of, “Suck it up. You’re at your job. Do your job. You’re at work.” You shouldn’t have to spend every day with someone talking to you like that.
Who’s talking to you like that?
Your boss. If it’s your coworker, I’d imagine it’s pretty horizontal, straight across.
A boundary doesn’t always require words. A boundary, you can walk away. A boundary, you can turn off your phone. It’s not always that we have to stand and take it from the boss or we have to stand and take it from a coworker. I remember I’d do live Q&A and they’re like, “All these people at work, they gossip and I don’t want to be around it. How do I set a boundary and make them stop?” I said, “You don’t. You walk the other way. You don’t make them stop. Why do you have to participate in it though?” You can still set a boundary with your boss.
[bctt tweet=”Live in the moment with whatever is fact and truth right now in this very moment. Be a story-buster.”]
Set a meeting and say, “Can I take five minutes of your time to talk about things?”
Bullet point boundaries. Don’t get lost in the weeds. You say, “I wanted to let you know when you said this, it felt uncomfortable,” or, “When this happened…” It’s if this, then that. That’s it. “I wanted to share with you. If you could please not do that, I’d appreciate it.” Your tone of voice is not emotional. I’m not hysterical. I’m not crying. I’m like, “I would appreciate it if you could help me out. I wanted to share with you what’s going on with me.”
Those might be one of the harder boundaries, from an employee to an employer. With your partner, your lover, it’s also nuanced, and then your things roll over each other in a relationship. I’ve been in a long relationship but I would love to know how you would encourage someone, especially with the less obvious stuff.
I’ll use my own life as an example. My husband is very intense. He is a very present husband. However, at times, Laird is like a caged animal and it’s all connected to all the great things about him. He doesn’t take it out on everybody, but there’s a heaviness in the air. You can feel it. Earlier in our marriage, I used to take that more personal and then I learned be like, “That’s not my thing to take on.”
He used to say, “Just let me be here, and then I’ll be out of it. Don’t get in here with me, in this intensity.” I always say, “Don’t put the bull’s eye on me.” He’s looking for a place. It’s almost like a cat looking for the mouse. “I need to put this energy somewhere.” I’ve learned, “I’m not falling into that.” I’ll sometimes be like, “Don’t put your bull’s eye on me.” Sometimes he’ll laugh but very non-emotionally.
When he goes a little too grumpy for too long, I’ll put my hand on his shoulder. This is weirdly my way of setting boundaries. I’m trying to remember, “I’m on your side,” and then I walk away. I get out of it. This isn’t about me. Sometimes it’s that weird, fuzzy stuff. It’s not like, “I don’t like it when you hit me.” Those things are easier. Sometimes it’s all these little nuances when you live with somebody about how you delicately heal. That doesn’t work for me.
I would ask him when he goes into that. What do you call it?
It’s a mood. It’s a caged animal funk.
That lasts how long?
He’ll try to check it. You can see him. That’s what’s so beautiful. You see him trying to deal with it.
If he’s here with us right now, I would say to him, “What’s going on inside? What are you feeling?”
I know what he’s feeling. He wants to go out into nature and be in a big ocean. Mother nature’s not providing the environment. It’s a person who has a very specific need. For certain people, it can be an adventure. Domestic monotony at times, how that can chip away at people. It’s a treadmill, like, “What’s for dinner?” “Here we are again.”
I love that about him because he brings that same energy to the house, which helps all of us get out of it and go, “Look at the moon,” or do something. It’s connected. I see him always managing it. You’re laying down a boundary for your partner, where you’re almost trying not to skip a beat. For me, I’m like, “I’m not interested in making this a thing.”
Are you asking what boundaries to set with him or what he needs to set with you?
I’m asking for you, when you have somebody who comes in there and they’re doing The Adult Chair Model and they’re saying, “I have a partner.” I call it the electric fence. I sit down at a fence where if you touch it, it’s a little reminder like, “That’s not cool.” It’s not a big deal.
I don’t know if I’m mishearing this, but I would ask you guys if you were sitting with me, “There needs to be some more communication about it.” He needs to be able to say to you, “Gabby, I’m in the funk. I’m wanting to let you know. This is what I need.” I get that he wants to go surf or go in the ocean or go do whatever the heck he wants to do, but there’s an emotional need behind that or under that. I would ask him that question. I would have him sit down and say, “I want you to drop inside of yourself and feel what you need.” Physically, he wants to go do something.
He needs to be scared.
Physical is second. What’s underneath it? I would ask him to go deep. There’s an emotional need that is pushing him to be physical but before physical, there’s something else happening.
An interesting way to approach even thinking about putting up a boundary is to ask the other person what they need.
Who teaches us how to do that? That is key in any relationship whether it’s with kids, husband, friendships, or whomever. “What do you need?” I have a friend who’s not great at texting back and it triggers me. I get people are busy. I don’t need a text back in two seconds but within 24 hours, can I get a text back, please? It happens often so I said to her, “Would you mind texting me? Because I have a history of codependency. It triggers me and I start making up stories like you’re mad at me. You’re probably not mad at me but it would be helpful for me. Would you be able to help me do that?” She goes, “Of course. I didn’t know. I’m so sorry.” I said, “Great. Thank you.”
That’s how healthy adults communicate. You would say to him, “Would you tell me when you feel yourself sliding into that funk? We need to know what’s going on before it happens or when it’s happening. What do you need when you’re signing in the funk? I know you think you want to go do this, but I would ask you emotionally what else is going on.” He’s got a little boy inside that’s having an emotion. I will bet my life on it.
I don’t want to over-generalize, but I feel that if a man is not doing something often enough that is intertwined with what he thinks his purpose is, it’s much harder for them than for me. Think about breadwinners, they’re this or that. It’s this purpose. “Can I be utilized? Can I be useful? When they’re feeling at all in these idle spaces, it seems like that can be a challenge for them.
That’s a role that they have. We all have little kids inside of us. We all have that inner child part. I promise you this, every baby, I don’t care if you have a little girl and a little boy next to each other, they both cry. They both have emotions.
I’m not suggesting that. For example, I didn’t always have to define my purpose for what I contributed to the house as much. My husband is very helpful. He takes the girls to school, drive, whatever. Sometimes I don’t feel in the know. Meanwhile, he doesn’t want to know, like, “She has tennis at this and the dance is over here.”
They have a moment where they feel like, “What am I doing?” It’s an interesting thing to watch. If you overload them with the details, they’re like, “What?” Sometimes I feel out of the loop. The kids will come to you and say, “I’m doing this. I’ll be home at this time. I’ll call you. Love you, Dad,” and out. He’s thinking I’m out of the loop, where I’m in the loop.
You’re in the loop so he doesn’t know.
Sometimes he’s like, “I’m out of the loop.” There’s an interesting thing when I talk about purpose. When they have a mission you, something to do to sink their teeth into, sometimes there is a very elusive thing in that, that is hard sometimes to pin down. It’s interesting to observe. Putting boundaries up in a romantic relationship, especially because it’s been a lot of years, I have found that it’s a little light, like, “That’s not going to work for me.”
The other thing Laird likes to do sometimes is to bunch me in with our daughters. He’ll be like, “Pick up your stuff and do your thing,” and then he looks at me and I’m like, “No. I’m not your daughter.” He’ll laugh. That’s very important in a couple to keep the dynamics of two individual people, two lovers. Not one is a parent and one is a child of the parent. Be like, “We’re in this together as two human beings.” Not even always male-female.
Sometimes Laird has female energy. He’s way more emotional than I am. It’s having this equality throughout. It doesn’t mean one person can be down and one person can be like, “I got you. If you’re having a bumpy patch, I can juice it up for you.” I never mean that. I just mean equality so you don’t lose this weird power dynamic.
It’s all about communication. It’s honest, raw communication and having sometimes difficult conversations that you don’t want to have that we most of the time avoid. It’s saying, “I’m not in a good place,” or, “Would you listen to me?” We’re not great at listening when we do have conversations either. Most of the time when we have a conversation with our lover, they’re in defense. Even with a friend, you can talk to anybody. If I say to you, “Can we talk about this?” Right away you’re like, “I got to defend myself.” We’re ready to push back. That ego is ready to push back.
It is scary how you get that weird feeling right down the middle of your body when someone’s like, “Can we can we talk about this?” It’s realizing, “Just be there and listen.” It’s uncomfortable.
I say to my husband now, “If you come at me and you need to talk, I need you to say, ‘Nothing’s wrong. Can we talk later after work? Can we talk this weekend?’” Because if you say, “I need to talk to you. We will talk tomorrow,” it’s like, “What? It’ll be agony for two days. Can you tell me what it’s about?” “Yes. I need to talk to you about where we’re taking a vacation this year.” “Great. Give me some more information so I can sit.”
When we do have that talk and it’s not about a vacation but about something going on, we’ve got to be present from our adult chair. I listen. I make sure I have a plastic sword and shield. I’m like, “I’m not taking my sword and shield out when you’re talking to me. I’m going to listen to you and hear you. When you’re done talking, then I’ll share with you.” It’s like talking to the kids. “I heard you. Did I miss anything? Thank you for sharing. Would you like my perspective? Here it is.” It’s a lovely flow of conversation.
What you said is important and it’s also important in parenting. Not as much with my husband, but with my kids, I’ll be like, “Can I ask a question?” I had to learn that. Maybe we could talk a little bit about codependency. You feel good when everybody else around you feels good. That’s a tricky one. I’m definitely not codependent but when it comes to your kids, it’s learning when they’re going through hard times that it’s okay.
It makes them more resilient. It makes them stronger. We don’t need to rush in and fix every single problem. We want them to know how to fix their problems. We want them to learn how to sit in their emotions. You’ve got girls. If their boyfriend breaks up with their girlfriend, it’s okay. We don’t have to fix it. We just let them sit in it. That’s what we’re supposed to do with our emotions. We sit in them.
What do we do? Do we just make ourselves known that we’re there?
This is the thing with humans, we need to ask other humans what they need. You don’t know what your daughters need. You have to ask them. “I’m so sorry you guys broke up. What do you need from me? Do you need a hug? Do you need me to make you a special dinner? Do you need me to leave you alone? What do you need?” Oftentimes, with people that we love, we assume, I’m going to come up and I’m going to give you a hug.” It’s like, “Don’t hug me. I don’t want a hug.” “No, thank you. I don’t want a hug.” A lot of people will hug me if I’m crying and I’m like, “Don’t hug me.” My husband hugs me and I’m like, “Get away.”
It’s a teenager’s biggest nightmare. It’s like, “Your mom’s coming in for a hug.” It’s like, “Get away. I need my space.”
Sometimes I like hugs. I know what I need. My husband rushes in for the hug and I’m like, “Back off. I want your hand on my knee.” “Are you sure?” “I’m pretty sure. I know what I need.” He puts his hand on my knee and that feels like I’m being supported. Sometimes people like a hand on the back. Only you know what you need. Your girls know what they need. Your husband knows what he needs. You need to ask, “What do you need from me?”
It’s important that when you ask, you accept whatever the answer is. You can’t be like, “What do you need?” “I can’t believe you don’t want me to hug you.” It’s like, “Really? Why are you asking me?” If you don’t like the answer, that’s okay but you have to accept it. You asked. Something that does occur is you only bring people closer to you.
If my daughters can say, “I need to be alone,” and I say gracefully, “I’m here if you need me,” and you split, you’ve only made the move towards you. It’s having that confidence that if you try to do those things, it’s going to work out in the long run. When someone is thinking, “I’m fixing it for everybody and making it better for everybody,” what are some things that they can do to break that cycle?
The way that I define codependency is very simple. “I’m okay if you’re okay, and only if you’re okay.” Codependency is an addiction to others. “Because I don’t have a self, I’m going to make you and everyone around me fill me up, then I have an identity if I’m taking care of everybody and fixing everybody.”
With codependency, because it’s an addiction, like if I drink a case of beer every day, if you take that case of beer away, I go through withdrawal. With codependency, we need to work on stopping fixing other people, stopping getting in their lives. Back off. We sit in the emotions that are going to rise up because they’re going to rise up and it feels uncomfortable because we think, “Don’t they need us? They need me. I need to do that for my kids. I need to do that for my husband. I need to do that for my mother.” No, you don’t. Wait until they ask and share what they need from you.
It’s hard to sit and go through withdrawal. Once you learn how to feel those emotions that are coming up through you, the next part is you start building up yourself because you don’t have self-worth. The self is empty because we’ve had other people fill us up. It sounds silly, but I said to my clients, “Let’s write a list.” Anyone reading can do the same thing. After they feel their emotions and sit in the uncomfortableness, not helping and fixing others, you make a list, “Who am I?”
What does that sound like? I feel like I have a decent sense of self, but I don’t even know where I would start.
I’ve sat with people and I’ve asked that question to them. I’ll say, “Where do you like to go out to dinner?” “We have to just go where my kids want to go.” It is so basic when you’re building up self-worth and a new identity. I worked with a lady one time and she had kids that were in their 20s. Every weekend, they go out to the beer garden. They go get dinner and do all this stuff. She’s so codependent. I said, “It’s your birthday coming up. Where do you want to go to dinner?” She says, “I don’t even know.” I said, “What’s your favorite food?” She goes, “I’m going to have to think about that.” I said, “Think about it. I’m here.”
I waited and she was like, “I like Italian.” I said, “For your birthday weekend, you’re going to say to your family, ‘I would like to go for Italian.’” You cannot believe the agony. We had to roleplay. I’m not kidding you. I don’t know if I can do that. This is what people say, “Isn’t that selfish? Because they like the beer garden.” I go, “It’s your birthday. This is not selfish. It’s self-loving to speak up for yourself.” When we’re codependent, it’s very twisted in the brain. She did it and it turned out okay.
We practice it, like, “I like gardening.” “I like to work out.” “I like to watch sunsets.” I have them write a list because it’s taken out from the ethers and you ground it. They can read the list and go, “That is who I am. I love my dogs.” They write it down and they add to it. They read over that list every day and they start realizing, “That’s who I am.” We’re building the diamond. When we’re talking about boundaries, how in the world are you going to set a boundary if this is an empty paper?
[bctt tweet=”It’s hard to get help. There’s help but not good help.”]
It’s interesting how people get themselves in that position, where they put everyone and everything else. It feels like you’re on this treadmill, where you’re never listening to your own thoughts and feelings. You don’t check in with yourself. Katie told me this once and I’ve said this a lot on this podcast. We’re talking about kids and she goes, “You could do two things that would be good for your kids. One is to listen and two is to try your best, even though this is a fleeting concept, to make yourself happy so they know what it looks like and they see it.”
My first thought internally was, “One of those parts is a little selfish.” My mom had me when she was very young. She didn’t stay. She left for a while and then she came back. I thought, “You have to show up.” My favorite parents to watch are ones that were loved in a healthy way that they so artfully know how to be like, “Ha-ha. No.” They don’t wonder if the kid still loves them because they knew what it was like to be disciplined and someone still loves them. Their parents did it the right and healthy way.
I was raised differently. I’m always leaning in and learning the rhythm of, “I discipline you but at all moments, you know that I love you. I’m not going to surprise you. I’m not going to come home hammered and beat you one day. I’m going to be pretty steady.” It’s interesting when you’re trying to learn it on the fly.
Is it ever?
Yes, it is. When someone feels pretty good, it doesn’t always have to be catastrophic. It can be these little fine tweaks. We’re trying to get better. We’re trying to do it better. We’re trying to be our better selves. Also, offload who I was at 30 or 40. The story of, if someone’s younger, what they were like in college or high school. If someone came to you and wanted to use The Adult Chair as a tool for personal inquiry, what would that look like? What would be some of the things that you would get them to ponder?
I would ask them to live with, what’s faction truth? That’s from Byron Katie. Because we live with stories and assumptions most of our lives.
That’s so bad. It is the worst. Seriously? What is that?
It’s the ego part of us. We can’t help it. It’s automatic. Most of the time, the ego is looking into the future and into the past to keep us safe. We’re going into an assumption of, “This is probably going to happen. I’m basing it on the past.”
She calls it past-futuring.
It’s true that we are always here. Live in the moment with whatever is fact and truth right now in this very moment. Be a story-buster. You’ve got to bust those stories, like, “Is it true that I got a divorce and I’m never going to meet anyone as great as my ex and I’m going to be alone the rest of my life? Give me the truth in that statement.” That’s a story. They’ll say, “That’s how I feel.” I’m like, “It’s okay that that’s how you feel, but is it helping you? It’s keeping you stuck.”
You have a few steps that you talk about that would be helpful in being unstuck. People don’t realize that you can be as equally afraid of success or love or being loved as the other. It’s not just one side. Even getting unstuck towards the things greater that you want.
What I hear from people is, “I’m so stuck in my life.” I’m like, “The first step would be, where specifically are you stuck? Your whole life?” Some people say yes.
No wonder you’re out of practice. I’m going to build models and train experts. You’re like, “I got something for you.” Their whole life, they’re stuck. It’s usually like, “I’m not as healthy as I want to be.” It’s not usually the whole kit and caboodle.
When we’re stuck, we’re stuck in a story. The stories keep us stuck because we ruminate on what’s not true. Let’s say I get a divorce or my husband cheats on me. He leaves me and now I’m all alone. I say to myself over and over again, “I’m never going to find anyone as great as my husband. I’m going to be alone the rest of my life.” We get stuck in this. We go out with our friends and we say, “He’s such a jerk. He cheated. I’m never going to be with anybody. I’m going to be alone the rest of my life.”
We tell all of our friends this and our friends are rolling their eyes behind our backs. They listen. I go home and I’m still telling the same story. The first step is, what am I stuck on? I’m stuck in a place of feeling like I’m never going to find anybody and I can’t get over my ex-husband, number one. Number two, how does that make you feel? It goes back to feeling your emotions. When we’re stuck, we’re stuck in story. The brain is going over and over again. To get out of it, you’ve got to feel the emotion. When you feel an emotion, that brings you what I call Living Chin down into the body. That starts moving us forward out of the stuckness.
You feel the emotion. How does that make you feel that you’re never going to meet anybody? We’re avoiding it. The reason we go into these ruminating thoughts is that we’re not feeling an emotion. That’s why I say to people, “You want to stop a ruminating thought. Feel the emotion under it.” It stops in a second. With being stuck, you have to say to yourself, “What am I feeling?” Ask yourself that question.
It’s uncomfortable. It’s looking at it like, “What does that make you feel if you think you’re going to be alone?”
“How does it feel to be alone?” “I feel like I don’t matter,” and you physically feel it. Here’s the good news. When you fully sit in emotion without a story, it lasts 90 seconds and it’s gone. That’s how out of practice whatever the emotion is. What happens is we start feeling an emotion and we go into story. That’s what keeps the emotion around. It’s the story. Feel it without story and it moves through and then you’re the next one.
You’ve got to feel the emotion when you feel that stuck. When you feel the emotion and then you get in touch with what are the stories that I’m telling myself. I always encourage you to write them down so you can see on paper what’s out here. Write it down, “I’m never going to be with anyone for the rest of my life.” “I’m never going to be that happy again.” “My husband is going to be happier than I am.” It’s all that stuff. We look at that list and then we say, “The next step is,” what about that list 100% truth?
It’s none of that.
Maybe one thing, “My husband cheated on me. He’s in a new relationship and I’m single.” That’s it. You read those over and you go, “That’s boring.” It’s true, though. It takes the emotion out. It’s like, “Okay.” With all this that you’re looking at on our paper, you say, “Who do I want to be now?” “If I’m not stuck, who would I rather be?” “I want to be either happily single or I want to be in a loving relationship.” You write that down. This is what I want instead and then you visualize what that looks like and what it feels like emotionally. That anchor is the new creation in your body?
What you’re saying is the energy so then when you do go out with your girlfriends and you’re not, “Weh. Weh,” about this and that, and I’m not saying that isn’t hard, people don’t realize that their energy is such that it’s now you’re putting out a whole other signal. You’re moving towards the thing that you want now. My understanding is it’s almost harder to get divorced and for someone to lose a spouse especially if they’re happy and you have to see them. I always told my husband that I would be the best ex-wife ever. I would just think, “Okay. Yeah,” but inside, I can cry. I must be gracious on the outside. I’m not giving anyone that satisfaction.
Let’s say someone’s had something traumatic like sexual trauma or maybe something pretty heavy duty. Is there a way even through this process of being unstuck? You want to have that time of healing before you dive into hardcore self-inquiry. It’s not like when someone died where you’re still grieving. One thing I have learned from having friends and if they have lost someone is that the best thing you can do is say, “There’s no time now for grief. Everybody grieves in their own way. You might be fine and then you might have a bad day or week.” If you’re in your emotions, I would imagine that that’s also the way that it’s working its way out.
It comes up and through and you let it through.
If someone had a trauma, they have felt a lot of depression or things like that, how can they use this as a tool to help them because it’s about them looking at themselves anew?
It’s the same thing for anybody. I would plug this in with anybody. There’s another part of The Adult Chair that I haven’t mentioned and that’s doing parts work. That is powerful work because it’s a part of you. As humans we go, “There’s a part of me that’s sad.” “There’s a part of me that’s angry.” “There’s a part of me that wants to leave my husband,” or whatever it might be. We want to get in touch with those parts. What’s the part that’s depressed? Let’s get to know it. What’s the part of you that’s in grief? What’s going on there?
If you think about 500 parts of you like a puzzle, it makes up one Gabby. You’ve got a part that’s driven and a part that’s a mother. All of these different parts make up who you are. Someone might have a depressed part, a codependent part, a passionate part, or a joyful part. Get in touch with those parts. We want to turn toward that which scares us. Some of that has trauma. Get that figured out with a professional, but I’m not saying you can’t try this for sure and it might be helpful for you but for someone that’s had been depressed, self-inquiry is powerful. We need to see what’s going on the inside.
When we look at these parts they can change your life. You’d be amazed at who’s talking. Who is talking? I remember doing parts work many years ago. I learned a technique called NLP, neuro-linguistic programming in my 20s and I loved it. I remember doing parts work going, “Who’s saying that?” When I was having all the negative thoughts when I was depressed, I would turn and say, “Who said that? Who was talking to me? Who says they hate me?”
I have a funny story, one that I did years ago. She’s well known in my work. Her name is Ferrell Michelle. I remember sitting one day and I was like, “Who is screaming, ‘I hate you,’ at me?’” I was terrible at self-talk. I was like, “Who hates me? Who’s saying I hate myself? Who’s saying that?” This is simple. Close your eyes and turn toward that voice. Who’s saying it? Because I spent time with her, I learned that it was a 12-year-old girl. Did you see Lord of the Rings?
Do you know Gollum?
It was like Gollum by the river but it was me at age 12 with the hair all nasty, snot coming out of my nose, sweating, dirty clothes tattered and torn and she was chained to a tree. Me, Michelle, and adult me walked in. I said, “I want to go see who’s yelling at me.” I close my eyes, go there and this girl comes at me, “I hate you. I effing hate you.” She’s screaming at me and spitting in my face. I said to her, “Okay, Thank you. I’m getting to know that part. I want you to know something. I love you and I’m sorry you’re so upset.”
She’s like, “F you.” She’s screaming at me and doing this to me. I was like, “Okay.” She was far from me and I said, “I’ll be back tomorrow.” She goes, “Don’t bother.” I said, “Okay,” and came back the next day. It’s hysterical. I did this for a week, to fast forward, for ten minutes a day. It wasn’t like hours a day. It’s ten minutes a day. Every time I go back, I’m sitting on my couch, closing my eyes and going, “Let’s go see who’s screaming.” I call Ferrell Michelle because she’s crazy.
Every time I went back, she was a little bit different. Her hair looked a little better. She wasn’t so dirty the next time and then she wasn’t so angry. A little bit more and a little bit, I kept going back to going back to her. The final time I went back to her, she showed up as a 3-year-old going to church on a Sunday wearing a cute little Sunday dress that you might have seen. I’m like, “That’s who was underneath the part of me that was so angry. It’s crazy.” That’s all I did.
When it comes to self-love, doing parts work is so powerful. Self-love is a journey. For someone who’s depressed, has trauma, or anything like that, I want to get to know these beautiful parts of self. That’s how we transform. You go one at a time. There are some big ones. It’s like when you take down a redwood tree. You take down half the forest.
When you take down or work with one of those bigger parts, you’re going to transform some of the smaller parts. Going back to your question about depression or trauma. What I have found with my own journey was by working with those parts it started to transform. Doing the self-inquiry practice is powerful.
What day of the week do you release your podcast?
It’s every Thursday where podcasts can be seen. Have you done any books or anything?
Yes, I have a book and I’m writing my next book.
Tell me about what book you’re writing and the book that’s already out.
I have a book. It’s called The Adult Chair: A Guide to Loving Yourself and it’s the basics of this model. I got impatient when I wrote it.
What do you mean? Were you like, “That’s good enough.” I’ll chunk those ideas.
I was writing what I call the big giant book, and I got impatient. I was so excited and I was like, “I’ve got to get this out.” I scaled it way back and wrote about the three chairs. It’s a phenomenal introduction to The Adult Chair. I have gone and I’m starting to write the next book, which has all the examples. It’s going to be the big book.
You already did the certification so you’re in that mindset.
The certification was 300 pages. It was a book.
It’s intense. If someone couldn’t access you, can people maybe go to your website to see if there’s somebody else who’s certified?
Yeah. All of our coaches are on the website. Go to www.TheAdultChair.com. Everything’s there.
What are the things you’re still navigating yourself? We all are working on things in ourselves. What are the things that you’re still tackling?
It’s such a great question when people say, “What do I work on next?” You wait until it shows up. When something shows up for me, I go, “There it is. That’s what I want to work on.” How am I speaking to my husband? Did I have my boundaries? Is there trauma that’s rising up? I love to do my personal work. To me, it’s fun, because I get to clean my slate a little bit more, and it creates a little bit more relief.
I am a little bit of a workaholic, which is a positive thing, but there can also be negatives so I’m working right now to incorporate more fun into my life because I love what I do so much. It’s my passion, and love to help people, but I’m also working to have more fun. I’m working with the part of me, the workaholic part. Specifically, I don’t have anything right now other than that. Nothing is up for me.
I’m curious. This is a selfish question. As somebody who’s been in a long relationship, who has children, you move through and you’re looking at your life that you’ve lived so far in the life going forward, do you feel like you consciously try to protect the playful girl part of yourself? I sometimes feel like we get a little heavy, heavy attitude, heavy tonally and spirit-wise, as we reach this time in our lives instead of becoming more playful, or doing those things. Does that make sense? Do you ever navigate that yourself?
To me, that is working with the inner child because that’s the part of us that’s so fun so yeah. I live on a lake so I’m a huge water girl. I grew up skiing and all of the things you’d ever do on water. I practice kayaking every day if that is a practice. I go out and I meditate. To me being on the water is being in the oneness. It’s heaven for me so I do go out and make sure I’m balancing that out. I’m making sure I am having fun. I got on the Jetski. I’ll go skiing or kayaking. I love to take my boys skiing too because they’re so good. When they do visit, I do that.
Wrapping this up. People know how to find you either through the podcast on Thursdays, The Adult Chair, or TheAdultChair.com. There are people who do this. They spend all day thinking about this. What invitation would you have for somebody who is trying to work themselves? This has been an unusual and difficult time for people with number one, disconnection, isolation, and these kinds of things. What invitation would you have to say? They don’t have to be full-blown depressed. You’re trying to ignite things a little bit because it has been a little bit flat.
You’re asking for tools specifically.
Or if you have an overall invitation to what people have been going through. We’re starting to resurface a little bit but I feel like we might need a little launching. I feel like we’re going to have to participate in projecting ourselves into these places that we want to be.
I was speaking with someone and they were saying how uncomfortable it was to even take their mask off in public and be with other people. We’ve gotten used to not being seen. She was a therapist, and she’s like, “It was so uncomfortable.” A tool that I love is journaling. Journaling, as many people say, is almost like going to therapy or can be as good as sometimes going to therapy because we’re reflecting on what’s going on inside.
We need to get in touch with what’s going on inside. How do you feel about taking your mask off? What do I need? It’s going back to those emotional needs. What do I need to launch myself into the world? It’s uncomfortable. Sit in your emotions. Sometimes I do live workshops, too, of course not during COVID and sometimes I’ll have people draw. What does that look like for me? What does it look like to launch? How do you feel? I feel uncomfortable, draw it out for me. People love that.
They’re like, “I didn’t know that was in me.” We’re bringing what’s on the inside out. Whatever it is that you’re doing, it’s about being courageous. It is about taking that risk and getting back out there because our brain has been rewired to stay at home, especially you guys here in California. You’ve been in the masks.
At least you’ve been in the South. They go hard out there. Smart. In California, we have it like, “You walked ten feet. Now you’re at the restaurant. Now you can take your mask off.” That makes sense.
It’s hard because we’re used to not being out. We’re used to being covered up. It’s uncomfortable. People have social anxiety that they never had now because the brain is rewired. You have to take baby steps.
That also leads me to something that I’ve always thought is important too, which is not labeling ourselves. That’s important, like, “I’m codependent.” It’s good to be aware but at some point, we can be something else. If you could say, “I’m acting in a codependent way,” or whatever, but I also think it’s important when people could be like, “I feel sad.” It doesn’t mean that I’m full-blown depressed. It’s important that if people are feeling funky right now, it’s okay but hold on.
I am so glad that you brought that up, Gabby. I don’t like labels because labels keep people stuck but it helps us to identify what is going on. Why am I showing up like this? Why am I feeling like I want to take care of everybody? I would say to my clients, “It sounds like you might have codependency. Why don’t you go home and google it?” This is what it means. You go home and read about it or, “My husband is a narcissist.” Go home and read about it. See if it’s true. I’m not about to tell you.
Can you imagine if you googled narcissism and you’re like, “That’s Brad.” You’re like, “Narcissists scare me.” They scare me in a real way because I don’t know if that might be a real behavior. You can not be an alcoholic or a codependent. I don’t know if narcissists stay that way.
That is a whole other podcast. Don’t label yourself but use it to guide. People walk around with a label on their forehead like, “Hi. I’m Michelle. I’m codependent,” no you’re not. You have codependent tendencies. I’m working my way out of it. I’m a healthy adult. I’m a healthy human.
Especially for young adults, because you don’t need to go through your whole life being like, “I need that Prozac.” You don’t. You need a couple of good tools and some practice. Have I forgotten anything? Is there anything that’s important that I missed? I don’t want to not take advantage of the fact that you’re sitting right in front of me.
I’m thinking through the big topics with The Adult Chair especially. They would be working with that inner child, which is the source of our emotions, our true needs, spontaneity, passion, fun, working with parts, and then living with facts and truth from that adult. That alone, as you know, changes people’s lives. When you become a story buster and it’s nothing else. I’m going to live in fact and truth. People go, “My life is boring.” Am like, “Right? It is?” That’s a good thing.
I’ll take boring all day long. Michelle, thank you so much. I will direct everybody to The Adult Chair, www.TheAdultChair.com, and The Adult Chair Podcast. I’ll look forward to the next time I get to see you. I’ll be curious where the other place that you’re going to live is.
You never know.
Thanks for your time.
Thank you so much for having me.
Thanks so much for being here. If you’d like, rate, subscribe, and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.
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About Michelle Chalfant
With 25 years as a licensed therapist and integrated life coach, Michelle is here to help you create the life you deserve — a life full of peace, passion and happiness that you never thought possible!
After going through her own journey of transformation and studying everything from psychology to spirituality, Michelle brought together the best of the best to help you discover your most authentic self and become who you’re meant to be. This is the roadmap she uses every day to live fully and freely — just like she knows you can!
So, are you ready to tap into the power that’s already inside you and transform your life?