Judging Our Feelings – Dr. Susan David

Judging Our Feelings – Dr. Susan David

The Harvard Medical School research psychologist’s recent TED Talk “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage” went viral a month or so ago and here she sits down with Paul to talk about the human habit of judging ourselves for our feelings, how it affects us, the science behind it and how we can move away from toxic self-judgement.
She also shares some of her personal life; being born and raised in South Africa during Apartheid and losing a parent when she was a child.


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Episode Transcript:

Judging Our Feelings – Dr. Susan David

Transcribed by Kajsa Lancaster


PG: I’m here with Dr. Susan David. You’re on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. Do you train psychiatrists how to do talk therapy, or…?

SD: No, most of my work is in research. I’m a trained clinical psychologist but most of my current work is in research and writing and really disseminating ideas. But my background is as a psychologist.

PG: Okay. You just did a TED talk that has gone beyond viral. A clip of it has gotten over 17 million downloads, and how long ago did it post?

SD: In one week! In one week.

PG: In one week! That’s mind-blowing. The topic that you speak of – talk about that.

SD: Absolutely – so, the TED talk, if people want to look it up, it’s called ‘The gift and power of emotional courage’ and it’s based on some of the ideas that I articulate more fully in my book Emotional Agility.

PG: Which is a fantastic book. There are so many things you touch on in that book that I feel like I haven’t read in other books. If you don’t mind, I would love to have you kick things off by reading an excerpt from your book.

SD: Absolutely – I’m going to read from a chapter which is about showing up to our emotions, and it’s called Choosing Willingness.

“We want life to be as dazzling and painless as possible. But life, on the other hand, has a way of humbling us and heartbreak is built into our agreement with the world. We are young until we are not, we are healthy until we are not, we’re with those we love until we are not. Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility. One of the greatest human triumphs is to choose to make room in our hearts for both the joy and the pain, and to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This means seeing feelings not as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but just as being. Yes, there is this relentless assumption in our culture that we need to do something when we have inner turmoil. We must struggle to fix it, control it, exert brute force willpower over it and remain positive. Often what we really need to do, though, is also what is most simple and obvious, and that is to just welcome these inner experiences, to breathe into them and to learn their contours without racing for the exit.”

PG: Amen! A-fucking-men!” You mention in the book, too, that there is science behind some of this. What have you learned in doing your research that backs up some of the things that you talk about in your book?

SD: Absolutely. A core part of the message, a core part of the way that I describe emotional agility is that it’s really about being able to be with ourselves in ways that are curious, compassionate and courageous, but also to recognize that our emotions contain incredibly important data but they’re not directions. The directions that we have are our values. So a lot of the research that I speak to is, firstly, research that shows that often in our culture – and I reference this in the passage I’ve just read – often in our culture there’s this idea that we should just be positive. A lot of my research has found, for instance, I did a survey of 70,000 people and I found that a third of us judge ourselves or shame ourselves for having what are often normal human emotions – grief, sadness, or a sense of loss – and what that does very often is it gets us into a struggle with ourselves where we try to chase happiness or we try to chase false positivity. You asked about the research – some of the research, for instance, shows that people who have expectations around what their happiness should be, over time they become less happy. There’s also research that shows that when we instead our compassionate and open ourselves up to our emotions, but also try to label our emotions effectively – there’s a difference between stress, for instance, versus disappointment, versus feelings of real overwhelm. In our society we often use these very broad brushstrokes to label emotions, but we know that when we get more granular with our emotions, what it does is it actually shapes our intentions and our goals and our actions on the ground. So that’s just some of the research. The book itself is both very practical and also very strongly research-based.

PG: Talk some more about the importance of values in achieving emotional and mental health. One of the things I believe is that when we’re in a place of fear, it’s so hard to trust in doing the right thing or in being vulnerable, and then so often the very thing we fear almost winds up coming true because we are taking inauthentic actions because we don’t trust that things are going to be okay if we lead a principled life.

SD: Yes, I think this is critical. Again, connecting with what I mentioned earlier about this focus on suppressing or pushing aside emotions, often in the service of what is false positivity – we know that there’s thing very powerful effect called amplification. When we push our emotions aside they come back stronger and they catch us off-guard and, in a very practical way, we’ve all had that experience of wanting that piece of chocolate cake in the refrigerator but trying not to think about it, and that chocolate cake comes back bigger and bolder and, in fact, we start dreaming about it. One of the things that I talk about in the book is the idea that our difficult emotions actually are functional; they might not be comfortable, and they’re not comfortable, but often our difficult emotions point to things we care about. We care about fairness or we care about equity or being seen, or making a difference in the world. And so often what we do when we’re in struggle with our emotions is we try to push those emotions aside, whereas actually what we can be doing is learning from them – that the emotions contain signposts to things that we care about. If we can start surfacing, what is that signpost for me, what is the value for me, then what we can do is we can start moving out of our heads into our lives, where we start taking small – they might be difficult, they might be tiny – steps for ourselves, but that are aligned with our values. Let me give you an example: Someone who is feeling very socially anxious might say something like, ‘I’m fearful going to the party so I’m just going to stay at home.’ In the book I describe that as being ‘hooked’, it’s being emotionally unagile. Your thoughts, your emotions, your stories are driving your actions. If that person connects with the idea that growing or being connected is actually part of that emotion of social anxiety, what they might be doing is they might be noticing the emotion but recognizing that the value of connection is something that actually is really important, and so we are able then, in a compassionate way, to go to the party even if it’s difficult, because we’re guided by our values. And just to be clear, what this does is it moves us away from the feeling that we’ve got to brute-force our way through life and instead our values start freeing us up to take steps that are congruent with how we want to live.

PG: Give us some more examples of the values that you’re talking about, to make it more concrete for the listener who might be listening and saying, ‘I don’t really understand how the two connect.’

SD: So let me give you – I’m travelling at the moment, I’m in Los Angeles and I live in Boston, so one of the things that I’ve been experiencing over the past couple of days is guilt. Because I’ve got young children and I’m away from home and my daughter was really upset when I left. We could look at that guilt and we could say something like, ‘Well, I shouldn’t feel guilty because I’m doing stuff that’s important.’ But what that’s doing is, it’s trying to push away or judge ourselves for having the emotion. Instead what I could say is, what is this guilt a signpost of for me? The guilt is a signpost that I value being a present and connected parent and that, at the moment, I’m hugely busy with this TED talk and with all the stuff that’s going on, and that there is that presence and connectedness that I need to make a tweak around, make a change around. That doesn’t mean that I don’t work –

PG: Presence and connectedness with –

SD: With my children. Having them feel that they’re seen and connected with. So that doesn’t mean that I don’t work. It doesn’t mean that I should be guilty; that my emotions are right, that my emotions are fact – that I’m a bad mom. But rather, my emotions are data, not directives. What are the data? The data are that I feel guilt because I value presence and connectedness. So what does that mean I can do? It means that I can take active steps when I’m in Los Angeles, as an example, when I call my kids, to make sure that I’m not multi-tasking while I’m doing it, to truly listen into them around their day; to be present. This is a very simple example but it’s trying to convey this idea that instead of becoming judgey about the guilt or treat the guilt as fact, the guilt serves as a signpost to a change that we can make in our lives.

PG: It sounds like nuance is an important aspect in dealing with our emotions. If we’re going to use them as signposts instead of doing the black-and-white catastrophizing ‘I’m a terrible mom, I should quit what I do for a living, otherwise I’m failing them…’ Or just not thinking about it.

SD: Absolutely. There’s a beautiful body of research on what is called emotion granularity, and the idea behind this is that when we become more nuanced with our emotion, when the first emotion we might be feeling is, we say ‘I’m so angry! I’m just so angry.’ And then you stop and say to yourself, ‘What are two other options here? I feel disappointed. Or I feel sad.’ What that does, that nuance, it actually starts to activate what is called the readiness potential in our brains. It allows us to truly understand the cause of our emotion and what the emotion points to, and start taking active steps around it.

PG: So if somebody’s experiencing emotion, walk me through how they would investigate that. Let’s assume it’s somebody who’s never really done much self-reflection, has never been to therapy, but has an anger issue. Where might they begin to explore what’s underneath the anger?

SD: In the book, I talk about four critical aspects to this and some very practical strategies. The first is what I call showing up. What I mean by showing up is, instead of being harsh on ourselves or judgmental about ourselves and saying, ‘I’m angry with my boss but I shouldn’t be angry because at least I’ve got a job,’ and so we rationalize away our emotions.

PG: Or minimize.

SD: Or minimize or push them aside. We do this to ourselves and we do it to people we love, we do it to our children. But instead of doing this, what is really powerful is ending struggle with our emotions by opening our hearts to what is. I call this showing up in the book, and it’s this idea that we can show up with compassion and notice our emotions. The second aspect that I talk about is stepping out, where we need to recognize that we’re feeling an emotion, but the emotion isn’t fact. This is difficult when you are consumed by anger or sadness, so there are some very practical strategies. Often what we do is we’ll say things like, ‘I am angry. I am sad.’ And if you think about that from a language perspective, what it does is it associates all of you, one hundred percent of you, with the sadness. It’s very difficult to make values-aligned choices when you are defined by your sadness. There’s this beautiful idea that Viktor Frankl speaks to. Viktor Frankl survived the Nazi death camps, and he writes this idea that between stimulus and response there is a space, and in that space is our power to choose. And it’s in that choice that lies our growth and freedom. When we are driven by our emotion there is no space between stimulus and response. I’m angry, so I’m going to act out. I’m anxious, so I’m going to stay at home; I’m going to avoid. That experience is understandable but it might not be values-aligned for you. So when we start creating this space where we start saying, instead of ‘I am X, I’m noticing that I’m feeling X; I’m noticing that I’m feeling sad, I’m noticing the urge to stay at home; I’m noticing the thought that I am…’ It sounds very simple, but it’s incredibly powerful. You’re noticing the thought, the emotion, for what it is: a thought or an emotion. It’s not a fact, it’s not a direction – it’s a thought or an emotion. So that’s practical.

PG: It sounds very much like emotional mindfulness.

SD: It is an aspect of emotional mindfulness. And then there are other things within that, which is, try to label the emotion accurately – instead of saying ‘I’m stressed,’ what are two other options? And then in the book I talk about this idea of walking your why, which is really starting to connect with the heartbeat of what your emotion is directing you to – the value – and then how we can start making tiny tweaks, small changes that are values-congruent.

PG: Give me an example of the last one you just mentioned.

SD: An example is, for instance, what I spoke about with my children. There’s this beautiful concept in psychology that is called social snacking or psychological snacking. Often when people experience difficult emotions – it might be emotions that are very consuming around their mental health but it might be about our work, we’re in the wrong career or we’re struggling in a relationship – often what we do is we feel like we’ve got to make a dramatic change. And often dramatic changes are difficult, so we avoid making them. Often, what can become more powerful is saying, ‘What is a small, values-aligned tweak, a small change that I can take that is powerful?’ So for instance, again in a very practical way, someone who is struggling with their career – instead of giving up their entire career or giving up their entire job, they can start saying, ‘How can I start shifting the people that I connect with in my job? Or how can I put my hand up for some projects that I might not otherwise have put my hand up for? Or how, in my relationship, can I start either broadening my network or having a different conversation?’ It’s this idea that we can make changes, but what’s critical is that the changes aren’t driven by our emotions. They are guided by our values. And that makes having a conversation, makes the change, easier; it allows us to access greater willpower.

PG: It sounds also as if there needs to be an awareness of separating what we have control over from what we don’t have control over, and not mistaking the two.

SD: Absolutely. It’s a really interesting thing, I think, particularly in Western society – there’s this idea that we can fix anything. If you don’t like your cellphone, you can buy a new cellphone; if you don’t like your car, you can buy a new car. So, somehow we get into the same idea with what’s going on inside of us – you know, we can fix if there’s something wrong. We can fix, we can fix… And we start exerting this sense of judgment and control. And a very important part of wellbeing is being able to be compassionate with where we are, with recognizing that we are doing what we can with who we are, with what we’ve got, with the life that we’ve been given and with the resources that we have. And that not everything is fixable – but we can take actions that are concordant with who we want to be in the world.

PG: Speak to somebody out there who might be listening and has the belief that it’s a dog-eat-dog world and you need to do what you need to do to get ahead, and other people are cheating, so if you don’t want to be left behind, you should compromise your morals when there’s an opportunity, even if you don’t like it, because otherwise you’re not going to get what you want and be happy.

SD: I think the first thing that’s really important is to recognize that that is a story that we’re telling ourselves. And again, instead of judging that story, recognizing that that story comes from a particular place. It might come from a place of hurt or a place where you didn’t get what you want, or a place where you had to truly fight in the world to be seen. So, instead of pushing that story aside, it can be helpful to say, ‘Where does this story come from? Is the story a story that is owning me, or do I own the story?’ When the story owns us, what is often leads to is us acting in the world in the way that you describe, but in ways that are actually not concordant with who we want to be. They might be stories that don’t serve us, they might be stories that drive other people away, that drive relationships away, that drive connectedness away. So I think it’s often not about, ‘Is the story wrong or right?’ but much more about ‘Is the story workable? Is the story serving us? Is the story bringing us closer to a life that is consistent with what we want?’

PG: The thing that I have witnessed is people that lead a principled life and trust that they will experience the feelings they’re looking for from wealth or recognition or the other things that they’re chasing. Those come often in a package they don’t expect it to come in. They may not have the money they want but the peace they feel is a peace around the life that is, instead of what their idea of what it’s going to look like… Does that make sense?

SD: Yes, yes. You know, it’s a really fascinating thing. I think there is this idea that we can chase this goal of success, or we can chase the goal of happiness. And it’s almost like chasing the goal of having that wonderful Thanksgiving dinner in which no one is going to be bitchy with each other and everything is going to go beautifully. There’s this beautiful saying that ‘expectations are disappointments waiting to happen.’ Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m a pessimist, but I think what often happens when we set goals – especially goals where we aren’t in control of the variables – is that there often are expectations that are disappointments waiting to be happen. And there can be so much freedom in letting go of the goal – particularly where the goal is something that one will never – you know, what does ‘achieving success’ look like? What does ‘achieving happiness’ look like? These are not achievable goals. So all we can do as individuals is recognize in ourselves that we can take values-connected steps in directions that are purposeful and meaningful to us. Even something like, ‘I want to be a good friend.’ So, goal: I want to be a good friend. What does that look like? And what are steps that you can take today that help you to be a good friend? But it’s not like you ever, in a check-box, get the ‘right, you are now a good friend!’ It’s the same, I think, with our wellbeing and our mental health and with life – what are directions that are important, and how can we take steps every day concordant with those values, even if it feels uncomfortable? Even if it’s difficult.

PG: That, to me, is usually a sign that growth is taking place – when it’s outside our comfort zone, but it’s in line with the morals that we aspire to.

SD: That’s exactly right. I think it’s, again, this idea that so much of our growth – in my TED talk I actually talk about this idea that discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.

PG: A-fucking-men.

SD: Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life. You don’t get to have an impact on the world, to leave the world a better place, you don’t get to raise a family, you don’t get to leave the world a better place or to have a meaningful career, without stress and discomfort. It doesn’t mean that it feels great, but discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.

PG: Talk about times, though, when listening to your discomfort is helpful – particularly with toxic relationships. Because there are often times when I believe that your emotions are telling you something that is a fact.

SD: This is exactly – so, emotions are data. If we can open ourselves up to our emotions – not judging them, not trying to push them away – open ourselves up to them, this becomes critical. When we experience a sense of dissonance or discomfort, it can also be helpful to say, what is that emotion trying to tell me? What is it trying to signal? In the book I talk to this idea of, ‘What is the function of the emotion? What is it that this emotion is trying to say?’ And being able to connect with it is critical.

PG: So it would be a way of investigating, ‘Is this some past experience I had extrapolating that fear and catastrophizing something, or is this a chance for me to examine the situation I’m in and ask, is it healthy for me? Am I being a doormat? Am I getting the respect that any human being is worthy of?’

SD: Absolutely. I think that is so right and it’s such an important nuance. Often, we have experiences in our lives, or we have stories. Some of them were written on our mental chalkboards in Grade 3, and those stories become prisons. We can carry these stories into new relationships, new interactions, where a particular experience triggers something in us or evokes something in us that feels uncomfortable. And it becomes really important to say, is this being evoked by the story that I have that no longer serves me, or is there something in this present context that truly is disturbing me? This is a really, really important nuance. I think when we are emotionally agile, we are able to open ourselves up to the emotion to be able to create space between us and the emotion, and in that space we are able to investigate and inquire and make values-aligned choices. Again, we aren’t driven by our thoughts, our emotions and our stories; instead we are driven by, ‘I value something more for myself in my life, and this relationship is not serving that,’ rather than ‘Whenever anyone says this to me, I just want to leave,’ which is the story.

PG: Two of the biggest things I have gleaned from all the support groups and therapy etc. that I have done over the last 17 years is, compassion is important, but not at the expense of compassion for ourselves; and nothing degrades the quality of my life like obsessing about the quality of my life. For me, I had to understand the distinction between self-obsession and healthy self-reflection. Can you talk about that?

SD: Yes, yes. One of the things that I describe in the book, and a bit in the TED talk as well, is this idea that often when people have difficult emotions, what they do is they either bottle those emotions, pushing them aside, or what they do is they start brooding on those emotions – ‘Why am I feeling what I’m feeling? This is terrible.’

PG: ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this.’

SD: ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this! This is awful.’ And what’s just really incredible when you look at longitudinal studies is, people who are dwelling on emotions are often doing it with very good intentions. They’re trying to understand better what’s going on. But it actually becomes predictive, for instance, of depression; it elongates experiences of depression. So it’s shown to be a predictor of something that causes our depression to last for longer. What we want to be able to be with our emotions is not bottling them but also not brooding on them; being able to notice them for what they are, being able to be compassionate, but being able to also get out of our heads and into our lives, which is, ‘What is the thing that I need to do here? What is the change that I need to make?’ And that becomes critical. And, again, being able to label our emotions. Labelling of emotions is a critical aspect of moving from brooding –

PG: Which involves judgment, usually. I mean, doesn’t judgment almost always lead to brooding and self-obsession which takes us out of human connection, which is the very thing that can open us up to healing and feeling a part of, and feeling peace.

SD: Yes, yes. What’s also been fascinating is, there’s also this thing where we can start brooding about the fact that we brood – like, ‘I’m brooding and I shouldn’t be brooding so much.’ I think a really important thing to recognize is that both bottling our emotions, pushing them aside, and brooding on our emotions often are done with the best of intentions. Which is, when you bottle your emotions you try to get on with life, get on with the project, get on with the things that you need to do. Brooding on our emotions, I’m trying to understand, I’m trying to inquire… They’re done with good intentions, but ultimately they are not helpful when done where it becomes a tendency. There’s nothing wrong with pushing your emotions aside when you’re going for a job interview and your girlfriend broke up with you the day before. There’s nothing wrong with brooding on our emotions a little bit. It’s when this becomes a habitual way of being that it doesn’t serve us. So we need to start learning other ways of opening ourselves to the emotions and being compassionate with ourselves, noticing, understanding values, connecting.

PG: What a great Segway for you to talk about the power of writing, which you discovered… You were raised in South Africa, you lost your father to cancer when you were a little girl, and another part of the landscape that you had as a child was that apartheid was still going on. How did these things inform your view of the world, your view of yourself, and any tools that you gained to deal with them?

SD: Yeah, so powerful. I was born into apartheid South Africa and I am a white South African, so what you start experiencing is this palpable horror at what is going on around you, and the recognition that – you know, when I was talking about bottling emotions earlier – in a sense, what South Africa was, it was mass-scale denial. Because it’s denial that makes fifty years of racist legislation possible, while the people convince themselves that they’re doing nothing wrong. But I first learned of the destructive power of denial at a personal level when I experienced my father’s illness and death. I remember very clearly – again, I talk about this in my TED talk – I remember very clearly my Mom coming to me one day and saying to me that I needed to go and say goodbye to my father. And my father was the heartbeat of our home, and the guide and love and warm-handed person in my life.       I remember, as a schoolgirl, putting my bag down and treading this artery through my home, the pathway to where my father lay dying of cancer. I said goodbye to him and went off to school through mathematics and geography and science and biology, and my father died that day. So many people came to me and said to me, ‘How are you doing?’ Or, even worse, didn’t ask me how I was doing. They simply dropped the mention of the word ‘father’ from their conversation because they were worried that it was going to upset me. So, what you’ll end up doing is you’ll end up – and I’m sure so many of your listeners have this experience – you land up experiencing this suffering, and it feels so personal. Like, ‘Here I am, I’ve lost my father, he wasn’t able to keep his small business going so my Mom – we were in incredible financial debt, creditors were knocking – my Mom was trying to raise three children by herself. So behind closed doors, my family was struggling. And yet, people would ask me how I was doing and I would say, ‘I’m okay!’ I became the master of being okay. I have this very clear memory of being in eighth grade and an English teacher handing out notebooks and saying – she fixed me with these blue eyes; it was an invitation to the class but I felt it was an invitation to me – ‘Write. Write like nobody’s reading. Tell the truth.’ And what I experienced in that journal literally became the catalyst of my entire career, becoming an emotions researcher. Because what I started to realize was that it was going to that emotion, not ruminating on it, not brooding on it, but labelling it, understanding it, understanding the emotion, understanding the regrets and what I valued and who I wanted to be in the world, that literally changed the course of my career. And in retrospect, I realized that it was not the ‘I’m okay, everything’s okay!’ that helped me; it was the showing up to my emotions that ultimately enabled me to charter a different course in my life.

PG: One of the things that I have discovered in writing about what’s happening emotionally is, when you need to form something into a sentence, it seems to access a different part of your brain than when it’s just ping-ponging around and you’re ruminating. Talk about that if you can.

SD: Yeah. So, there’s this fascinating body of research by James Pennebaker, and what they do in these studies – I’ll share it because it’s just really interesting – what they do is they bring people into a room and they divide the people in two groups. The first group is the control group and they’re asked to write about arbitrary stuff – the cars passing on the street, or what the flowers look like. And the other half is asked to write about emotionally salient and emotionally difficult experiences. Some people in these experiments will write about a rape, or… One person wrote about how, when she was a little girl, she had left something on the floor that her elderly grandmother tripped over, and this fall ultimately resulted in the grandmother’s death. So, people are writing about very emotional experiences. And what they do in this research is, before the writing they assess people’s physical health, how many times they’ve been to see the doctor, their depression, their anxiety… People write for twenty minutes a day for three days, and six months later, they reassess people’s wellbeing. And what they find is that this writing is predictive of higher levels of wellbeing, lower levels of depression, lower levels of anxiety, fewer physical symptoms – six months later. So, before I get very long-winded, what you start doing is, you can start analyzing this writing, and what you find is the people who benefit the most from this are people who, instead of dwelling in the writing, are starting to construct sentences that are about insight. You experienced what you experienced, and you wish maybe that you hadn’t experienced that thing, but you’ve experienced it. And: what have you learned from it? What have you gained from it? Not in a way that’s a polyene; not in a way that’s trying to whitewash, but in a way that helps you to get some level of understanding about where you’re at and what happened, is what becomes most powerful. Very, very powerful research.

PG: Do you recall anything that you wrote early on that you can share with us, if you’re comfortable?

SD: I don’t recall absolute words, but I wrote a lot of poetry for instance.

PG: A young girl writing poetry?!

SD: (Laughs) Yeah, and you know what’s remarkable is, when I did this TED talk, I’ve got this notebook that the teacher handed out that I have kept for thirty years. So when I went onto the TED stage I actually had that notebook with me.

PG: Really!

SD: And it was just this – and another aspect to this story, which is that this woman who was this teacher, many years later I just realized what an instrumental effect she had had on my life. So I sent her a surprise bunch of flowers, literally twenty years later, and we’re now friends on Facebook, so she saw the talk and she emailed me in relation to it. Just, like, this incredible experience of connection with this woman. But yeah, a lot of what I wrote was about regret and loss and that recognition, I think, that I had when my father died, which is that almost no matter what you’ve done in this situation, there’s always more that you could have done. That there’s always some level of regret when you’re experiencing the death of a person. And I think, when I look back on it, I realize that I really did do the best I could with the life stage that I was at and who I was at the time. I think often what happens is, when we’re adults we take our adult judginess and we think, ‘Why didn’t I do something differently?’ or ‘Why didn’t I respond differently?’ or ‘Why didn’t I stand up for myself in a different way?’ I think what we’re doing is we’re taking all of that wisdom of where we might be now, but we’re not recognizing that we were who we were at the time, doing the best we could at the time. So that extension of self-compassion, again, becomes really critical; that that little child that you once were needs to be seen and loved.

PG: If you could go back in a time machine and talk to – you were ten when you lost your –

SD: I was fifteen, my father was forty-two.

PG: Oh, fifteen. Okay. If you could go back to talk, the adult you, talk to her when she was struggling the most – what would you say to her or what do you think she would have wanted to hear somebody say?

SD: I’ll say two things; the first is what my mother said to me at the time. My mother said to me – and I was so angry with her for saying this – she said to me, ‘You don’t realize this now, but this is a gift.’ What she meant is not that we wished that my father would have died, but what she said to me is that, ‘You’ll realize that it will shape the texture and compassion and empathy that you are able to experience in your life.’ And I was so angry with her when she said that, but she was right. She was right. I think what I would say to my fifteen-year-old self is, you are not alone. You feel alone and the world often is constructed to make you feel alone, but we share a common, imperfect humanity and we often lose sight of that humanity. I think I would have told myself to know that I’m not alone, that even the – I know this sounds completely bizarre – but that even the trees, even the sun, even the clouds are somehow bathing one in the sense of light and love. And I believe that. That might sound wonky, but I believe that.

PG: I think that’s a great thing to end on. Thank you so much. We’ll put any links up that you would like, if people want to know more about you or read more about you, we’ll put those under the show notes for this episode. Is there anything you’d like to add before we close?

SD: No, just, if people are interested, there’s my TED talk, there’s the book Emotional Agility, and then, I’ve got a quiz online which takes five minutes to complete and it’s at susandavid.com/learn. About 100,000 people have completed that, and it gives people a free report. It’s around some of these concepts. So, if people feel like digging deeper, that’s also one way that they can access some of the information.

PG: Fantastic. Thank you so much.




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