Join us on the Think Unbroken Podcast for a special compilation episode featuring three incredible experts in the fields of psychotherapy and coaching... See show notes at: https://www.thinkunbrokenpodcast.com/healing-trauma-and-embracing-self-love-insights-from-top-experts-in-psychotherapy-and-coaching/#show-notes
Join us on the Think Unbroken Podcast for a special compilation episode featuring three incredible experts in the fields of psychotherapy and coaching. First, we sit down with psychotherapist and author Beverly Engel to explore the power of self-compassion and taking control of your life after trauma and sexual abuse. Next, we dive into the transformative work of licensed therapist and holistic life coach Michelle Chalfant, who shares practical tools and techniques for accessing personal power and improving relationships. Lastly, we hear from relationship coach Gloria Zhang, who shares her personal journey and professional insights on healing from complex post-traumatic stress disorder and inner child trauma. Whether you're looking to build resilience, improve relationships, or cultivate self-love and authenticity, this podcast offers valuable insights and strategies to support your healing journey. Tune in now and discover how to unleash your personal power and transform your life.
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Healing from Trauma and Sexual Abuse: Cultivating Self-Compassion and Empowerment with Beverly Engel
Michael: I went through 20 therapists before I found the right person because I made a spreadsheet and I went down that thing and I'm like, every box has to be ticked off, looking at it very much, as an experience of dating. One thing that I'm very curious about just because this is where we're at right now is so often people feel like just because they have a therapist, they have to stay with that therapist. How do you really determine the right kind of support for you when you are in this healing journey, where is the jump-off point for you to figure out, okay, this is what I need in order to accomplish my goal of stepping into health healing growth, whatever that may be?
Beverly: Right. Well I didn't make a list before I went to therapy but I did have about three or four very bad experiences until I found the right therapist and the right therapist kind of found me, I mean I was referred to her, but I walked into her office highly defended, that was one of those types of people that the way I coped with my abuse was to be highly defended, you know, I knew it all, I was, you know, smart and everybody looked up to me and you know, had that false sense of confidence that wasn't even real, that was hiding the pain inside, that was hiding the emptiness inside.
And within five minutes, I told her I walked in and I said, I'm looking for a therapist who can do this, and this and within five minutes, she said to me, boy, you are really controlling, aren't you? What's underneath with that? And she said it very compassionately and she just broke through my defenses right away and I started crying. Nobody was breaking through my defenses; they were just going along with the game, they were just going along with, ‘Yeah. She's smart, she's and you know she knows what she's talking about, yeah, she's been abused but she is so strong and confident, they just bought it and she didn't buy it. So I can't say to you, you know, I had a little store that I mean I did go in telling her, I wanted, wanted, wanted to work on this and this but I just lucked out, I had somebody that I trusted who refer her to me, but I just lucked out, but to answer your question, if you don't feel, you don't have to feel comfortable with the therapist right away, you know, that can take time, it can take time for you to feel comfortable with anybody, but you need to have the sense that their purpose is on your side. Certainly, you don't want somebody who's questioning you, you know, why didn't you leave your relationship if it was so bad? No, I don't want to work with some asking that question, you know. Are you sure that that happened to you? Does any question insinuate that you're exaggerating or making it up or making a big deal out of something? Somebody that has the energy around. Well, you can just get over it, why don't you just get over it? No, no, no, that's not gonna be a good therapist for a survivor of abuse of any kind. We don't need to be told that we should get over it. We don't need to, you know, the Facebook, you know, messages, you know, look on the sunny side or, you know, keep moving on and you'll get over this and all those positive kind of pseudo, positive messages. No, you don't want that from a therapist, if you're working through abuse, you want somebody who's going to meet you with your pain, who's going to have the capacity to have compassion for you. That knows what it's either they know what it's like to suffer the way you have or they've had lots and lots of clients who know it and they can meet you there, they can meet you with your suffering, they don't have a need to talk you out of it or to whitewash it, they know it about it and they want to hear about it and they want to be there for you. That's what I would look for.
Michael: Yeah, that's very poignantly said, and could not be in further agreement. And I think more so in that place of compassion as the willingness to be vulnerable like as someone's stepping in as a patient, like you have to, remember you're going there for you, they're not there for them, right? And what I think is so fascinating about my experience, was being in this position and sitting in this therapist's office, and yes, I had the list but that wasn't the ultimate precursor, it was the connection, right? Because I think about this journey is so much about human connection and so much about how do we relate our stories to get off the island? To not feel alone, to be a part of something great and, and be that as a self-defined narrative, and as we head further into this, you know what I'm curious about is there are often conversations of I found this in therapy or I found this through self-education or whatever it is. When you come through trauma though, there's that piece of the puzzle and which denial exist, and you just go either, a this didn't happen to me and you push it off to the side or be in my case, I was in the I'm over it, get over it, phase, not recognizing that, it's consuming every part of me. And so what I'm curious about is and I asked this question all the time and I love, I would love for you to have a different answer than what I think you're going to have. And that is, how do you create change in your life by being willing to step into seeking help prior to hitting rock bottom? How do we mitigate the risk of in my experience of; ‘Wow, my life is a fucking mess, I need help.’ How do you mitigate that moment and how do we get ahead of this?
Beverly: That's a very difficult question because you're right, most people wait till they hit rock bottom before they go to get therapy about abuse issues. Abuse is so hard to face, it's just so painful and it's so easy to deny it, and minimize it, and walk away from it. So, it's very difficult to get there first. Maybe if you know, if you're super aware and you can make an assessment of yourself, if you could take, you know, do a very objective assessment and say, okay, I do want to get over this abuse, I don't want to go to therapy, don't want to face all this, but let me, honestly, look at like what you were insinuating, let me honestly look at how is this affecting me? Okay. How is my life being affected by let's say, sexual abuse?
Michael: I'd like to interject just quickly.
Michael: What if you're not aware of that in any capacity because so often people are just like, one day, I woke up and I was flooded, right? So, how have you been a person who either has full denial, or you just don't recognize that you were abused, but, you know, something was wrong, then how do you kind of bridge that gap on the way to, you know, being willing to ask for help?
Beverly: Right. Right. Well, one would be if you could work at developing self-compassion because most victims, don't have self-compassion, they aren't able to look at their suffering and provide for themselves some validation or encouragement. So, I would encourage people to learn about self-compassion.
The one question you ask yourself, is let me think about one person in my life, who was kind to me, who was encouraging, who validated my experiences, and think about how did that person treat me? And how did that person talk to me? Kristin Neff, the person who started the research on self-compassion, has that exercise. It's a wonderful exercise. Sometimes, you can't think of, even one person that's not unusual in abuse survivors' background, they don't have even one person that they can think of, who was kind and validating and accepting. So, think about somebody that you read about in my novel or if we saw it in a movie and try to emulate that and treat yourself in that way, and even talk to yourself in that kind way.
That would probably go further in terms of helping you to have the willingness to face the truth about yourself. If you're willing to give yourself kindness and validation, maybe, you won't have to hit bottom before you get help, maybe you'll be able to give yourself that acknowledgment and validation enough to say, yeah, I need to go to therapy, I want to take care of me, I want to address my suffering.
Michael: Yeah, I love that. That's really beautifully put. And I do think about this place of self-compassion being such an unnecessary overarching view of the way that we need to exist in the world like we have everyone to tear us down and I constantly ask people, why would you do it to yourself? Now, on the backside of that, I also understand in hindsight that becomes our programming, that is the narrative, that is instilled in us and youth; You're not good enough, you're not strong enough, you'll never be enough, you're not deserving, and then you have the physical side of it that then reinforces this, and so now you are in this place where you have it, coming at you, from both sides and faced with this understanding of am I really worthy.
One of the things that you said that I think is really beautiful, as you mentioned, having the willingness to face it, I constantly am in this thought, the process of, if we have acceptance of the fact that something bad happened to us, that doesn't mean we have to get through it or over, it just means that we can acknowledge it and decide to move into whatever direction we need to take, so that, that isn't the thing, controlling every part of our life. What is your thought on acceptance when it comes to trauma?
Beverly: Yeah, I don't have anything to add to that if we, you know, if we aren't willing to go to therapy yet and we're not really willing to validate our own memories yet. If we could just accept, you know, something happened to me. Maybe, I don't believe my memories, my flashes, maybe I can't find, I can't believe it, maybe even though I have this feeling inside me about what happened and it was a person I love and adore, maybe I'm not ready to face that but at least let me accept that there's something going on. I wouldn't be having these memories, I wouldn't be having these nightmares, I wouldn't be having these flashes, I wouldn't have the behaviors in my life that I do, if something horrible hadn't happened to me, so let me just start there. That's perfect. What you said was perfect. Let me just start with acceptance. Yes, something happened to me.
Michael: Yeah, and I think so often, we kind of subconsciously know, this or even consciously, but it's dark, it's hard, like, I think about my own triggering memories my own flashbacks, although, all the experience leading up to that moment of ultimately, my breakdown a decade ago, that forced me into this place of making a decision either heal or die effectively as where I was at, and stepping into this journey and recognizing the power of the human brain, to be both malleable and plastic, and willing to step into growth and healing and change. We're in this journey, do you think that it's important to leverage community and have reached out? Because what question, I get all the time is should I share my story? I personally, don't have a recommendation for that, that is your story, but is there an in stepping into that in a public forum in any capacity?
Beverly: Well, it depends on what you mean by the public forum. I'm definitely...
Michael: I think we live in the time of social media and everyone jumps it there, right?
Beverly: Yeah. No, I don't think you should be telling your story just randomly publicly but we do know that survivors need support, they do need to feel like they're not alone. So there are support groups on the internet, you know, there are groups that you can go to and just be in the presence of other people. You don't have to tell your story until you're ready or maybe never, but you can be just being in a group of other people who had the same experience, hearing their stories, hearing their experiences is so healing because abuse is so isolating, we feel like we're the only one, we feel like we're the only one to have these feelings and we feel like a so much shame that my book is about healing the shame of emotional abuse because we have so much tremendous shame about any form of abuse, not just sexual abuse. And so to hear other people have the same experience that's going to help heal that shame. We're not so alone, were not so unusual, we're not such a terrible person, you know, we're not a monster. Other people have experienced the same things and yeah if you ever get to the point where you want to tell your story, that's great but that isn't necessary. What's necessary is the connection with other people.
Michael: Yeah, such a great point and I constantly think about shame and guilt that ties a long matt with thinking about being weak or powerless or whatever that thing was in the time that you experienced it. And I often think about childhood trauma being the elephant in the room of mental health care right now. It is something that is so incredibly disturbing about it, yet we sweep it under the rug, like, it doesn't happen and I'm so curious just as your general thoughts because there are the people who listen to this podcast are people who survived dark things and yet societally, it's not talked about it is the only socially acceptable form of violence that exists in the world, and yet, it is destroying everything that it touches I think about my journey and ultimately, my goal is, how do I help a million people at an exponential rate, step through this and remove it? Ultimately putting myself out of business, is my goal, I don't want to do this job, but I can't seem to find a way to navigate it when we have the shame of addressing it, to begin with. So how do you move through that? How do, I was a trauma survivor who fills this immense amount of shame and guilt for things that I am actually not culpable for a step into it?
Beverly: Yeah, well interestingly, Trump may have given us a little opening here. Okay? We never talked about gaslighting before Trump was President. Now, we talked about gaslighting all the time. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse, that is integral to most emotionally abusive relationships. Now, everybody's talking about gaslighting, we have the perfect example of an emotional abuser, in the White House, not for very long, he's leaving, thank God, but you know, he wasn't, he wasn't is an emotional abuser and it was right in our face. We've talked about narcissism for the first time, I've never heard so many people, talk about narcissism never heard. So many books being written about it or therapists talking about it, and so, you know, as I don't want to get into politics. If you're a Trump supporter, but we do openly talk about his narcissism, and he is lying, and we talked about the gaslighting aspect and those are aspects of abuse. So I think because of that opening, we're going to have more openings to talk about abuse now. You know, his book came out written by his niece that talked about his childhood experience, you know, there are so many people who don't even connect their current situation with their abuse, they don't connect their current situation with their childhood and when it becomes evident and therapy, they go, ‘Oh wow, I didn't think about that I didn't think about the fact that, you know, I was physically abused as a child, and now I have this emotionally, the abusive husband didn't even make that connection.
So I do think there's hope for us to start talking about it even more than we ever have. So I don't know if I can answer your question, but I do see some hope in all this chaos and all this horror. I see some hope that we're talking about what creates a person. You know, like Trump, I'm sure you must have some Trump supporters and I'm probably insulting them and I don't mean to but we’re talking about what causes certain behaviors and that's a beginning because most people have been abused. We carry with us a lot of baggage; we carry with us a lot of behaviors that are not healthy for us or for others. So if we can make that connection between our present behavior and our past and others' present behavior in their past, that's a beginning.
Discover the Power of Gestalt Chairwork: Healing Your Inner Child with Michelle Chalfant
Michael: Yeah. Well, I don't think there's a right or wrong obviously. You know what? I like that you talk about the chair work and that being just this kind of branch of Gestalt because I found that in my own journey, Gestalt really for me is probably the most transformational type of therapy that I was able to step into. There's something about the practicality of it that I think that maybe other modalities miss out on. For this sake of conversation and those who perhaps formed kind of take us through the top to bottom of what Gestalt is what it means and how it works in the the healing journey?
Michelle: Yeah, for sure. I'm just going to put it through the lens of the adult chair model that I created, if that's okay with you because it's all good stuff, there are a big part of it as goes about. The salt is all about really, you hear people use the term, the empty chair technique, so you can put different personas or parts of ourselves in these chairs and it can become your mother, your father, or even a part of yourself. Let's say the perfectionist, let's say it's the victim and then you can work with those parts whether they're part of you inside, or part of you outs, or partners or someone outside of yourself, it's powerful work. But with the adult’s chair model is based on three distinct aspects of your life, it's a whole life journey that we take so, we start out as children. So, the first there's three chairs; the first year, as a child chair is from the age of 0 to 6 this is when we learn all about true emotions, true needs, spontaneity, passion, intimacy, and vulnerability from the age of 0 to 6, after the age of six is when the ego starts to drop in that is from the age of about 7 to 24, this is what we call the adolescent chair, so it really is from pre-adolescents, adolescents to adolescents, so the Adolescent chair is all about ego stuff.
So again, victim, codependent, narcissist this is where learned not to live in the moment because the ego is lives in the past and the future. It's always on guard, it's based in fear, this is where we make up stories and assumptions, we really want to go in and we go into our heads. This is where we are reactionary, this is where we have rage, this is where we defend instead of feeling or emotions. So it's not a bad part of who we are, but it does take some understanding of what we want to do with the Adolescent is get to know these parts.
The third part of who we are, what I call the adult chair, this is the healthiest version of self. We move in here around the age of 25, if we had modeling that showed us how to do it, we quite naturally slide into this adult chair. In the adult chair, we are present moment, we live with fact and truth or compassionate. We know how to tune into our child part, the inner child, which is where we feel our emotions and we don't react to them but instead we process and then we respond. This is where we have compassion again, for self, for others, this is where we're strong we can set boundaries. We're very aware in this chair so that's the goal. No matter what ailment or what issue that we have were able to plug into these three chairs.
So when I have client, when I used to have clients, they would come into my office out of three chairs that were set up, and I say, do a check-in from the chairs. So this is that Gestalt therapy and I have people, let me give you an example. Remember, this girl came in and she was hysterically crying and I said, what's going on? She said, oh my God, I'm going to lose my job, I know me to lose my job and I still will do a check-in from the chairs and she jumped in the adult chair and she says I'm going to lose my job and I said is that fact and truth because from our adult, we live in acting truth in this very moment. She says it is true and I said, how do you know she says well everyone else that has been hired up to me has been let go or after me has been let go, so I'm next on the list I said, so is that an assumption that you're getting fired or is that truth? She says, well, it's an assumption; I said get over here and your adolescent chair and she says, oh wow, okay, and I said, so that's not true, that's an assumption and I said, what do we know that's true and then she said, well, my boss loves me, he says he can't do anything without me, I'm his right-hand, she went on and on and I said, so we don't even know that you're ever going to get fired. I said, but we do want to be adults about this, so let's go ahead and send a resume out, let's start thinking through this just in case as it turns out, she never even got fired.
In fact, she ended up leaving on her own because she was always worried about getting fired but this is how we typically show up from this adolescent chair. We show up from this part of us that lives in fear that lives and storing and assumption that's not even, I mean, and when we ask ourselves, what's fact and truth? We snap out of that fear, because most the time that fear isn't real and that's where we live. Does that make sense?
Michael: Yeah, 100%. And I think part of my experience and it was reliving and being stuck and trapped in fear of the past, right? And I think that probably holds true for many of you adult survivors of childhood trauma. I think there's one thing to have the conversation and to be in that present moment and go, okay, this is the scope in which through, I'm looking at life, can I make meaning of that? And then there's everything that happens when you walk out of the office. So from a practical standpoint, one of the things that helped me tremendously was just understanding, kind of like the system of change and how you reprogram your brain, and how you make meaning of things that are happening in your life but it took me a while to really hold on to the fact like as I was walking down the street, chances are I probably wasn't going to get murdered so I didn't need to have my keys between my knuckles, right? And I think part of it is just living, part of it is the experience of going through those things that you are learning and trying to understand in this Human Experience, but for people who they go through coaching and they're on the edge there on the precipice of filling like this change that can happen can happen, but they yet remains I'm stuck. How do you start to bridge that gap so that people can actually start to elicit change in their life?
Michelle: Well, you know what, we use a lot of different techniques within the adult chair model. So one of them is parts work, one of them another technique that I love is doing inner child work. So when you talk about change; the inner child work is in my opinion, like, such Foundation because that's where so much of our wounding happens is while we're in this younger state. So I teach people how to reconnect with the inner child with the inner child is where all of our emotions are, it's where our true needs are and we don't know what our true needs are. We know what we want, we don't know what our true needs are. A true emotional need is something like – I need a hug, I need you to tell me I'm okay, I need you to tell me that I matter. So when you start teaching people these things, this is where change really starts to happen.
So when they leave the office, I give them ideas on how to work with the inner child, so then go home and keep working, and they come back and they go, oh my God, I can't believe it like, I've got this relationship with this part of me, and it's being integrated and everything in my life is starting to change. I've seen this like thousands of times in my office like over and over and over again just people keep changing just by working with that inner part because we cut ourselves off from that part when there's trauma and even if there's not trauma, most parents don't reflect back to us. Hey, you know Michael, what are you feeling today? Or how does that make you feel when so and so? That didn't happen at least I don't know about parents today, I think they're getting a little better at it but that needed to happen for us when we were growing up. So what have we had to learn how to repair in ourselves now and that's how we'd start this change and continue the change when they're not in an office and when they're on their own at home.
Michael: One of the more fascinating aspects of my journey was recognizing and understanding how dissociated I was and connecting that to being, you know, 4, 8, 12, 15 years old, and saying, I literally learned how to turn off and understand that was an autonomic response to the stimulus that was in my life and it was a parameter of safety that needed to happen in order for me to probably make it to this moment, but tapping into the inner child part myself was arguably more difficult than most other things because the only thing I ever wanted to do when I was a kid, was be a grown-up, right? And so, there is this big disconnect me a long time and I think I'll always be working on connecting that a little bit deeper, but for practicality say, can you give us a couple of examples of things that people who are listening right now where they're like – I'm very disconnected from the reality of my emotional state. What are one or two things that they could do or think about or contemplate to start to rebuild that, or even for the first time build that relationship with themselves?
Michelle: I love that, that's a great question. The thing is like you said, disassociation happens with so many of us and what we need to do is to learn how to become present with ourselves, sitting quietly, feet on the ground and just noticing your feet are on the ground, taking some deep breaths, closing your eyes and noticing what do I feel in my body? So instead of going after emotions, and I've had people that sit with me and they're like, I don't know what I'm feeling, I'm all stressed out, no, it's okay, we want to take this slow because so many of us, don't know how to feel our emotions but you do know possibly how to feel something going on in the body. And when you close your eyes, you got your feet on the ground, you're taking some slow deep breaths, bringing yourself into the moment and you look at what's going on in the body with curiosity which means you might feel a teeny tiny tightness in your stomach and I mean tiny, you might feel a tiny little tightness in your throat, so be with that. Those are emotions that you're feeling physically and that's perfect, this is a phenomenal place to start. Again, you don't go at it like, you're tackling the emotion, you're looking at it with curiosity, like gosh, you know, am I feeling anything? Maybe, let me close my eyes, in check and you close your eyes, you might feel your shoulder, start to come up a little bit that's something too.
So we start there, you don't have to label the emotion, but you've just tuned into the physical body, and then you be with whatever you're feeling. So if you have a little teeny tiny knot in your stomach, or your shoulders rub, or whatever it is, sit with it, feel it, and just breathe, that's it.
You don't have to do anything but what happens is when you give attention to that emotion, physically speaking, it moves through you. In fact, emotions only last 90 seconds when you're in them, the reason that they last longer is that we make up a story about the emotion which drags it out longer and longer but when you're purely feeling an emotion, it moves through and I've worked with I've lost track of how many people they say; I can't film, like let's just get curious about the body, they'll feel something we'd be with it and it moves through every single time, I've never had someone not be able to do this. But it's light and that's why I invite people to close their eyes, just get inside the body, if you don't want to close your eyes, you don't have to but tune in what's going on and when you can tune into that, you can start feeling your emotions and it builds from there. So that's a great way to start, great place to start.
Discover the Path to Healing Inner Child Trauma and CPTSD: Expert Insights and Strategies with Relationship Coach Gloria Zhang
Michael:You know, I think about those moments of childhood in my own journey and having that, and I'm sure many of the Unbroken Nation as having those similar experiences and finding the understanding of the baseline of relationships being volatile, and then moving towards that. You know, I think about this concept and idea that we often use about being able to thrive in chaos. And I'm like, well, that's kind of nonsensical when you really think about it. And we run from it, we hide from it, we try to do everything to avoid being in those kinds of relationships. And I think even subconsciously to an extent where, like, I know this isn't right, but I don't remove myself from it. And I think part of that is cuz you just witness these family systems and dynamics of people just being like, we hate each other, but we're not gonna do anything about it. So, as your child, you're going through this, you're in this experience, you're in your room, headphones on, witnessing these things, like what is going through your head?
Gloria: Such a good question. You know, the chaos part of it has a lot to do with how it really messed up my nervous system having to witness that as a kid. Right. And I know a bit about your story, Michael, I know it was the same for you where the chaos and the absolute roller coaster just becomes your norm. You know, when I was a kid and I didn't understand any of these ideas, right. When you're a kid, all you want is just for mom and dad to get along and to be happy. There were days I would literally like beg to God, or I didn't even have these concepts as a kid. I would beg to the world that mom and dad could just get along and be happy and I would just play this fantasy over and over again in my head about us becoming this big, happy family together where no one was yelling at each other. And I would just clinging onto that fantasy, into that hope. Right? Until I would go to bed at night, it really was that simple but as a kid that's all you don't understand that maybe the way mom, dad is treating mom isn't right, all you know is that these two people are the only people who are providing for you. They were the only two people that you're connected with. And even if they are, you know, violent and abusive, you're still attached to them as a child who holds onto that dream of what a family is supposed to look like, that's honestly what it was like.
Michael: I remember these moments of like there was this movie that I hate to this day called Annie, which I'm sure most people are familiar with because it was like, you watch this, this little girl and I like, I love the fact that like, it's this happy ending thing, but like you watch this little girl get rescued effectively. And I think that is such a fucking misnomer in the truth of the childhood experience, because I don't know anybody personally that ever got rescued. And so, you're in this thing where much like you, I would sit and be like, okay, God, spirit, universe, somebody, please save me from this and you find that it doesn't happen. And then what happens is you coping mechanisms, right? What was kind of this transition for you as a kid where suddenly you're like, wait a second, I'm moving into this space of high achiever. I'm moving into this space of like, and I don't wanna put words in your mouth, but for me it was avoidance. So, I'm like drugs and alcohol, but for other people they're like, and I know many of these people, I coach many of them, they go I'm high performer. How do you end up there?
Gloria: Yeah, high achieving is a form of avoidance. So, that's totally spot on. You know, for people like us who were shifted and molded into that high performer category usually something happens along the way where combined with all of the messed-up relationship stuff you witnessed, you probably had parental figures who only validated certain parts of you. And it's usually the parts of your personality that have flourished into that high achiever. So, in my situation, I was only shown love when I got an A plus on my tests at school. Right. And if I came home with a 95%, the response was always, well, what happened to the other 5%? You know, it’s like everything was molding me to become this people pleaser, where I just wanted to impress my parents and almost to distract them from their own marriage problems by saying, Hey, look at me, stop fighting for a sec, look, I got eight plus on this test. Aren't you proud of me? Aren't you proud of me? Aren't you proud of me was probably the mantra I grew up with up until I was, you know, 18 years old. And it was the only way that I could feel like I had some sense of control and that's how we become overachiever. Right? It can feel totally like an addiction, but it's taking us away from what it is that we truly want and it's to be accepted and to have love for who you actually are, not the things that you achieve and accomplish.
Michael: Yeah. And I think the downside of that is unfortunately, I can only speak for myself, but as a child, there's a 0% chance I would understand what you just said. And so, we go to those things because they give us some semblance of identity. Right. You're in it and you're like, this is who I am. So even if it means for five seconds, I get admiration, I'm going to kill myself to get that, right? I think it's like that struggle of, you know, when you get ahead of dopamine, the reward is best when earned. And I think one of the hard parts about this context is the earning it is this insurmountable battle that on the one rare occasion that you get it, it's like your fucking brain explodes and you're like, this is the greatest day of my life when in actuality it's not, and that's something you should be experiencing frequently. So, when you have these moments and you're like, okay, aren't you proud of me? And you get that, yes. I would assume occasionally not putting words into your mouth. What was your response to that?
Gloria: It's like a slot machine, right? One of these times I'll get it right. You know, I'll just keep pulling at the lever and, you know, I love the whole idea of bread crumbing and relationships and all of this inner work. It's like when you've been starving for a meal for so long, all of a sudden that tiny piece of breadcrumb feels like a five-star meal that feels like a Michelin restaurant meal. And when you finally get that hit of Dopamine, as you were saying, when you finally get, you know, the smile or a hug from your mom and your dad, it feels like, like the biggest moment in your entire life. And it's not right, because emotional needs are actual needs. You know, I hear clients at the beginning of our journey sometimes say things like, oh, you know, it would've been nice if my mom hugged me, would've been nice if they smiled at me and it's like, no, no, no, this is not something that would've just been a cherry on top. These are actual fundamental needs, it's on par with food on your table and a roof over your head. I'm not even gonna go into the research into how meeting those developmental emotional milestones literally affects the way that your brain develops. It affects your executive functioning skills, but these are actual needs that were neglected in you as a kid as they were for me and for you as well, Michael.
Michael: I often hear people say, well, my parents did the best that they could. And to an extent I go, yeah, sure, that's fair. Okay. Fine. But then what I have seen happen again and again and again, is that we allow what in that context we determine to be quote unquote the best to be the barrier minimum, entry level to creating any and all other relationships that we get in from that moment. So now you're going through this process, you’re like, all right, I'm gonna go and buy, I'm gonna play the fucking slot machine, we're gonna see what happens. And now you're stepping into it, I want to trace this into, as you're going through this process of adulthood and falling into these toxic relationships, like what was your mindset in these? Are you aware? Are you not aware? Are you kind of both? Like, where are you in these moments of like, wait a second, something feels like my relationships with my parents here.
Gloria: Yeah, totally. I wanna speak to what you said just now of the bare minimum. So, when you look at emotional attunement in kids, which is how often you have to get it, right when reading your kids emotional needs, you actually only have to get it right 30% of the time, that is what bare minimum is for a kid to turn out to be securely attached. So, if something went wrong, it means that for you and your parents, it was way less, like less than 30% of the time they got it right. So, you know, maybe they were doing their best, but it still wasn't enough, that's just the reality of how it is. Oh boy, this is a can of worms with adult relationships. You know, some people who've never heard of this work before they're almost shocked when I tell them that your romantic relationships as an adult have everything to do with the way that you grew up. So, your caregivers, they kind of become the blueprint, right? They're your first interactions ever with human beings on earth, and so that kind of becomes the blueprint to how you understand other relationships, but have you ever had, you know, for those listening, maybe you've been in a bad situation with a situation or a relationship and you just realize you have this sudden epiphany that the person you're dating. Sure, reminds you a lot, like your mom or your dad. Right. And you know, it's not like we're intentionally going out there and choosing partners that remind us of their mom and dad, it sounds kind of incestual, but it's not it's because we are drawn towards what is familiar. And honestly, that could be as simple as the way that someone looks at you, when you say something and they kind of roll their eyes at you, or they put you down, or they diminish your opinions on things, little things that even though they might hurt you, they ring kind of a bell in the back of your brain saying, oh, this is familiar, right? Oh, we know what this is all about. And we actually develop attraction towards people like that, which is kind of messed up, but it's kind of how it works.
Michelle Chalfant, MS, LPC, CHC
Michelle Chalfant is a licensed therapist, holistic life coach, author, podcaster and developer of The Adult Chair, a transformational model of self-realization. Her extraordinary work has helped people all over the world improve their relationships, become unstuck and develop healthy self-love.
With over 5 million downloads, The Adult Chair podcast is where simple psychology meets grounded spirituality. Michelle’s audience receives practical tools and techniques they can use to access their personal power and transform their lives.
Michelle brings a sense of passion and over 25 years of experience to all areas of self-healing. To learn more about Michelle and her transformational model, visit theadultchair.com.
Gloria Zhang helps High Achievers break patterns of toxic relationships and attract the love of their lives through Inner Child Healing. Gloria is a Registered Psychotherapist and Inner Child Coach based out of Canada, and host of Top 100 mental health show The Inner Child Podcast. Her work on anxiety, childhood trauma, and relationships has been featured in articles such as Toronto Star.
Beverly Engel is an internationally recognized psychotherapist and an acclaimed advocate for victims of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. The author of 22 self-help books, her latest book is entitled, It Wasn’t Your Fault: Freeing Yourself from the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion. Engel is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and has been practicing psychotherapy for 35 years.
I have dedicated my career to helping those who were abused in childhood or as an adult. As a survivor of child sexual abuse and emotional abuse myself, I have a great deal of respect and compassion for victims of abuse, especially the difficulties they have due to debilitating shame—what I consider to be the most damaging effect of abuse. I am so dedicated to helping former victims heal their shame that I created this website solely for this purpose.
Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.
Here are some of my favorite recent guests!
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