Dr Jonice Webb – Emotional Neglect

Dr Jonice Webb – Emotional Neglect

The licensed psychologist and author (Running on Empty) talks about the effects of childhood emotional neglect and how parents can be more attuned to their child’s needs. This is a particularly good episode for people who struggle but feel guilty because they have no abuse or trauma in their past.

Visit Jonice’s Facebook Page  Follow her on Twitter @JWebbPhD  Read her blog at PsychCentral  Check out her website www.drjonicewebb.com    Go to Amazon to purchase her book Running on Empty

This episode is sponsored by Howl.fm  For a free month trial sign up at www.howl.fm and use offer code MENTAL

For tickets to the upcoming taping Thursday Jan 21st at the Uptown Nightclub in Oakland go to www.uptownnightclub.com  The show starts at 7:30 and the guest is Guy Branum.  Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

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Visit Jonice's Facebook Page  Follow her on Twitter @JWebbPhD  Read her blog at PsychCentral  Check out her website www.drjonicewebb.com    Go to Amazon to purchase her book Running on Empty

This episode is sponsored by Howl.fm  For a free month trial sign up at www.howl.fm and use offer code MENTAL

For tickets to the upcoming taping Thursday Jan 21st at the Uptown Nightclub in Oakland go to www.uptownnightclub.com  The show starts at 7:30 and the guest is Guy Branum.  Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

Episode Transcript:

Paul: Welcome to Episode 260 with my guest Dr. Jonice Webb. I’m Paul Gilmartin, this is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, a place for honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions, past traumas and sexual dysfunction to everyday compulsive negative thinking. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling, it’s not a doctor’s office, I’m not a therapist - it’s more like a waiting room that doesn't suck. The website for this show is mentalpod.com. Go there, check it out, you can fill out surveys that maybe we’ll read on the show, you can also see how other people filled out surveys, you can read blogs, you can browse the forum or post in the forum, you can buy coffee mugs or t-shirts, uh, and you can financially support the show as well, so go check that out. Also, the Twitter handle, uh, my Twitter handle is @mentalpod, um, so if you follow me I’ll let you know if I’m maybe coming to your city to do a show. Speaking of which, I am coming to, um, let’s see, this airs on Friday, um, tomorrow, January 15th, um, I'm coming next week to San Francisco, I’ll be doing a live version of the podcast, uh, at the Uptown Nightclub on Thursday night, January 21st at 7:30, my guest is Guy Branum, who’s a really funny guy and it should be a lot of fun, so go to, uh, uptownnightclub.com for tickets or just go to our website, and I’ll have a link there for you to get tickets or to find out more information about it. I hope you, uh – I hope you guys can make it. Um, I am – let me read this e-mail first. I like how I asked you, “Let me read this,” as if you’re holding me back from reading this. Once again, the listener is in my way. At every turn, they thwart me.

 

This is, uh, from a listener who calls himself EA, and he writes, “This is actually more of a response to your appearance on, uh, Cara Santa Maria’s podcast. As I was listening to your description of how so many people are scarred by past experiences at young ages it suddenly dawned on me that it makes my mental situation even weirder. I can’t really say it’s worse because it’s obviously not, because while I do suffer from several mental ailments, I have not experienced any trauma or abuse or anything that you would link to mental issues. My parents are positive and normative people, I never had a creepy uncle or a drunk relative that was inappropriate or abusive to me or anyone I know. I was never assaulted or harassed as a child by anyone, there’s absolutely no reason on paper why I should have all the fucked up behaviors that I do, yet I do have them. I’m clinically depressed, I’ve attempted suicide, I still suffer from anxiety and random self-destructive thoughts and behaviors – on top of all that, I’m a loner. I dread intimacy, and I’m at an age where it’s becoming inappropriate to be single. I don’t really enjoy sex and having a sex drive is more of a burden, uh, for me than anything. And still, I just realized that because I don’t have a traumatic event I can point to, I can’t blame my parents or upbringing or bad influences or any environmental external causes for all the shit I’ve gone – all the shit I’ve gone and am still going through. I’m only left with a conclusion that I’m inherently, genetically, inexcusably and unavoidably fucked up.” Nice sentence, by the way. That was, uh – that should be a t-shirt. “I won’t have that cathartic moment people have when they get something off their chest because there’s nothing for me to get off my chest. I kinda wish there was, so I could feel that release but there just isn’t. This is just my fucked up DNA. Sorry for the rant, I really don’t know where else to post it or what to do with it.” And EA, I just want to thank you because this is such an important e-mail. There are so many people who feel exactly the way you do and I think the reasons behind why we feel the way we do, while there can be, uh, some – I don’t know – it can bare fruit – god, I hate myself for using that phrase – it can bare fruit by looking into our past, ultimately it’s about finding ways to cope in today and that's the thing to concentrate on. I hope that you're seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist and who knows, maybe the episode that you're going to listen to today with Dr. Jonice Webb about emotional neglect, maybe it will ring some bells with you? Maybe not? But I have the feeling that this episode is really going to, um, wake up a lot of people who feel like you do, EA. But whatever it is and wherever it is you're headed, I just want to send you some love and remind you that you're not alone and what you are feeling and experiencing is every bit as valid as somebody who has been through terrible, uh - terrible trauma and you know, who cares what the cause of it is? Ultimately it's about us being there for each other - I mean, you guys being there for each other - if you need me I'm going to be watching Netflix. Fuck you guys.

 

This is an Awefulsome Moment, uh, filled out by - oh, and by the way, I had a birthday last week and I posted on Facebook and Twitter that for my birthday present you could, uh, full out Awefulsome and Happy Moments for me and a bunch of you guys did, and I want to thank you because now we have a - some, uh, really nice, uh, Happy Moments for the surveys and that makes me very happy. This is an Awefulsome Moment by a guy who calls himself Moodbeam – Moodbeam Swinger, and he writes, "When I was young, my father was a tough SOB. He was quick with the head slap when he perceived he wasn't being respected or thought we were being bad. Like many men, he mellowed in his senior years, yet I never lost my fear of him. As he was succumbing to the final stages of lung cancer, he was very frail, doped up on morphine. I don't think he even knew who was in the room. A 'lady friend' he had met through the church came to visit and say goodbye. My father came out of his morphine stupor just long enough to wake up, stare at her for a while, recognize her, and mutter 'Lookin' good!'"

[SHOW INTRO]

Paul: I’m here with Dr. Jo-nice – am I pronouncing your first name correctly?

Dr. Webb: Jonice.

Paul: Jonice. Not even close!

Dr. Webb: I know, it’s not phonetic.

Paul: J-O-N-I-C-E.

Dr. Webb: Yes.

Paul: Dr. Jonice Webb – um, and you have a book out called Running on Empty, which is about, uh, childhood neglect. And I think there’s so many misconceptions about what constitutes neglect, uh, can you talk about that?

Dr. Webb: Yes, um, well, mental health professionals tend – actually, the book is about emotional neglect, which is not the same thing as physical neglect. Physical neglect is when a child goes to school without shoes in the winter, or has no coat, um, or not enough food and so that gets confused with emotional neglect, but also, uh, emotional neglect gets confused with abuse, emotional abuse, which is something that a parent does to a child – calling them names, or insulting them, or hurting their – hurting them purposely, emotionally, whereas emotional neglect is the opposite of that – it’s when a parent fails to do something that they really need to do for the child.

Paul: It – it took me maybe 15-20 years of therapy, 10 years of support groups, to understand – and you know what it really took was – was forming really good emotional bonds with people in my support group to realize what I hadn’t got in childhood and the more I’ve learned about abuse on the podcast, um, the more weight I’ve given to those basic needs – emotional needs not being met – being as important as, um – or possibly, potentially as damaging as overt abuse, because the – the message that is given to the – by the indifferent parent that is similar to the parent who is abusive is, “You don’t matter.”

Dr. Webb: Right, but I think with emotional neglect, sometimes it’s even more powerful, just because if you were abused, as an adult you can look back and remember that, usually, but if you’re neglected people can’t remember it because it’s a non – it’s a non-event, you know, you felt something and no one noticed, and it just happens over and over and over and over in your childhood. You’re upset, and no one notices. You need help, and no one notices. And, you know, for most people it’s not that extreme even but, um, that’s what makes it so invisible and it gives it a lot more power.

Paul: I get so many e-mails from people who are racked with guilt because they feel an emptiness, a sadness, a – some type of wall around themselves emotionally where they can’t connect with other people or their lives but they don’t have anything to point to, and I always tell them, “Give weight to what you’re feeling right now, that’s the breadcrumb to begin to follow. Don’t – don’t wait for the seminal event to become clear in your mind to say, ‘Okay, now I’m valid, now I can go talk about my feelings,’” – you’re putting the cart before the horse.

Dr. Webb: Yeah, a lot of people seek that “Ah ha!” moment when there’s like, some big thing happens and that’s not usually how it works. Usually how it works is that you just very gradually, slowly start to let your feelings become more – more valid to yourself, and pay more attention to them and that’s really the road to recovery.

Paul: How do you do that if – if you’ve never done it before?

Dr. Webb: It’s – it’s really not easy, but it’s not impossible, either. It’s very, very possible – but in the book I outline a lot of different exercises that can get – can get you there. It’s, um, a matter of paying attention, like, tuning in more, paying attention to what you’re feeling from one moment to the next, or during the day, checking in with yourself and maybe writing down what your feelings are – it really is a process of breaking down the wall between yourself and your own feelings, and then once you get that wall down, it also frees you up to connect with other people in a different way.

Paul: What about the person – and I’m talking about myself here – who kind of disconnected from what they were feeling as a child because it was just easier to go into my – to just disconnect – disassociate sounds like too strong of a word, but for so much of my life, I was completely out of touch with what – I didn’t even know what I was feeling, so how does the person who doesn’t – who can’t even identify their feelings, where do they begin?

Dr. Webb: I think it depends how hard it is to get in touch with your feelings. I think for some people it really requires – you have to have a relationship with a therapist who is reflecting things back and can see what you feel – you know, what I do in therapy a lot with people is I’ll say, “What are you feeling right now?” and a lot of times people who grew up with emotional neglect will say, “Nothing,” or “I have no idea,” or they get – or they change the subject really fast, but – so, sometimes it takes a therapist to keep hammering away at that and challenging and saying, “Well, you look like you’re angry, so, you’re saying ‘nothing’ but I see anger on your face.”

Paul: I hated it so much, um, because I was afraid I was going to misidentify what I was feeling because it was so vague and it was so, um, fraught with just, uh, dread, feeling tired, just wanting to go home and sleep and that’s such a hard feeling to identify.

Dr. Webb: Yeah, it is, and it’s very hard to feel, also – and so, it makes sense, I mean it’s a survival –

Paul: But it’s like water to a fish when you felt – when you felt that way your whole life, you don’t know you’re feeling it until you don’t feel it!

Dr. Webb: Exactly, it’s so much a part of you, you don’t even know it’s a feeling. Yes, exactly.

Paul: So, how can the therapist begin to give that person a sense that – of - the fish the sense of water? Get ‘em out of the water I guess?

Dr. Webb: The sense of what it means to not have that feeling?

Paul: Yeah, because the feeling is so much your normal, so much a part of your day, you think that that means you’re feeling okay, that feels normal, it doesn’t feel like a negative thing because it is your – your every day feeling.

Dr. Webb: I think once you recognize that it’s a feeling and that it’s real, that’s a huge step – then recognizing what it comes from. You know, a lot of people, once they realize that emotional neglect is the source of this, it’s a huge relief, because otherwise, it just feels like something is – like, so many people walk around feeling like, “Well, I’m just different than everyone else, I’m just basically, fundamentally flawed. There’s something wrong with me.”

Paul: I’m lazy, I’m unmotivated, I don't have the vigour for life that other people have, I just must be –

Dr. Webb: Exactly, what’s – I mean –

Paul: Worthless.

Dr. Webb: Yeah, yeah. But once you realize that it’s not your fault and it’s something that your parents failed to do for you, it’s – you know, lifting the self-blame is a huge, huge piece of it. I’ve seen people zoom ahead in therapy as soon as their self-blame goes away because they’ve figured out why – why they’re feeling like they are.

Paul: How do you help them – because this was a big road block for me is – I felt - and now I know in hindsight that it’s false – but I felt that by giving weight to my feelings, I was pronouncing some type of sentence on my parents and so, I would feel guilt about it – because things were done for me that were, um, positive, I felt as if that made me, um, ungrateful, selfish, a baby, an exaggerator – only after I gave weight to the feelings and began to see what healthy emotions and connections were could I say, um, “Okay, my feelings were valid,” but how do you – how do you help that person who feels like they’re throwing a parent under the bus by giving weight to what they’re feeling because there were some positive experiences?

Dr. Webb: I say, yes, there were positives but that doesn’t erase the negatives, and the negatives hold a lot of power over you, so, hold onto the positives but acknowledge the negatives.

Paul: It was so hard for me to do that. How do you help people – because I would imagine for most people it’s not just – a switch goes off and they’re like, “Okay,” – it is just chipped away at by weekly therapy?

Dr. Webb: It doesn’t even have to be weekly therapy – a lot of people can do this on their own. If you’re really motivated and you – once you have that understanding of what you’re dealing with and that it’s not your fault – I’ve had people just start doing – you know, people e-mail me all the time as say – “I just,” you know, “did the exercises and I feel like a different person now.” So, I know people can do it on their own – it is like chipping away, it’s just, you know, bit by bit by bit and it takes perseverance, but I think a lot of people are highly motivated by realizing that they’re not at fault and that they understand what’s wrong now, and that kind of sets you free to really start to take it on.

Paul: Yeah, an epiphany for me was to realize that this wasn’t about punishing my parents, this was so I could stop punishing myself – so I could stop running from the feelings, um, and – and that was, um – that was incredibly transformative for me to take the, um – to realize that giving weight to my feelings didn’t mean that I had to do something with that in my relationship with that other person, you know what I mean? I could just put that off to the side for now and just focus on what I was feeling – that it didn’t mean I was going to have to go confront them next week, and I think a lot of people feel the weight of that future and they think, “But what am I going to say? But what am I” – you don’t have to do that right now. Is that something that you – does that make sense?

Dr. Webb: Yes, it makes a lot of sense. I think the price of all of this awareness that you can develop is, um, your relationship with your parents sometimes. Because once you realize how they failed you, you can never quite relate to them exactly the same way again. And a lot of parents notice it – you know, they can tell, um, you know – they can tell that their adult child is responding to them differently and returning their calls less often and so it can be kind of – it can be kind of difficult but sometimes the answer is just distancing and it doesn’t have to be forever, it can be while you kind of get yourself together and feel stronger and then you can go back and relate to them in a different way.

Paul: What are some things – if – if, uh, the child is beginning to put distance and the parent is asking a lot of questions, um, “Why aren’t you returning my phone calls?” or “Why don’t you call me every week like you used to?” What are some things that the child can respond with that are healthy and also self-advocating?

Dr. Webb: I think it depends on the type of parent. If it’s a, say, a narcissistic parent who’s only, you know, anything you say can and will be used against you type of thing, it’s better to give - I mean, I tell people if – whatever you need to do to heal is fine, you know? If you have an abusive or selfish or narcissistic parent, you can do whatever you need to do to heal yourself, so if you need to tell white lies or you need to, you know – usually it’s best to just say something soothing so that they’ll – they’re usually pretty easily soothed.

Paul: In other words, something that doesn’t confront the truth about their parenting.

Dr. Webb: Yeah, because you can’t get anywhere anyway, and you’re only going to do damage – unless you want to just get away from them, and then that can be a good way, you just tell them the truth, and then they understand at least why you’re not returning their calls, so that’s another option. But there are a lot of parents who are actually very loving and very well-meaning, but who still failed their child emotionally –

Paul: Probably because it wasn’t modeled for them.

Dr. Webb: Exactly, they were failed themselves and they don’t even realize it either. So, with those parents, sometimes, um, it makes sense to really talk to them about it and that can be very healing when a family talks and says, “Wow, we didn’t realize this, we’re going to try to relate differently.”

Paul: How – what is a good way to express the – I know it depends on the – you know, the individual’s experience, but give us an example and the words that that child would use, um, to talk to the parent who – who are open and – and – or at least open to some degree to hearing the truth and do want to have a better relationship.

Dr. Webb: I think in that situation it makes sense to explain that – to just say something like, “Hey, I’ve realized that there was something missing from my childhood and I understand why it is – it’s not my fault but it’s not your fault either,” you know, “It’s been passed down through the generations of our family, and it’s weighed on you and it’s weighed on me, and I now understand what it is, and I’d like to talk to you about it. It’s, you know, emotional neglect and I don’t,” you know, “I know your parents didn’t respond to you and it left you not knowing how to see what I was feeling, and respond to my feelings and so I pushed my feelings down and now it’s damaging our relationship and I think if we could talk about it we could have a better relationship.” So, in other words, you’re saying it with compassion and you’re including them in the healing process.

Paul: And you’re not cornering them and saying, “This is all your fault.”

Dr. Webb: Right. Blame – unless it’s a really, you know, not a – like, a – a – what’s the word? A really unloving, uncaring or abusive parent, uh, it really doesn’t make sense to blame. It’s not about blame, it’s about understanding – like, understanding what happened and what went wrong, not blaming someone for it.

Paul: What are some things that you’d like to - to talk about regarding emotional neglect – actually, you know what? Let’s – I put some, um – I put a question out there, I said I was going to be interviewing you, and – let me read some of the questions.

Dr. Webb: Okay.

Paul: “I noticed that because my parents never showed me affection, I learned to stay in my head, entertain myself and not seek affection from anyone. Aside from therapy, I keep,” she puts in parentheses, “(I keep trying) what are the ways to work on accepting love and being more body-present?”

Dr. Webb: Well, body-present – I think mindfulness can work a lot, learning meditation, mindfulness – accepting love is really a matter of being able to love yourself and I know it might sound a little corny, but it is absolutely 100% true, that if you have a wall between yourself and your understanding of yourself and your compassion for yourself, it’s going to be really hard to take in love from other people, so, I would say step one is ask yourself, “Do you really love yourself?” and if there’s any kinks in that, work those out.

Paul: What are some – what are some other things that you can do if you’re just in that – if you’re in that space where you just know you don’t like being around the parent but you can’t name it?

Dr. Webb: Oh, that’s a good question. I think the first thing to do is to, you know, look inward like you did and try to understand what you are feeling. If you’re really shut down when you’re around your parent, it probably means that you had to be as a child. If you feel guilty, um, it probably means that you’re blaming yourself for something and then it’s a question of, is that – is that a reasonable thing to do or could this be something that’s wrong between you and your parent? I think most people have an inkling that something is wrong with their parent, so if you have that inkling, I think listen to it and don’t feel guilty. Guilt shuts down that inkling and then it’s not allowed to go anywhere.

Paul: For the person out there that doesn't understanding what body presence is, what is it other than identifying what you’re feeling?

Dr. Webb: Well, my understanding of what she probably means is, like, being present in the moment and being present in yourself so that you’re aware of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. So, it’s kind of a “what and why” kind of thing, and it’s all about self-knowledge. It’s understanding yourself and why you do things and why you make decisions that you make and why you feel the way that you feel, and that’s really a process of settling into yourself and it starts with tuning into your emotions. It all starts with the emotions.

Paul: What are some of the key emotions to look for feeling that are red flags? Before, during and after because I know a lot of the important emotions for me were before being around her and after being around her, and especially after being around her, my wife would constantly say, “You’re depressed for a week after you talk to your mom on the phone,” and I would always say, “Oh,” you know, “you just don’t like my mom,” and then eventually, of course, I came to find out that, you know, she was absolutely right but, um, talk about the importance of the before, during and after and what are some – some things that you – to look for or things that you’ve seen in people that you’ve worked with?

Dr. Webb: Do you mean about being around your parents specifically?

Paul: Yes.

Dr. Webb: Okay. Um, I think that –

Paul: Signs, red flags, you know, et cetera.

Dr. Webb: A red flag would be anxiety – you know, if you feel anxiety or stressed about seeing your parents and a lot of people have that kind of buried, because they look forward to seeing their parents, but then every time they see them it’s incredibly stressful somehow, so there’s like this stress mixed with excitement to see the parents, and you want to focus on the excitement because it’s positive, so you ignore the – the stress part, so I think picking up and noticing that you feel anxious about seeing your parents – of course, feeling fearful, which is kind of anxiety much further along the continuum is another – another sign, which is probably even worse, because it probably means that there’s something worse going on between you and your parent. Anger is a good one, you know – and there’s - so many emotionally neglected people are irritated with their parents and I can’t even count how many people have said to me, “I snap at my mother all the time, I don’t know why, it doesn’t make sense, I’m a bad son, I’m a bad daughter, there’s no way I should do that,” and you know, check in with them two years later and they’ve realized that – that they grew up with severe emotional neglect and it’s not their fault if they’re snapping at their mother. Um, what else? Uh, those are probably the main – the main ones.

Paul: One that I noticed in myself a lot was engaging in compulsive behaviors, um, shortly after being around her. Just completely checking out with things that were addictive – do you see that a lot with people who have addictions where they flare up when time is spent?

Dr. Webb: Oh, yeah, because it’s a way of self-soothing and that’s part of a lot of people’s emotional neglect, is that they were not soothed by their parent when they were, you know, four years old and crying or having a tantrum or feeling bullied or stressed or whatever – no one soothed them, instead they were sent to their room, or they were told, you know, “Big boys don’t cry,” or you know, whatever it is, um, and so they didn’t learn how to soothe and I think that’s a common cause of addiction is just people trying to soothe themselves with whatever society has to offer, because they didn’t learn how to do it internally. So, if you see your parents and you’re – you have that old, old reaction that has been there since forever, it’s – you’re going to turn to your – your one way you have to self-soothe.

Paul: Give us some common things that the parent would say which shut the child down or negated what they were feeling so that, um – my hope is that listeners hearing this episode who’ve - who are in that gray area will have some “me too” moments and begin to give weight to what they’ve felt and I – are there some phrases, you know, such as, “You’re being too emotional,” – I know that that is one of the, uh –

Dr. Webb: Yeah, that’s a big one.

Paul: Yeah, that’s the big fish I think for a lot of people who –

Dr. Webb: Or, “You’re too sensitive!” That’s a big one, too.

Paul: Yeah.

Dr. Webb: “You’re too emotional,” you’re – you know, things that imply that you’re weak or you’re not as strong as the rest of the family, making fun of – you know, some kids are made fun of because they cry easily, like, “Oh, so-and-so cries easily,” and the whole family laughs about it, thinks it’s funny, um –

Paul: That’s so horrible.

Dr. Webb: It is! I know, it really does damage, uh, really serious damage. I think the worst – some of the worst ones are very subtle, and you know, this is one of the things that I’ve tried to call attention to because it’s so invisible – is when the parent just doesn’t notice the child because if you grow up really unnoticed, which, I’m sure you were because in spite of all the attention you were getting in the wrong ways, there were other ways that you – the real you was being completely –

Paul: It was horrible camouflage –

Dr. Webb: - ignored.

Paul: It was horrible camouflage –

Dr. Webb: It’s like, “Oh, my mom loves me, she grabs my ass all the time,” you know - um, is the wrong kind of attention. So, I think, you know, you can grow up remembering what she did but what she didn’t do is much harder to get ahold of.

Paul: And I couldn’t see that until I had healthy relationships. Um, what are some other of the – phrases that are kind of red flags of emotional neglect, especially in the more subtle area?

Dr. Webb: Don’t – oh, so “don’t cry” is not very subtle. Um, the subtle ones – well, for example, a parent who asks, “Is something wrong?” but then isn’t listening to the answer, so the child remembers that the parent asked, but doesn’t even really – kind of knows the parent wasn’t listening, and didn’t get any help from it but it’s a very confusing message for the child’s brain.

Paul: What are some, um – you have, uh, several different categories in the book of, uh, kind of textbook ways of – I should say categories that parents fall into, for example, the authoritarian parent is a form of emotional neglect – um, give us some of the major categories of –

Dr. Webb: Emotionally neglectful parents?

Paul: Yes.

Dr. Webb: Um, okay. Well, let’s see – I think there are 11 that I identified in particular, but most parents fall into some combination of several. I think one of the most interesting is the “achievement perfection” parent, because those parents seem to be very doting and very caring because, you know, they’re really pushing their kid and they’re at every piano recital and – or every baseball game or whatever it is that they want their child to be, and that’s not necessarily neglectful, but a lot of achievement perfection parents don’t really pay attention to who the child really is, you know, aside from that or even really wants for himself, so that can be one of the most difficult to see forms. Another is a workaholic parent –

Paul: The other thing, too, I think about that one is that the love can begin to be very conditional –

Dr. Webb: On the success of the child.

Paul: On the success – and the child then puts them on themselves instead of back on the parent where it belongs.

Dr. Webb: Yeah. I think that happens more and more in today’s world.

Paul: And I think the parent, though well-meaning, thinks that they are preparing their child for the rigors of life, and what are some – what are some healthy ways a parent can prepare their child for the rigors of life, that don’t involve uncondition – that don’t involve conditional love?

Dr. Webb: Well, unconditional love is a requirement to be a good parent, so the child has to feel that you the parent will love that child no matter what he does. No matter what, it doesn’t matter. No matter what, the love is always there. However, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences, so really good parenting is a delicate tightrope of understanding who the child really is, seeing who the child really is, accepting it – the child, for who he really is and at the same time, holding him accountable for the mistakes that he makes in a compassionate way and teaching – like, giving rules to live by in a loving way so that the child can take them in. So, you would – you know, if you’re doing good parenting, you might do completely different ways of parenting two of your kids because your two kids are so different, so you’re giving the child what the child needs as opposed to – like the authoritarian parent who takes the parenting template and just uses it on – it’s like a cookie cutter approach to each child – “Here’s how to be a good child, do this,” you know, so that’s just got emotional neglect built right into it.

Paul: I’m going to ask you some more questions – oh, uh, some other types – we have the authoritarian…

Dr. Webb: Oh, yeah. I think one of the most interesting ones is the “permissive” parent because there are so many of them these days and they really don’t seem emotionally neglectful.

Paul: They wanna be their child’s best friend.

Dr. Webb: Yeah, yeah. Their –

Paul: They think boundaries mean –

Dr. Webb: Yeah, “Whatever you want,” you know, “Oh, you want,” you know, “You wanna go to the park, you can do your homework later,” is a good example, and the kid feels like the parent is really loving, because the parent never fights with them or seldom – there’s very little conflict in a permissive family, but it’s very, very, uh – very confusing because what’s actually happening is that the kid is not at all getting what he or she needs, which is structure – I mean, all kids need structure, we’re not born with self-discipline, we learn it and we internalize it from the discipline our parents give us, so there are so many people walking around, angry at themselves because they can’t make themselves go to the gym, stop eating cake, you know, stop overspending, and they don’t understand that it’s – they were never taught this and so, there’s sort of a vacuum there and they have to learn it as an adult.

Paul: How do you go about learning it as an adult?

Dr. Webb: Um, well, there’s a lot – you know, there are two levels that that takes place. One is intellectual and the other is emotional. The intellectual part is easy – you know, you can look up dietary guidelines from the FDA and follow those, but emotionally is where the real problem comes in, so again, it's the process of understanding – stopping the self blame is step one – stop blaming yourself and make a decision, you’re going to take control of this, then start, you know – use – you can use, like, cognitive techniques which it’s like, recording – uh, keeping track of how well you do at not engaging in the behavior that you want to stop, or making yourself do something that you should do that you don’t want to, because a lot of – just as many people struggle with that.

Paul: What if you can’t bring yourself to do it? What are some ways – are baby steps a good way to ease into –

Dr. Webb: Yes. So, it might be like, you know, “Once a week I’m going to force myself to pick up the stuff off the floor in the living room,” you know, it could be really small things and part of it is a matter of neurological wiring, because if you don’t develop the wiring in your brain that allows – that goes from, “I should do this,” to making yourself do it, that’s part of what a parent has to do for a child growing up, by taking the child and making – making the child do something that he doesn’t want to do, that wiring is getting set up in the brain so that he’ll be able to make himself do things in the future. If you didn’t grow up with that, because you had permissive parents, then choosing just a few small things like – a few small things a day that you’re going to do or a week, and –

Paul: That you know are doable.

Dr. Webb: That you know are doable – the easier the better, it doesn’t matter how hard it is, what matters is that you do it, because you’re rewiring your brain to be able to make yourself do things you don’t want to do and stop yourself from doing things that you should do. So, sometimes I take people completely away from what they’re struggling with and have them just do that, you know, three things a day, tiny, doesn’t matter what they are, just do ‘em and then they slowly start to feel like they can take more control over themselves.

Paul: And I would imagine it begins to build some esteem, which then has some momentum to it, and makes it easier.

Dr. Webb: Yup, esteem and a feeling of self-control, a feeling of being, um, able to manage yourself –

Paul: There – there is such momentum – it never occurred to me how key momentum is in negative spiraling and in positive building of – of things. It’s so much like riding – riding a bike. Why do you think there’s such momentum – is it just you get in a good feedback loop or a bad feedback loop and it just feeds on itself?

Dr. Webb: Oh, definitely. Yeah. And negative feedback loops can, you know, lead to depression – it can throw off your brain chemicals. I think that’s really the answer that – to what you’re asking, is, if you’re in a negative feedback loop it just – it changes your brain chemicals and then that feeds the same kind – it just, like, becomes a – a snowball rolling downhill, but once you turn the corner and you start changing that, then you get the momentum of your brain chemicals changing.

Paul: I think that’s why support groups are so key, because there’s a structure to them – you’re – you’re going to go, I don’t know, maybe Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and if the support group is good, hopefully, you feel connected, you feel a sense of self-care, that you went and you did something that was good for yourself, so then you feel a little bit better and you feel like going two days later when the meeting is again, as opposed to – “I’ve stopped going to meetings, now I feel like a lazy piece of shit, I’m going to eat junk food, now I feel terrible because I ate junk food, so, what’s the point?”

Dr. Webb: Yeah. Absolutely. If you go to a support group it gives – you’re giving yourself feedback and it starts changing – it keeps the loop going in a positive way, because you can see you’re doing something.

Paul: Talk about the “narcissistic” parent – that’s one of the types you identify.

Dr. Webb: Yeah, narcissistic parents are one of the easiest ones, I think, to identify because they so often do things that are easy to remember once you grow up. So, narcissistic parents are very involved with themselves, they might have – they might seem to be involved with the child, and often they have, like, a favorite child and then they sort of leave the others to their own devices and one of the biggest signs of having a narcissistic parent is the children competing with each other because of that. So, anyone who is competitive with their siblings or has that sort of dynamic going on, it’s very likely there’s some kind of narcissism in the parent and I’m saying that out of my own experience in my practice, not from – I don’t have research to back that up. It’s an observation. But –

Paul: And the parents see the child not as a separate entity from them but as an extension of their own ego.

Dr. Webb: Right, yeah.

Paul: Right?

Dr. Webb: Yes. Yep. So –

Paul: Okay. I read that in your book! [Laughs.]

Dr. Webb: Yeah! [Laughs.] Good! You’re a good reader. Well, yeah, if the – you know, if the child does what the parent wants, the parent is happy, and the parent loves the child – if the child fails or does anything to embarrass the parent, then it’s a bad child and the love goes away and you know, when you’re growing up this way, you don’t recognize that it’s not normal, just like what happened with you, right? And you feel – start to feel that way about yourself and as an adult you’re very harsh on yourself and you know, you go from being really high, “I’m wonderful,” to being really low, “I’m terrible,” you know, a narcissistic parent can cause narcissism in the child just by the responses to the child.

Paul: What’s another type? And that has been the case with me – I definitely struggle with narcissism – I begin to feel – one of my core fears is that my life will be forgettable, that I am – if I feel – I don’t necessarily have to be the center of attention but if I feel marginalized it can feel really threatening to me – if I feel like I don’t – like I don’t matter to somebody it – it can feel very um, very threatening.

Dr. Webb: More so than just – I mean, nobody likes to be marginalized or feel they don’t matter, so you –

Paul: I think so, because it will sometimes – and it’s gotten better since I’ve been in support groups and I’ve begun to heal, it’s much, much better but I used to feel, as a standup comedian, if I felt I wasn’t – if I felt like I was in a tier below a group of comedians hanging out in a green room, it would almost – I would almost feel a sense of panic, like – like I needed to somehow inject myself into the conversation and I could see that I was doing it, I could catch myself doing it but it was – and it was – I would feel shameful afterwards, like, I would feel pathetic, like, “Jesus,” you know, “you had to,” you know, “you looked pathetic there,” but once I began to see it, it began to get easier because I could identify, from having done work in support groups, where it was coming from – that it was coming from an unfounded fear that I have to be spectacular to be safe in this world.

Dr. Webb: Mmhmm. Yeah, I guess that is a good example.

Paul: What’s another type of emotional neglectful parent?

Dr. Webb: So, yeah I was thinking about “workaholic” parents, because they’re also really hard to see because they are very successful usually and spend lots of hours at work, so, you know, you might take the child who lives in a huge house and has two, you know, powerhouses for parents or even one, you know, you might have one powerhouse parent and one depressed parent or something like that, but few people have sympathy for kids with workaholic parents because they can’t see what’s not happening, they only see what the kid has, which is stuff, right?

Paul: And it is an epidemic in this country. An epidemic. You know, whenever I see a CEO on the cover of Fortune 500 magazine, I just wanna say – you know, “Please include a story about the relationship with their children and how much time,” you know? Because that is part of –

Dr. Webb: I love that idea!

Paul: - of a successful parent.

Dr. Webb: You should write to Forbes and ask them to do that. That – because it’s true, I mean, not to say there aren’t really successful people on the cover of Forbes who have wonderful families, I’m sure they do but I think you’re right, it’s a hidden – it’s an epidemic, there are so many – you know, and there are people who are not that, you know - that famous or successful who are still working you know, tons of hours, and you know, workaholic isn’t the same as just trying to make a living. It can lead to the same thing if your parents are not workaholic but just working constantly, so they’re not around enough to notice who you are still has the same effect, but it’s at least well-meaning parents, whereas workaholics are more disconnected.

Paul: And I think the workaholic tells themselves that they’re doing a great job because they’re providing for their child’s future, but materialistically, really does it take that much to set a child out into the world having done your job in a practical sense? I don’t know, I’m not a parent, but it seems like workaholic parents really overshoot the mark in terms of that. I’ve – I’ve never met somebody who was really fucked up because their parents didn’t have enough money, but I’ve met a shitload of people who are fucked up because their parents worried too much about money.

Dr. Webb: Absolutely. Yes.

Paul: Or put too much emphasis on money.

Dr. Webb: Money. Definitely true. I think, you know, with workaholics – even there are a lot of workaholics that are very well-meaning and really love their child but they equate money with love or, you know, comfort – physical comfort with love, and maybe it’s the way they were raised or – but they just don’t understand what they’re really supposed to give their kid and they’re trying to do the best they can to give what they think is love.

Paul: And I think our society would paint you as weak if you turn down the job to be the CEO to stay where you were. You know, one of the things that I’m grateful that my dad did was, uh, he was a vice president of an insurance corporation and uh, there was a window where he probably could have been CEO but he didn’t – he didn’t get off that track because he wanted to spend more time with his family necessarily, he chose not to go that route because he just didn’t wanna work that much longer – he didn’t want it to be his entire life. He wasn’t really interested in his family that much but I was grateful that at least he was there physically more and I think our society views - um, certainly the business world would view that person as crazy for – for turning that down.

Dr. Webb: Or weak.

Paul: Or weak.

Dr. Webb: Yeah. Yeah. It’s really sad.

Paul: It really is.

Dr. Webb: Yeah, it’s a – our values in today’s world are really skewed.

Paul: Some – universities should create a hybrid psychology/business course to talk about what it is to be successful and emotionally healthy in interpersonal and interfamily relationships. That would – you really want to make the world a better place? Create that kind of a program.

Dr. Webb: Yeah, that’s another really good idea. I like it.

Paul: Um, is there another type of parent?

Dr. Webb: Um, depressed or – I’m sorry, no I was thinking bereaved, widowed, divorced – so, these are parents who are really just knocked off their game because, you know, maybe through no fault of their own they lost their spouse or they, you know, ended up divorced or, um, something else happened that they are struggling with loss –

Paul: Maybe one of their kids died.

Dr. Webb: Could be a kid, yeah. Sometimes the parent – the parent’s parent dies and because of their relationship the parent can’t recover, but if you grow up like that, being – you know, with your parent focused internally and just trying to grieve and heal, the child really ends up becoming a caretaker sometimes or having a lot of guilt because, you know, a sensitive child who sees that their mother looks sad or their father looks sad is going to often times try to help the parent, and the relationship gets set up around, you know, kind of reverse roles, which is another type of parenting – childless parent.

Paul: Oh yeah. I experienced – I used to go have to comfort my mom when she would break down and cry and say how we were selfish bastards and she was going to leave us all, and I was like, 7 years old and I would have to go in and tell her, “We’re going to be better, we’re going to be,” you know –

Dr. Webb: Oh, that’s heartbreaking!

Paul: It was! Yeah, I couldn't see it at the time and so –

Dr. Webb: Of course not.

Paul: - I never, um – it was really hard to consider my own feelings because I always felt like I’m the doctor in the family - I’m the emotional doctor in the family. I felt that way from 7 years old – I just felt like my parents are both fucked up, and it never occurred to me – because, you know, there’s a kind of an egotistical high to being able to soothe an adult when you’re a child –

Dr. Webb: It’s a feeling of power.

Paul: It is, it is. But it – talk about the damage that can come from somebody who either takes that role on or it was dealt to them to be that person.

Dr. Webb: I think a lot of them go on to become mental health professionals, you know, because if you grow up being the soother in the family, then it’s sort of built into you and that’s not necessarily a bad side effect of it, but there was something I was going to say about soothing a parent that gives a lot of power and – so, in order for a child to do that, though, the child has to push their own feelings and needs down because however upset the child is because the mother is saying, you know, “You kids are jerks, I’m leaving you,” – you know, you have to push your feelings away in order to go in and soothe the mother. So, it sets up an eternal dynamic that is all about someone else, so this is – this is why people who grow up emotionally neglected have – are so compassionate with other people and have such low compassion for themselves because usually of a dynamic like this, where they’ve had – well, this is part of it, anyway – maybe they’ve had to soothe a parent and you know, that sort of twist on things becomes a part of who they are.

Paul: I hate asking for help. Is that common?

Dr. Webb: Yes, very, very common. It’s called counter-dependence. So, sort of like, a fear of being dependent on someone or beholden. So, if anyone who has that feeling, that fear of, you know, “I don’t wanna ask someone to help me because then I’ll feel like I owe them something,” or “They’ll think I’m weak,” or it just feels wrong, that’s a definite sign of emotional neglect.

Paul: I had to get to the point where I knew I was going to kill myself before I – before I asked for help. That’s – that – you know, of course now, it’s a little easier because I’m support groups and I understand how healing it can be to call somebody up and say, “God, I’m just in this terrible place,” –

Dr. Webb: Good for you.

Paul: But it was so hard - so hard at first. What are some other repercussions of growing up, uh, with a parent whose needs came before the child’s?

Dr. Webb: The child’s needs come second or even below second, so this is why so many emotionally neglected people are caretakers, and think of other people’s needs first and don’t – aren’t necessarily even tuned in with their own need. So, emotionally neglected people will often go along with what everyone else wants to do, because they don’t even know what they want to do because they were never allowed to think about that as a child, it just wasn’t – didn’t figure into the – wasn’t on the radar screen of the family.

Paul: The classic, “if you’re okay, I’m okay.”

Dr. Webb: Yeah. Right. Right.

Paul: Uh, what are some other – if you can think of them – repercussions of – that the adult child then winds up having an issue with?

Dr. Webb: Mmhmm. Uh, let’s see. You mean – if the parent’s needs come first?

Paul: Yeah.

Dr. Webb: Uh, so having difficulty identifying your own needs, having difficulty – well, also it weighs into the feelings because there’s certainly no room for your feelings in that scenario, um –

Paul: Is addiction, uh, something, uh, that you see or is that just kind of a separate genetic thing?

Dr. Webb: I think it’s both. I mean, addiction is probably genetic to some degree but there are a lot of people who have the gene who don’t develop an addiction so there’s something else going on – it’s nature/nurture. Uh, I know – I’m sure, you know – hmm. I don’t know if addiction – I can’t really tie it together with that particular dynamic.

Paul: Okay. Depression?

Dr. Webb: Depression? Because a big cause of depression is having yourself – your feelings and your needs pushed down – you know, tamped down and you can’t tamp those things down without tamping yourself down. So, you end up with sort of a dull kind of existence where you’re not connected to other people and you’re not connected to the world and you’re not connected to yourself, which is the feeling of emptiness that comes along with being emotionally neglected.

Paul: And then to connect to people, uh, feels exhausting or anxiety producing?

Dr. Webb: Yeah, because some part of you feels like you’re doing something wrong. It feels foreign, you know, there was a – a silent never-spoken agreement in your family that you don’t talk about anything of – that’s emotional in nature - certainly nothing negative and if that’s the case then any time you do any of that it feels wrong – feels like you’re breaking some – some rules.

Paul: I have a question that I think would be perfect for this one that we’re on right now. Uh, I wonder if growing up in hoarding situations counts as neglect?

Dr. Webb: Huh. Ooh, that’s a good question. Well, I think – well, it certainly does in some way because part of what a parent has to do is teach a child life skills and hoarding is not a very adaptive life skill. Um, and it depends on the parent I think – like, I think there could be a parent who’s hoarding stuff but very loving and attentive to the child - I’m sure that could exist - but I think if a parent is hoarding it’s probably a higher likelihood that that is not happening, because the parent is – has got something else going on with them.

Paul: And that’s how they’re coping with their emotions instead of –

Dr. Webb: Right, right. And hoarding can be a sign of mental illness, although it isn’t always by any stretch.

Paul: Um, and then the other category was the depressed parent, or was that under the heading of the grieving – is that kind of similar?

Dr. Webb: It’s kind of similar, but it’s a little bit different because depression is an illness and depressed parents can often seem pretty functional and there may be no event like a death that could explain it to the child once – once he or she grows up but a depressed parent could just sort of fly under the radar and just be kind of, um, under-responsive, under-attentive, under-connected and appear just kind of like there’s something kind of wrong so you want to take care of them and you want them to feel better, or you want to make mom laugh, you wanna, you know, make dad get off the couch, so it’s – it’s a higher likelihood of getting the kid into a caretaker role, and it’s - certainly can lead the kid to have to take care of themselves more than they should, so it can make the kid just feel kind of alone in the world.

Paul: Uh, any other parental types?

Dr. Webb: Um, well, there’s the well-meaning but neglected themselves, but we already kind of touched on that. Those are people who grew up neglected themselves and they can be – they could fall into any of the other parenting categories or they could be parents who just really gave their kids everything and loved them and, you know, were great parents in every way except that they didn’t understand the child’s emotions, so whatever the parents blind spot is, they are blind to the child in that way. So, if you grow up in a family where your feelings were never noticed and there was no emotional talk and no emotional interaction that was ever understood, then you would raise your child that way no matter how much you love them and how well-meaning you are.

Paul: Let me ask another question. “Is it possible to bounce back from childhood neglect on a molecular, emotional, foundational level? I don’t think therapy is the only answer/element.” So, I guess this person is saying that neglect gets embedded in –

Dr. Webb: Into your bones.

Paul: - into our body, so is it something that can be, um, exorcized?

Dr. Webb: Yeah. I think it depends on the person – I mean, I would like to say yes, because I’ve seen people make amazing strides. I think though, if you grow up with severe and pervasive neglect, it’s really difficult to overcome that and get rid of it completely, but I can’t stress enough the word “perseverance” because it’s a matter of just working at it and working at it and working at it and working at it, because if you do stop working at it and forget about it, it will come back – your old habits will come back, so it can take a long time of really working on it but I really think that you can change your – how your brain works and change how you feel if you do it.

Paul: Um, you talked about ways of self-soothing – expand on that, if you would.

Dr. Webb: One thing that really can help, if you weren’t soothed as a child is to come up with a list of ten ways – ten things that are soothing – healthy ways – you know, people come up with all kinds of different things. It can be taking a walk, it could be petting your – you know, spending time with your pet, spending time with your child, calling a friend, taking a bubble bath, whatever – it doesn’t matter what it is, but just ten things that you feel like would work, and then start trying them. When you feel really upset, as you start to get in touch with your feelings more over the process of recovery, if when you feel really bad – do something to soothe yourself and notice whether it works or not and keep reordering the list and keep in mind which things work, and add and subtract – it’s sort of a way to teach yourself what you didn’t learn as a child.

Paul: Is it common to stay single and/or celibate in adulthood after a traumatic upbringing?

Dr. Webb: Single –

Paul: Or celibate.

Dr. Webb: Or celibate. I think it depends on the kind of trauma – I mean, I certainly think that can be the result of trauma, I’m not sure I would say how common it is, I don’t really know how common it is, but I think there are definitely kinds of trauma that could lead to that – probably because you end up feeling so isolated – you know, you have that wall up and then you can’t let anyone through.

Paul: And I think, too, when your intimate relations as a child – when boundaries were violated it makes adult intimacy kind of terrifying and often laden with dread and anxiety.

Dr. Webb: Definitely. Definitely. Sexual abuse and physical abuse are at a whole different level and cause, you know, all sorts of trust issues and safety issues that aren’t really a part of just generic emotional neglect, but they often occur together, so…

Paul: What can you do when you see a kid suffering due to an uninterested mom/shutdown?

Dr. Webb: Oh, wow. That is a really good question.

Paul: I think it would depend on what your relationship is with that mom. If it’s a mom in a grocery store –

Dr. Webb: Yeah, I’ve seen it actually in various places – I’ve seen kids just – ugh, it’s heartbreaking to see it, and you want to do something but you just can’t. But if it’s someone that you know –

Paul: Yeah, what if, let’s say, it’s your sister.

Dr. Webb: Right, and her – seeing how she’s treating her child. I think try to talk to the sister and not – not saying, you know, “I see you’re neglecting your child and it bothers me,” but I – you know, maybe – if it’s your – someone you grew up with, a sibling, you could start talking to them about how you experienced emotional neglect in the same household and how it might be affecting her, as an example – but I think that the rule of thumb is if it’s someone you know, and you want to talk to them about it, speak about it with the greatest compassion that you can, free of blame, you know, all compassion, because that’s the only way that you have any hope of getting through.

Paul: Would a potential sentence that would work be something along the lines of, “I love you so much, and lately you’ve seemed really overwhelmed and it just – it hurts me to see you like that. Is there anything I can do?” Would that be something that would be appropriate?

Dr. Webb: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that would be much better than saying, “I saw that, you know, Cindy needed you yesterday and you didn’t respond,” because that would just make – make the person not want to hear what you have to say.

Paul: Yeah, because I think any way that you can get them to open up without putting them on the defensive would seem to be kind of the – the key.

Dr. Webb: Yes. But the hard thing about emotionally neglected people is that they don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with them, you know? They don’t believe – they feel deep down something is wrong, but they – they’re fiercely defensive of their parents and they don’t want – they’re out of touch with their emotions and they don’t want anything to threaten that, so they kind of want to keep the status quo, so if you bring it up to them, you’ll see them circle their wagons and insist, “No, no, no, that’s not me.”

Paul: So, is one of the possible options – let’s say you try that conversation with that person – to just begin to distance yourself and that that’s a healthy choice because it pains you to – to watch them neglect their child? I mean, what do you – what do you do if you try all the healthy routes and that person is still in complete denial and it’s not necessarily painful to be around that person – but it’s uncomfortable, deeply uncomfortable.

Dr. Webb: I – I mean, that could be an option. Another option would be to develop your own relationship with the child. If it’s a child you care about, a relative, or – or, you know, a child that’s in your family somehow, or a close friend’s child, you can, you know, notice the child’s feelings yourself and then maybe the mother will see what you’re doing, and certainly it will help the child to have an adult nearby who says, “Oh, what do you need?” You know? So, that would be another option.

Paul: Okay. What are some other things that you’d like to, uh, talk about regarding emotional neglect?

Dr. Webb: Maybe about parenting.

Paul: Sure.

Dr. Webb: Um, because I think that there are a lot of parents who are raising their children emotionally neglected and its not their fault, and they don’t realize it, and if they only knew just a few vital things it could really help, and this is one of my main goals is to reach parents, because we’re in the process of training a whole new generation to also be emotionally neglected and to raise their kids the same way – it’s very insidious and it just passes down through generations, so for parents, I think paying attention to who your child really is, noticing what they’re feeling –

Paul: Even – even if it makes you uncomfortable – that -what this child is interested in may be impractical for them as an adult, or may induce the scorn of their peers and they’re going to be hurt?

Dr. Webb: I think especially then. Especially if you’re – you know, it doesn't always mean – so, noticing and paying attention and responding to it doesn’t mean always just like, giving the child everything they want, it can be helping shape that child’s, you know, needs – basically just letting the child be who they are, but being attentive of how it affects them and how it plays out and talking to them about it.

Paul: And checking in with their feelings and saying, you know –

Dr. Webb: Yeah.

Paul: What are some other ways?

Dr. Webb: Um –

Paul: Just seeing who your – understanding who your child really is –

Dr. Webb: Who your child really is.

Paul: - what their interests are, what they are feeling –

Dr. Webb: What their unique emotional nature is and giving your child – like, in the book I give an example of a kid who gets in trouble at school and comes home with a note from the teacher and how the child – the parent who is emotionally attuned responds compared with every other type of parent and the emotionally attuned parent basically sits down with the child and says, “What happened? Tell me the story,” and listens, and then responds to what the child actually says about the situation, not letting the child off the hook, but also showing compassion for why the child did what he or she did, and talking the child through it so that the child learns something from the situation.

Paul: I think a lot of parents make the mistake of thinking that showing emotional compassion to a child in the wake of a mistake means that they are, um, enabling that when in reality you can set boundaries and give consequences while being loving.

Dr. Webb: Yeah, yeah. I call it compassionate accountability, you know, when you – when the parent holds the child responsible for their actions but at the same time has compassion for the child and gives the child a rule to live by to take forward from that, that’s what parenting – I mean, that’s good parenting in action.

Paul: So, in that example that you just gave, one of the things a parent might do would be to say, um, “It sounds like you were emotionally overwhelmed when you, you know, punched your classmate in the face and I understand that it – that you felt that way and I’m sorry that you felt that way, but, um, we’re going to have to take your Nintendo away for a week, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t love you, we’re,” - I mean, finish my sentence for me. “We’re…”

Dr. Webb: “We’re always here no matter what.” Yeah.

Paul: “But – but you,” -

Dr. Webb: “But you made a big mistake, we can’t hit people, you never hit anybody for any reason ever. Period. So, in order to help you remember this in the future in difficult situations like this, we’ll take your Nintendo away and hopefully it will help you learn a life lesson.”

Paul: And then tell them they’re rotten.

Dr. Webb: [Laughs.]

Paul: Um, give me another – another helpful parenting –

Dr. Webb: Helpful parenting tip. Think of your child’s behavior as a car and his emotions are the motor. So, we as parents, we all respond to child – to the behavior that we see and we try to shape the behavior and what really matters is what’s driving the behavior – the thing that’s making the behavior happen, and that’s the child’s emotions. So, there are lots of times when you – if you feel really at loggerheads with your child and you just can’t understand why they keep doing something or you can’t understand why they are a particular way, instead of responding to their behavior and trying to stop it, try to feel what they’re feeling when they do this behavior. Try to put words to what they’re feeling, and try to give them some words and ask them, “Is it because you’re – do you feel angry when you do this?” or, you know, if kids – some kids don’t have the words because they’re too young, so then it becomes a matter of feeling what your child feels because if you can connect with them emotionally on what they feel, that’s a golden moment in parenting and it – the child feels it and the parent feels it and then you’re more together with them on solving the problem as opposed to –

Paul: So, the child feels reflected, heard, seen, felt.

Dr. Webb: Right, feels empathy basically. Yeah.

Paul: And then the world I would imagine is a little less scary.

Dr. Webb: It is. That’s telling the child, “You’re not alone.”

Paul: Uh, any other tips?

Dr. Webb: Hmm. I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

Paul: Okay. Um, anything else you’d like to talk about?

Dr. Webb: I don’t think so.

Paul: Well, thank you so much for – for coming on, uh, the podcast – again, the book is Running on Empty and people can get it through Amazon or wherever – hopefully they’ll use our search portal, but thank you so much for writing this book and uh, sharing this useful advice with, uh – with us. I appreciate it.

Dr. Webb: Thank you for having me.

Paul: Many, many thanks to, uh, Jonice or Dr. Webb – Dr. Jonice Webb – that’s a little cumbersome. JW. High five to JW. Uh, I hope that that episode, uh, turned some light bulbs on for some of you out there who are feeling stuck and are – feel like you don’t deserve to go to therapy, or you don’t deserve to, um, feel what you’re feeling because you don’t have any trauma in your life. I hope that helped you – I have the feeling that it did, so, many thanks to, uh – to Jonice. Uh, before I take it out with some – some surveys, I want to tell you about our sponsor. Howl.fm. Howl is a brand new app and website that changes the way you think about podcasts. It’s really kind of like Netflix but for podcasts. With Howl Premium you get exclusive access to dozens of original mini-series, audio documentaries, comedy albums from really great comedians, and new episodes are released every week – you get all the archives from WTF with Marc Maron and all the Earwolf shows like Comedy Bang Bang or How Did This Get Made? Their original mini-series are really cool, especially um, one that’s called Something Cool, where they focus on the brilliant careers of criminally underrated artists, so check that out, especially the one about Carol Cleveland, who you will recognize from all the Monty Python stuff. So, to get access to all this exclusive content on your iPhone or your Android phone and on the web for only 4.99 a month, what you do is you go to Howl.fm and you enter the code MENTAL at checkout, but first you’re going to want to make sure that you create your account at Howl.fm – um, so, again, go to Howl.fm, that’s h-o-w-l dot f-m and use the promo code MENTAL for a one month free trial of Howl Premium.

Let us, uh – do we just want to dive into the surveys? Do I want to mention that there’s a couple of different ways to support the show if you feel so inclined? Yeah, let me do that. Uh, if you want to support the show financially, go to, uh, the website, mentalpod.com and you can make a one-time Pay Pal donation, or my favorite, become a recurring monthly donor for as little as 5 bucks a month. It may not seem like a lot to you but it adds up and it means the world to me. You can also support us by shopping through our Amazon search portal. It’s on our – it’s no longer on our homepage – now it’s on – it’s either on the Buy Stuff or the Support the Show page – I forget, which one it is but, um – that way when you buy something at Amazon, they’ll give us a couple of nickels and it doesn’t cost you anything. You can also support us non-financially by giving us a good rating at iTunes, writing something nice about us, and spreading the word about the podcast through social media – that’s a huge, huge help and a lot of you have done that and I salute you. I even put on one of those old-timey Russian uniforms with the crazy fur hat and salute you – and I do it hip deep in snow.

I moved away from the mic to take a drink of my tea because I’ve gotten a few e-mails from those of you that have misophonia that it’s extremely, extremely, uh – I don’t know what the word would be – annoying? - to hear drinking sounds going on during the podcast. But I will probably forget by, uh, next episode so good luck to you.

This is a, uh – an e-mail that I got from Neale, and he writes: “Hi Paul, there is something that has bothered me my whole adult life. It is the shaming of suicide victims. I attempted multiple times when I was younger. It is a terrifying feeling knowing you are going to die but having to do it. My whole life when I hear of someone who has killed themselves, the first thing people say is how selfish and stupid the person – uh, how selfish, stupid, uh, the person had everything going for them, et cetera. If they had kids, it’s 10 times as much. ‘How could they do that to their children?’ As someone who attempted, I always remain silent, but just felt so much empathy for the victim. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I guess we all have a problem separating the person from the illness. Most people don’t understand mental illness and some don’t even believe in it. I suffer from it but still have a problem separating myself from it, but I’m realizing now that depression is a disease and that somewhere underneath that rubble is me.” God, that is such a beautiful sentence. I’m going to repeat that one. “I’m now realizing that depression is a disease and that somewhere underneath that rubble is me.” Wow. “That depression causes delusions, not as severe as other mental illnesses but the serious belief that one is the worst person in the world, and that you can’t survive another night without imploding or that the world and your family would be better off without you. Imagine the terror in that person’s mind as they prepare to kill themselves but knowing that they have no choice due to these delusions that they deeply believe. I know sometime in the future I will hear of someone else that has died, and people won’t understand and I undoubtedly will say nothing again.” And I wrote back to Neale, and I said: “I heartily, heartily agree with you. You know, I often think of the people who jumped, uh, from the buildings during 911 – you know, did we blame them for not hanging in there and suffering more pain? You know, while I think that we should try every form of help before making that decision, the last thing that I think it is is selfish. Sad is a better word. And I also feel that society and our mental health system should accept some of the blame. Some of you will disagree with that, but you know, if we taught children emotional intelligence at an early age, I believe that we would better be able to help those who get to a place where they feel that suicide is their only option.” Thank you, Neale. That was a really, um – a really important e-mail.

Um, this is an Awefulsome Moment filled out by Princess Terrice and it’s a short one. She writes, “Asking a customer if they were finding everything. He said yes rather over-politely. His girlfriend then asked him if he enjoyed talking to the retard.” [Laughs.] That’s so awful! Um, we’re not doing a lot of Shame and Secrets today, we’re just doing one Shame and Secrets survey and I’ve got a lot of the, uh, Shouldn’t Feel This Way survey. We’re also not doing any of the Struggle in a Sentence. I felt like this – this – this episode – this survey just goes really good with this episode, the Shouldn’t Feel This Way. This was filled out by – [Laughs.] – a woman who calls herself Young Hag. You guys are endlessly fantastic in the names you come up with. She was raised in a slightly dysfunctional environment, um, she’s in her 20s. What would you like people to say about you at your funeral? “Our lives are ruined.” How does writing that make you feel? “Selfish and ashamed.” If you had a time machine, how would you use it? “I would watch my grandparents meet.” Um, please write as many of these as you feel like. I’m supposed to feel (blank) about (blank) but I don’t, I feel (blank). “I’m supposed to feel happy about my life, but I don’t. I feel stuck and depressed and like I just want to become secluded until I don’t feel this anymore.” You have succinctly nailed depression. You have, in a single sentence – that – that’s the big three of depression – I’m supposed to feel happy, but I feel stuck and depressed and I just want to isolate – I guess that would be four things. How does writing that make you feel? “Sad. I want to cry but I’m in public.” Uh, do you think you’re abnormal for feeling what you do? “I’m not sure. I don’t know if everyone feels this way and just doesn’t talk about it.” Yes, a lot of us feel this way and don’t talk about it. You are so not alone and I just want to – I wish one of us was there when you were holding back your tears in public so we could have given you a hug, but hopefully if you’re listening right now, um, we’re sending you a hug and you are so not alone. You are so not alone. But talk to somebody about this, you know? Depression wants to get us alone and isolate us where its only arguments, or its arguments cannot be countered by somebody who’s reality isn’t warped by – by the disease.

This is an Awefulsome Moment filled out by Just Some Girl, and she writes, “I had gained a bit of weight so nothing fit right. I couldn’t wear my engagement ring - it sat in my jewelry box. One day I noticed it was gone. My husband told me he took it to a jeweler to get it resized. Fast-forward a few months, our marriage was disintegrating and we were separating. I asked him which jeweler he took it to. I proceeded to call them to arrange for pickup, as I was going to be leaving the area. They told me they never had the ring. I called my husband back to give him this news. He promptly hung up on me, then called me back 30 seconds later and told me, “I pawned your ring for money for meth.” [Laughs.] “Needless to say it was an Awefulsome Moment, which turned even darker for a bit but eventually led to freedom.” I’m assuming she left him.

Uh, this is a Shouldn’t Feel This Way survey, and this was filled out by Phil, who is in his 30s - he was raised in a stable and safe environment. What would you like people to say about you at your funeral? “That he tried his best. That he loved his family and they loved him too, and that he was a good friend.” How does writing that make you feel? “Crying honest tears. It feels a lot like when I wrote my goodbye letter to a baby that my wife and I lost due to miscarriage. God bless you and Dr. Jessica for that episode, by the way.” If you had a time – that’s – he’s referring to the, uh, third of the, uh three Dr. Jessica Zucker episodes. If you had a time machine, how would you – you should also listen - if you want to, uh, hear a powerful one as well, listen to the one with, uh, Gillian Chachere. Uh, let’s see – and I always forget if it’s “Jillian” or “Gillian”. God, I’m such an idiot. Uh, if you had a time machine how would you use it? “Two things. First I would observe myself as a younger man through my 20s. I’m certain that my depression started developing then and I would look for patterns that I could correct today. Second, I would move forward to the time when my sons are in their 20s, hoping and praying that they didn’t inherit this from me, and if they did, that they’re seeking the same kind of help that saved my life. I’m supposed to feel grateful about the blessings in my life, but I don’t. I feel that I didn’t earn those blessings. I’m supposed to feel good about the fact that I’m employed, but I don’t. I feel this – this job is slowly eating at me.” How does it make you feel to write your real feelings out? “Sad, full of mucus, but liberated.” That’s awesome. Uh, do you think you’re abnormal for feeling what you do? “Not really, but I only know one other person personally who’s admitted to having this deep of a depression.” Would knowing other people feel the same way make you feel better about yourself? “Yes, I would, however living in the Midwest, it’s hard to find support groups that aren’t, uh, NA or AA so the community is fractured.” Um, you might try joining the forum and posting – and posting there, um, but thank you for that, Phil, and uh, happy – happy mucus producing.

This is a Happy Moment from, uh, a woman who calls herself Chronic Victim of Others’ Anxiety and she writes, “My boyfriend gets consumed with anxiety by work a lot. During these times, I often rush around to help him prepare - in a sense, being a caretaker, despite his irritating demeanor. I realize today that even though I ironed and de-linted his clothing, made him breakfast, dealt with the dog and cleaned snow and ice off the car, that it would never be enough. He yelled at me for bringing him the wrong belt and not knowing where his glasses were. In that moment, I had the realization that this kind of emotional caretaking is something I did for my mother, who has BPD and lived with mania for years. Her anxiety was one of the biggest triggers for me to dissociate when I was younger, mostly because it was a time where I perceived that I was in danger (from being trapped with a mother being consumed with rage and anxiety). I’ve told my boyfriend that his anxiety triggers my dissociation, but his mon- but his mental illness doesn’t care. Thanks to your show, uh, I feel I’ve made the distinction between his mental illness and him. I also feel connected to a part of my younger self that couldn’t deal. Connecting to a time of your life that you were predominantly dissociated for is bittersweet. Unlike concrete memories and feelings, it’s more of a clouded wave of uncertainty. I can’t picture my younger self. I mostly have incomplete slideshows, glimpses of a numb time. I am happy that I have grown enough to not be angry at my boyfriend for lashing out at me, but compassionate enough to forgive him for how his mental illness affects me.” You know, one of the reasons why I wanted to read this, um, Happy Moment, um, is to – to stress that while it’s important to have compassion for your boyfriend’s mental illness, it’s even more important for you to have compassion for yourself, and if you are not being fed in some way by this relationship, um, I – I would do one of two things, maybe both things – go check out a Codependency support group, or go to therapy. Maybe both, because if that giving is coming from a place of, “If I don’t give I’m a terrible person,” that’s not really giving, that's codependency, and I just hope that you’re getting something out of this relationship that has nothing to do with you giving, because eventually I think it would turn to resentment. That’s my two cents. You know, I don’t know. I’m not a therapist, but I have sat through a lot of open mic nights and that is basically a psych ward with a cover charge. [Pauses.] I’ve already forgot about the drinking noise.

This is a Shame and Secrets survey filled out by a woman who calls herself C. She is bisexual, in her 30s, raised in a totally chaotic environment, was the victim of sexual abuse and never reported it, she writes, “The thought of typing this out just exhausts me. I actually didn’t realize I had been sexually abused until a friend went on a family vacation and I felt protective of her and saw the way my dad was looking at her. About a month later I started remembering repressed memories and also just putting things together that were weird and really not okay when I left for college and was away from that environment. I still go into denial sometimes and think I’m making it up for attention, uh, and I’m in my 30s. It used to be so, so overwhelming when I would accept it, but I’m in generally a much better place with it now.” Um, she’s been physically abused and emotionally abused. She writes, “I remember the exact moment that I realized that I didn’t deserve the physical abuse I was experiencing. I was helping my dad or mom wash the car and accidentally squirted my little brother with the hose. It was not malicious and not on purpose and I am 100% sure of that. My brother started crying and my dad grabbed me, dragged me inside, pulled me up the stairs, my feet gave way from under me because he was pulling me too fast and he kicked me. I knew that wasn’t right. I was really young. The worst thing my mom did was shake me, let me let go, and I glided along the tile floor with my head hitting the kitchen island. She then snapped out of it and was so sweet and nice to me. She really was not a – she really was not a kind or maternal person, so I remember loving that attention. Ugh. I just – I just realized I typed that out and haven’t even touched on the emotional abuse, which I’d actually say is much worse than the physical abuse. She never enjoyed motherhood and told me she wished she’d never had kids. They are really, really bad people and I know narcissism is a popular term these days, but just total narcissists. My dad might have Antisocial Personality Disorder, but they’re not right, whatever DSM label you choose.” Any positive experiences with the abusers? “I recently remembered when my dad made my brother and I root beer floats for the first time, because we’d never had them and he wanted us to experience them. Still love root beer floats. Can’t wait for my dad to die. When I heard he had prostate cancer, I was happy but unfortunately, I think he beat it because that was several years ago and he’s still alive. The best case scenario would be if both parents died in a car crash. You would think this would be in the darkest – deepest, darkest thoughts square, but I’m not really ashamed to admit this.” Darkest thoughts? “I like checking, uh, on the Facebook of my ex-boyfriend’s psycho baby mama who completely terrorized me. Like, stalked all my social media, stalked out his house when I was there, made threats, called me names, et cetera. I didn’t engage with her at all, but I like keeping tabs on her online. It just kind of – it kind of just feels like habit now, like she’s a reality star I keep up with. Or maybe I like looking at her life to feel relieved that I’m no longer connected to it. I’ve lurked long enough that I know all the key players and main characters. It’s like a delightful treat when she adds new photos or has a new status about how she supports a political figure. I’m definitely not proud of this habit.” What are your deepest, darkest secrets? “This is not at all dark, but I went through the entire Instagram feed of someone I don’t like, just to report pics where her nipples are showing. I was extremely miserable that day, so I can confirm that it’s true that the type of people that are lame enough to report nipples on Instagram are losers who hate their own lives.” [Laughs.] Sexual fantasies most powerful to you? “My sexual fantasy that I’ve never told a soul is an adult breastfeeding relationship. I don’t know if I love it because it’s so perverse and it wouldn't be that fun in reality.” I don’t know if I love it because it is so perverse, and it wouldn’t be that fun in reality. Yeah, I did read that right. “I’m not interested in pretending to be the guy’s mom, I just want to breastfeed him and have it be our thing. I feel like I really hope nobody recognizes me from this survey.” Um, and you should not be ashamed of that, embrace that. I hope you find somebody that you can, um – you can explore that with. There’s nothing to be ashamed about with that fantasy. What if anything would you like to say to someone you haven’t been able to? “There’s a past partner I would like to apologize to, but decided that it would be more for my benefit than his and have left him alone.” Uh, what if anything – that’s a very mature decision, by the way. That is an extremely, uh, mature decision. A lot of people don’t realize that. What if anything do you wish for? “To work through what causes my horrible taste in partners before I’m too old to have kids.” Have you shared these things with others? “People close to me have known that abuse happened but not the gritty details about the physical and sexual stuff. I still have shame or feel like that’s for me to talk about with my therapist. Also, I choose partners where there isn’t enough intimacy to even get to the point of really sharing that.” How do you feel after writing these things down? “I’m grieving and spent all day running errands and decided that I don’t have to do the last four things on my to do list and it feels good to think about my feelings, and honestly to talk about myself. I don’t feel like I get to talk about myself enough.” And in parentheses she puts, “No sarcasm.” Is there anything that you’d like to share with someone who shares your thoughts or experiences? “It gets better. Then it gets way worse, then it gets better. Haha. Therapy has been a priority for me for 15 years and don’t let money be an excuse to stop you from going. I think people with abusive parents shouldn’t feel guilty about cutting them out of their lives in order to take care of themselves. Fuck the fifth commandment. Don’t listen to people who don’t come from extreme dysfunction and don’t get it. Do what you need to protect yourself.” Amen. Amen. Thank you for that.

Going to take a sip of tea far away from the mic. This is a happy moment filled out by Cassie Unlovely and Cassie writes, “I found a friend I used to play in a band with when I was 15 (I’m 21 now) and he said that I’m one of the few people he knows that has always been true to themselves. It made me feel amazing. Sometimes I have doubts about the way I look and the way I act and who I really am, especially when I am depressed or anxious. I like remembering this moment whenever I don’t like myself.” That’s beautiful, you know, and it just brings home the point that it takes so little for us to make a different – difference in somebody else’s life. I remember a acting teaching that I had in college who took me aside – and this was a guy that did not throw compliments around, he was pretty, uh, I don’t know what the word would be – taciturn? Um, and uh, he took me aside one time and I thought I was in trouble and he said, “You know, I just want to tell you, um, if you want to be an actor, I think you can.” And it’s – it made my year. It made my year. It – and it didn’t – I’m sure he doesn’t even remember that, um, so just think of that when you go out into the – into the world every day. I try to remember that, that, you know, when I feel that dread at the thought of getting out of bed, if I can shift my attention from, “Oh, what terrible things does the world have in store for me today?” – if I can shift it to, “What little thing can I do today that maybe makes somebody else feel a little bit better or makes the world a slightly better place?” then maybe it’s a little bit easier to get out of bed.

This is, again, a Shouldn’t Feel This Way survey. This was filled out by a teenager who calls herself Coconut, and um, she writes – she was raised in a slightly dysfunctional environment. What would you like people to say about you at your funeral? “I want people to say that I was kind, funny, successful and a great person.” How does writing that make you feel? “It makes me regret decisions I’ve made in the past when I know I could have done better.” Um, to which I say, you’re a teenager. You are a teenager and you’ve got a lot of life ahead of you. If you had a time machine, how would you use it? “I wouldn’t use it at all. The past makes me sad in a nostalgic way.” Um, “I’m supposed to feel hopeful about the future but I don’t. I feel like I’ll never get what I really want. I’m supposed to feel optimistic about the school year but I don’t. I feel like every day my mental health gets worse and worse. I’m supposed to feel happy most of the time, but I don’t. I feel angry and moody.” I think it’s a myth that we’re supposed to feel happy most of them time. Um, how does writing this make you feel? “It makes me feel good and it makes me feel like I should do it more often.” Well, that’s awesome and you should start journaling. Do you think you’re abnormal for feeling what you do? “Most of the time I do, because I feel like I whine too much and others have worse struggles than me.” Well, I hope you hear this survey, uh, Coconut, and I hope some light bulbs went off for you in the Jonice Webb episode because, you know, that sentence, “I feel like I whine too much and others have worse struggles than me,” – that really strikes me as you echoing something of an emotionally neglectful parent.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by uh, Raven Black Hair and she writes, “Right now I’m struggling with a pretty challenging eating disorder. I can’t say I’m winning whatever battle I appear to be in, but I am not going down without a fight.” And she’s in her 30s by the way. “Um, so every night I spend as much time away from my home as possible to prevent myself either being bulimic or going crazy because I feel hungry but can’t let myself eat because it scares me to do that. When the weather gets cold and it rains the whole thing really feels difficult and I struggle because I feel like I need to walk to exercise, burn calories, use muscles, et cetera, but will do my utmost to do this. It has got to be one of the best moments of the days – of the day when I’ve walked home an hour in the freezing weather in the rain and my feet and legs drenched because the rain has rained sideways, and despite feeling like I’ve got an upward battle when I get home (the battle with eating has only just begun at that point) but to arrive home to realize I had forgotten that day to turn off my heating, so I arrive home to a warm flat. I take off my coat and shoes, put down my bag and crouch down into a ball. I feel so anxious about the rest of the night, which for me is the hardest part of my day, but so, so pleased to have gotten home and am able to warm up. I’m not going to be rained on anymore and just for a few seconds I can sit and gather my breath whilst trying to forget the next few hours of the night looming at me. It sounds pretty bittersweet but I think I just relish any small rays of light and if you really focus on them and fixate on them, they can just feel that bit bigger than they actually are. I like to think they’re not going to be the happiest moments of my life, because one day I will be recovered from this eating disorder, and the depression and chronic anxiety, and I’d like to think that the best is yet to come.” Boy, that was a great one and great one to – to follow, uh, Coconut’s survey. Um, yeah. Thank you for that.

Taking another drink. Avoiding the microphone. Let’s see, this one is a Shouldn’t Feel This Way survey, and this is filled out by a woman who calls herself Woman Mom Creative Worrier, and she’s straight in her 30s, raised in a slightly dysfunctional environment. What would you like people to say about you at your funeral? “She was a good, kind, creative person.” How does writing that make you feel? “Okay, but its not a very inspired answer.” If you had a time machine, how would you use it? “I would go back to when I was 14 to my first boyfriend, when the first accusation started. He told me that I was a tart/slut for wearing the clothes I did and I would kick him hard in the nuts. I know this isn’t just observing,” – because that’s what it says on the – if you could use a time machine – you can’t change history, you can only observe it – “I know this isn’t just observing, but I would like to remember just how young I was, although I felt very grownup at the time. It was mentally and religiously abusive until it ended when I was 17. He and his mother in particular indoctrinated me and turned me against my family towards their born again Christian beliefs. He made me believe I could only be with him if I believed what he and his family did. They gave me a lot of attention and made me feel special – they also brought fear of hell and fear of losing my family to hell. They especially focused on my mom who was and is a very spiritual person, telling me there was a curse on my family and my mom was in league with the devil. It started with his emotional abuse and somehow I kept coming back for more – that is how it is. It’s not the lows but the highs of being so young, impressionable, wanting love and attention. I know it wasn’t my fault. I now realize how mentally ill and abusive they both were but it has greatly affected my life and my view on spirituality. Just the formative years of my life! I did a year of counseling over this and it helped immensely. I think a little about this every day. I just read Christie’s blog on your page about spiritual abuse and it really rings true with my experiences.” Yes, there’s a guest blog by Christie, a listener, who writes about surviving spiritual abuse. “I’m supposed to feel privileged and lucky coming from a comfortable background, but I don’t. I feel scared about money and I worry a lot even when I have it and I know I’m luckier than most. Then I think I can always earn money if I need it and life had thrown me some great opportunities but I still have that fear. I’m supposed to feel carefree about life but I don’t. I often feel anxious and worried. It’s a waste of life. I’m supposed to feel like a grownup, but I don’t feel – but I don’t, I feel like a scared little girl playing out her imagined life but unsuccessfully.” You know, you just described 60 percent of us and our inner lives. You’re so not alone. How does it make you feel to write your real feelings out? “Okay, it’s something that comes up a lot – okay, it’s something that comes up a lot. I’ve done work around this in the past but it still comes up when I feel insecure, hormonal or tired. When I feel these intense feelings or fear or emotion, it can be very overwhelming and tangible at the same time. I live in the moment with them but they do eventually pass and then they are gone. I’m more accepting of these feelings and that I am not what I feel.” Boy, that is a – that is such a powerful and important sentence. I am not what I feel. “Uh, sometimes writing them helps – writing them down helps. We all come from different backgrounds and although I come from privilege, I would have preferred to have had a very loving and connected dad than someone you can never really get any closer to. Even though he has given us all a good life, emotionally its not been great, but I do have the opposite in my mom who is one of the most caring, loving people I know. About my perception of myself, it’s mixed and not all the time – and not all the time. It’s changeable like the weather.” Do you think you’re abnormal for feeling what you do? “I know I'm not the only one who feels like this. It sometimes feels abnormal but I know I’m not as I’m sure even other family members feel the same and it probably goes back generations to how my dad felt about his own parents working and not being around for him or there for him emotionally. It’s amazing how things run through generations.” Really perfect one to read on today’s episode.

This is filled out – this is a Happy Moment filled out by Aggie and she’s in her 60s and she writes, “I came to pick my granddaughter up from a party and she ran across the room yelling my name and jumped into my arms. I felt like the most popular person on earth. I felt trusted and useful.” That’s beautiful. That’s just beautiful. It’s so easy to picture that, too. I love how excited little kids are.

This is – this is filled out by a – a teenager, she’s gay, and she calls herself, um, It’s My Fault, I’m a Shit Person, um, and she was raised in a slightly dysfunctional environment. What would you like people to say about you at your funeral? “That things are better without me. The things I tried – to make it work but life just wasn’t for me. That I was becoming a horrible person so good thing I bit the dust before I really hurt anyone.” How does writing that make you feel? “Horrible, because I wish everyone in my life would stop caring. I just want everyone to see me the way I see myself so I could just off myself without any guilt.” If you had a time machine, how would you use it? “I would go to the future and see if I ever actually get anywhere that justifies all the suffering I’ve been through.” Boy, I have a – a sneaking suspicion that you are being parent- uh, because you said “slightly dysfunctional”, I would – I would bet my bank account that there’s a huge amount of emotional, uh, neglect going on in your house and you are taking it. You are blaming yourself because we can’t see the absence of – of something. Uh, if you had a time machine, how would you use it? Oh, we did that one already. Uh, “I’m supposed to feel freedom about being in college but I don't. I feel like I’m permanently throwing my life away. I’m supposed to feel sadness about my mother’s suicide attempt but I don’t. I feel resentful, uh – I’m supposed to feel happy about hanging out with people but I don't. I feel anxious, like I’m being watched and judged.” That’s amazing. Your mother attempted suicide, and you said that your environment was “slightly dysfunctional”. Amazing. Amazing. God the – the lengths that we go to minimizing the things that we experience is – is mind-boggling. How does it make you feel to write your feelings out? “Like someone is somehow judging me for being a shit person. That person is probably me. I’m judging myself for having such horrible thoughts and feelings.” You are judging yourself, and I think every person hearing me read this survey just wants to hug you and let you cry on our shoulder and tell you that you are feeling what you’re feeling because you’re feeling it and there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing wrong with the feelings that you’re feeling, especially when you had a parent who tried to kill themselves? I really hope that you can find a support network, a therapist, you know, you’re in college – contact the health center and find out if you can – if you can talk to somebody, because – you know, I never really talked to somebody, um, that much after my dad tried to kill himself and um, it, um – it wasn’t good! [Laughs.] I just stuffed it down. I just stuffed it down and I didn’t feel a lot about it. I felt a little sad for him, but then I felt like I was a bad person because I didn't feel more about it and that’s an important thing to talk about because then it’s like, okay, so there’s some numbness going on, or there’s some resentment at your parent, let’s start there and talk about it – but anyway, um, stop putting yourself down. Stop putting yourself down. You’re a sensitive person in an insensitive world, but there are tons of other sensitive people and our mission in life is to connect to those people – at least that’s my opinion. I was on basic cable.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by I’m Terrible With Names – that’s what she calls herself, and she’s in – um, she’s in her 20s. She writes, “This is a recent happy moment, but first I’ll give you a little backstory. I grew up in a church-going family. The church I went to was entirely obsessed with creating a certain image that would attract people who were normally put off by church. Ironically, this led to me getting a very superficial experience from church, especially so in the youth group for teens where I never felt like a part of the group. It was filled with cliques and I couldn’t feel more alone in a place I was supposed to feel welcome. As I grew up, I strayed away from the church but I ended up finding one a few years ago that was the exact opposite of everything I disliked about the previous one. It’s been a huge supportive community and a way of coping with my recent onset of anxiety disorder. I even help lead their youth group now and try to make it a welcome and accepting place for all the teens. The last thing I want is for one of them to have the same experience I did. I have recently felt drawn to a certain teen girl who I’ve noticed has mood swings and poor self-esteem and other symptoms of depression. I was trying to help her out of a funk last week and suddenly I noticed a feeling of warmth as she subtly leaned up against me as we were looking at my phone. I could feel it was a non-verbal plea for connection, something I think she lacks in other areas of her life. That warmth brought me the greatest feeling of happiness I’ve felt in a long while. It was a feeling that I had come full circle from experiencing disconnect as a teen to helping this young girl feel that someone was there for her, if even for a second. That is a feeling I have carried with me all week and will continue to keep with me whenever my own self-esteem takes a nosedive. It serves as a fulfilling reminder that there’s someone out there who has benefitted from my presence. I hope I can convince her and her parents to seek mental health treatment soon and in the meantime, she has my number in hopes that she never feels that there is nobody to talk to.” That is such a beautiful survey. That is so beautiful and in a nutshell, that’s – that’s recovery. Sharing our story with somebody else so they don’t feel alone and then we feel like our life has some purpose. It’s beautiful.

This is filled out by a guy who calls himself Blockhead, so I’m a fan already. Um, he is, uh, how old is he? He’s in his 40s; he was raised in a pretty dysfunctional environment. What would you like people to say about you at your funeral? “He was a good guy.” How does writing that make you feel? “It’s nice to be able to express myself but I can’t motis- motivate myself to do it and feel like I have lost my talent for it. If you had a time machine how would you use it? “Maybe go to Woodstock or go to Paris in the 20s and hang out with Hemmingway and Fitzgerald and whatever other artists and writers were there.” “I’m supposed to feel happy about being around people but I don’t. I feel numb and isolated.” How does it feel to make your – write – how does it make you feel to write your real feelings out? “It feels good to express them, but then the realization that no one will read them makes me feel isolated and makes the whole thing feel like a waste of time.” Well, we’re reading them, so fuck you. Uh, do you think you’re abnormal for feeling what you do? “Yes, I know I’m abnormal.” You are not abnormal. Um, would knowing other people feel the same way make you feel better about yourself? “Yes, it would make me feel not so alone, but in the big picture I don’t know if it would make me feel better.” Well, you know, my thought is that’s why support groups are so great, is because you don’t go to a support group once and you’re like, “Oh, there’s the feeling I’ve been looking for my whole life, now I’m set.” It’s like a car that just always needs to be cleaned. It’s – it’s – it’s an ongoing process. Or like exercising, uh, you know, we don’t go to the gym for a month and then we’re like, “Alright, now I’m ripped for the rest of my life.” So, um, you know, the feelings that you described are so, so common and, uh, there are people out there, it’s just a matter of finding them. I – I recommend, uh, introducing yourself on the forum. You will find, uh, other people that feel the way you do, or find a support group in your area.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by Pink Leather, and she writes, “After finally leaving my emotionally abusive husband (you read my survey about him not forgiving a suicide attempt) and getting the keys to my apartment – the first time I have ever lived alone. The sweet relief when I closed the door behind me and felt that for the first time, I was in control of my own life. I was free.” Wow. Wow. [Clapping.] Standing ovation. Standing ovation. I can’t imagine how scary that must have been breaking free from that abusive person. Good for you. That is awesome.

This is – I just want to read an excerpt from his survey, it’s the Shouldn’t Feel This Way survey and he says, um, “I’m supposed to feel excited about marriage and starting a family but I don’t. I feel fearful that my mental and/or personal disorders would ruin all of my relationships and I would end up depressed or addicted to some drug or alcohol like other people in my family.” Um, how does writing that make you feel? “Anxious but good at the same time. Ah, the juxtaposition.” Um, you know, that’s a – I think everybody feels anxious about marriage and starting a family. I don’t know about starting a family, because I – I don’t have a family but, um, you know, if you’re not fearful or occasionally, um, stressed out by your marriage, uh, I don’t think you’re paying attention! I don’t think you’re doing it right! Uh, marriages are – are tough, there’s a lot of compromise, uh, there’s a lot of humbling moments, there’s a lot of difficult conversations to have, but there’s also a lot of laughter and friendship and partnership and, um, I think the important thing is that you – you be in therapy, or support group and make sure that you have an outlet. Um, and he also writes that he’s straight but uh, “I battle with gay thoughts and that makes me super anxious.” Why battle them? What is the point of battling them? For what? To – to please some other motherfucker that thinks it’s wrong? Bullshit. Bullshit.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by Tracy, and her Happy Moment, she writes, “When my daughter said, ‘I’m the mommy and you’re the baby.’ She grabbed my face with both hands and said, ‘Oh, baby, don’t worry. I’m not mad. It’s an accident. I will always be your mommy and I love you.’ I’ve had to tell her this a couple of times when she made mistakes. It makes me happy to see that she hears me and understands that.” That is so fucking beautiful. That is – that is just some good ass parenting right there. Fuckin’ sweet. Fuckin’ sweet.

And finally, this is a, uh, Awefulsome Moment filled out by – there’s actually – e-mailed to me by our former guest and friend of mine, Cassie Snider and um, she writes, uh, “Happy birthday, Paul. I hope your day was great. In honor of this day and in keeping with your wishes, here, for the first time ever written down is my A number one most Awefulsome moment ever, which I have only told, like, five other people in the many years since it happened. Enjoy. I moved to North Carolina to be with some guy I met off an 8 Track trading website.” We could have ended the Awefulsome Moment right there. But it continues. “We got engaged and bought a house and then I found out he had been cheating on me the whole time, and was a closet cocaine addict. I was in so deep and had no idea what to do. I was broke after buying the house, working a corporate job that I hated and hardly knew anyone in town. In a last ditch effort to make friends and mitigate the feeling of emotionally drowning, I volunteered to make costumes for a women’s luka-dor – luchador? – um, Jell-O wrestling league.” [Laughs.] “It turns out I was good at it and made costumes and masks for a Bride of Frankenstein, a Dolly Parton, and a giant road kill, so I decided to wrestle, too, and made myself a slutty KISS costume for a character I decided would be called Genie Simmons. I was shy, modest, depressed and terrified but wrestling other weird women in Jell-O for charity on Halloween was the only thing I was looking forward to in life. The night of the match, everything went wrong. Something weird happened to the Jell-O, to where it didn’t settle properly, so somebody made the executive decision to fill the inflatable pool with chocolate syrup instead. Uh, we wrestled in it anyway, body slamming each other in Hershey’s mixed with canola oil for a domestic violence charity (we raised 400 bucks). But then there was no place to hose off afterward, so we all had to get in our cars and go home covered in chocolate. Before I left, my cheater boyfriend showed up high on coke and started a fight with me, which escalated into a major public screaming match. When drugs are involved, nobody wins. On the drive home, I was so frazzled and upset that I got lost. At a stoplight, uh, I felt under my seat for my street atlas, took my foot off the brake and rolled into the car in front of me. There was no damage, not even a scratch to her license plate, but when I got out of the car to apologize, the woman I hit started screaming at me. I told her I could just pay her anything in cash not to involve insurance, which at that time would have made owning a car unaffordable and then I would have to stay in North Carolina with a sociopath and job I hated forever. She called the police anyway, and was really indignant and nasty. I tried making small talk while we waited for the police, but she was so rude that I ended up sitting in my car and trying to decipher her vanity plate until the cop came to fill out the report. The world fell away after that, and when I drove home, I wrote a note saying which friend I wanted to have custody of Pug,” - that’s her dog – “took every single pill and bottle of medication in the cabinet, and laid down. Pug curled around my head, and I apologized to him and to God, and to the walls of the house I couldn’t afford. I fell asleep fully expecting those moments to be my last. What I didn’t expect was to wake up several hours later, unable to feel my arms or legs but knowing that I had to find a way to crawl because I had to throw up. My heart, lungs, liver and kidneys were on fire and I crawled to the bathroom. I crawled from the bed to the bathroom all night long and to the kitchen, and the backdoor the next morning and night to take care of Pug. We laid in bed for two days, throwing up, waiting for the feeling to come back in my arms and legs, and praying that I could figure something out because now I really wanted to live, if only to be the human embodiment of a giant walking talking middle finger to anyone who had ever put me down. On the third day, after I was alive again, I had to get back into ‘getting stuff done’ mode. I called Geico to report the accident that killed my faith in humanity and a woman named Sandy at a call center in Woodbury, Long Island, filed the claim. I was walking Pug in a goose shit filled baseball field down the street from our house. Sandy in Woodbury asked for the other’s driver’s name – the other driver’s name and insurance number. Then she asked for her license plate, which I had been staring at in my car that night half naked in a KISS costume covered in chocolate that was starting to harden. B-R-N-S-K-N-L-D-Y. ‘Can you repeat that back for me?’ Sandy said. B-R-N-S-K-N-L-D-Y. I paused. Brown Skin Lady. Of every car in the world I could rear end, while covered in chocolate, of course it would be that one. I am eternally grateful I lived long enough to find that out.”

Thank you, Cassie. Well, I hope – I hope you heard something tonight that, uh, made you laugh, brought you comfort, turned a light bulb on, drove me further away from you – yeah, I do – I occasionally hope for that – because then when we make up it’s so much better. I, uh – I hope 2016 is – oh, shut up. Shut up. Shut your stupid mouth, you dumb pig. I might have gone a little overboard at myself there. Um – [Laughs.] – hey, I went to my shrink, uh, a couple of days ago and he’s mixed the meds up and we’re bringing Wellbutrin back into the mix and I think it might be helping me. I think I – I wouldn’t say that my passion for life has returned, but, um, I don’t hate it when I wake up in the morning. That might be an exaggeration. I, uh – I’m feeling about 10% better and I will take that. That’s another thing that I think is important when – when we’re battling all the things that we battle, is to take whatever victories we get, however minor and celebrate them. So, I am going to go celebrate my 10% increase in mood, uh, by stuffing my face with cheese popcorn, uh, eating a protein bar, watching Netflix in the dark with Ivy between my legs, Herbert over to my left on the couch, and uh, do that until four in the morning, at which point I’ll say, uh, “You really have no life. Why do you always get to bed at four in the morning? You’re throwing your life away.” And I’ll stop myself from going into that spiral and I’ll say, “Hey, you felt better today. Stop beating yourself up.” And, uh –and I’ll lay down, and I’ll sleep, and I’ll get up tomorrow, and I’ll hope that I’m feeling as good, and then I’m going to look at Herbert’s asshole, tomorrow, all day long. That’s all I’m going to look at. I’m going to paint it – not on it – I’m going to sketch it, then I’m going to paint it with pastel watercolors, and I’m going to bring it to a museum, and see if they’d be willing to hang it on their walls and then after they call the police I’m going to run out and uh, that’ll be my exercise for the day. You have no idea how badly I want to stop and erase the last 10 minutes of this. You have no idea. But I’m going to leave it in, because I know it will make you feel better about your life and yourself and then way your brain works and the way you host your podcast. You are not alone, but you do have B.O. And thank you for listening.

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