In between the extremes of selfishness and selflessness, how do we bring healing to our true selves? Dr. Alison Cook, psychologist and author, talks with Amy Julia Becker about finding our true selves and how that helps us bring health and wholeness into our relationships with God and with one another.
“Dr. Alison Cook is a psychologist and the author of two books, including her new book, The Best of You (Thomas Nelson 2022) and Boundaries for Your Soul (Thomas Nelson 2018). For 20 years, Alison has helped women, ministry leaders, couples, and families learn how to heal painful emotions, develop confidence from the inside out, forge healthy relationships, and fully live out their God-given potential.”
- Website: dralisoncook.com
- Instagram: @dralisoncook
- Facebook: @dralisoncook
On the Podcast:
- First book – Boundaries for Your Soul (talks about Internal Family Systems)
- New book: The Best of You
- Podcast episode explaining Fawn response
- Mark 12:30-31
Quotes are edited for clarity…
Our emotions are sending us cues. Our anxiety responses are sending us cues. Our nervous system is sending us cues. Our bodies are exhausted. That’s a cue that we need to pay attention to our soul, to our spiritual and emotional health.
The best of who we are is deeply relational, is deeply connected to the welfare of other people.
There’s these two extremes…selfishness, which is it’s all about me. I don’t care about other people. I just do me. And that’s not healthy emotionally or spiritually. And then there’s selflessness, which is never about me. I’ll just be passive. I won’t ever insert myself. And that’s not healthy spiritually or emotionally either. And to me the True Self is this idea of becoming the self that God made us to become. And that inherently goes hand in hand with how we navigate well relationships with other people.
There’s some things that surprise us…I didn’t realize how much I really want that. And that’s a really good thing. And I want to bump that up on my priority list. I wanna make that happen. And then there’s some things I’m recognizing I want and I’m not sure that’s coming from the best of who I am. I do want it. There’s a part of me that wants it. So how do I know? How do I be tender with that part of me…we’re getting into this whole idea of parenting ourselves…it’s hard to want something that we have to say either no or not right now.
I need to know where I’m tender. I need to know where I’m vulnerable because I ultimately need to care for those parts of me, speak up on behalf of them, and, in some cases, protect myself in a healthy way…My vulnerabilities are a part of me. And the more I understand them, the more I can gently protect them when they need protection from certain people, the more I can care for them in ways that not even the best person in the universe can care for them. Because I know them intimately.
How am I going to manage my empathy? Not letting my empathy lead me into unhealthy situations? It takes a lot of courage. I talk about we have to have courage side-by-side with empathy.
We can forget that this work of healing our own self is intimately connected to every relationship that we have.
We so are so quick to look to how do I heal the marriage? Or how do I heal the kid? Or how do I heal the friendship? Well, one component of that is how do I heal myself? So that I can show up in this relationship in a different way.
Season 6 of the Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast connects to themes in my latest book, To Be Made Well, which you can order here! Learn more about my writing and speaking at amyjuliabecker.com.
*A transcript of this episode will be available here within one business day, as well as a video with closed captions on my YouTube Channel.
Note: This transcript is autogenerated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
We can forget that this work of Healing our own self is intimately connected to every relationship that we have. It is how You know we so are so quick to look to how do I heal the marriage? Or how do I heal the kid? Or how do I heal the friendship? Well, one component of that is how do I heal myself so that I can show up in this relationship in a different way?
Amy Julia (34s):
Hi Friends. I’m Amy Julia Becker and This is Love is Stronger Than Fear A podcast about pursuing hope and healing in the midst of personal pain and social division. I have been hoping to interview today’s Guest for a while now, like maybe a couple of years. So I am very excited to finally introduce you to Dr. Alison Cook. Allison is a psychologist. She’s the Podcast Host herself. She’s the author of two books, including the recently released The Best of You And. I will admit that I was a little tempted to turn this into a personal therapy session for myself. And I did ask a lot of questions that I really wanted to understand for my own sake, but hopefully I was also able to ask questions that will be helpful to all of us as we learn how to bring Healing into our lives and do that so that we can bring health and wholeness out into our relationships with God, with our families, with our communities, with one another.
Amy Julia (1m 34s):
I’m really glad you’re here. This is a good one. I’m here today with Alison Cook. And. I have been a fan, Allison, of your work for a few years now. I told you this when we were talking before, but I first heard you when you were interviewed on the Bible for Normal People Podcast, which was years ago. And it’s really been a desire of mine to be able to talk to you in person. So I’m really glad that you wrote a New book and we get to talk about it here today. Thank you for joining us.
Alison (2m 3s):
I’m so glad to be here. I’m so glad you you had me on. Thank you.
Amy Julia (2m 6s):
Absolutely. So I just read your New book and for those listeners who have not yet bought it, which I actually, I really do highly recommend, it’s called The Best of You and it just came out And I thought just by way of introduction to who you are and to the book. What I thought I’d ask is if you could talk about some of the personal experiences that you had that led to writing this particular book. So introduce us to you, but give us a little bit of the, like how you got to this book in particular.
Alison (2m 37s):
Yeah, there’s sort of the 20 year journey and then the two year journey. So the 20 year, right. The 20 years is I, I’m a psychologist. I grew up in a Christian background, knew a lot about God, knew a lot about the Bible, and knew absolutely nothing about myself and about how to be an adult in the world. And so I went to graduate school to study counseling and went on to get my PhD in psychology. And really was kind of shocked by, at some point in my early thirties by like I was a therapist, You know, it’s kind of the cliche I was helping other people. And I was like, I don’t have a clue who I am and wasn’t really taught how to do that work.
Alison (3m 17s):
I’m becoming a self. And in fact in my case was it in many ways taught that that wasn’t something we should focus on, right? We should only focus on other people. We should always keep the the, the focus on others. So my own kinda had to confront my own codependency cuz of course that breeds codependency had to confront my own Fawn technique, my Fawn response if we’re talking trauma language and really You know, take time to, to heal myself. And then, so that was kind of the genesis behind, I’ve always been fascinated by this idea of self You know I studied Carl Rogers, And I studied Kir Garden. And I studied all these people in graduate school, And I just couldn’t get enough of this.
Alison (3m 58s):
Like this is a real thing. You can have a self y You know, but I wasn’t taught it You know. So what does that mean? How do you become a self? How do you become a person? My favorite book was on becoming a Person. I was like, Oh my gosh, that’s such a unique idea. And now of course it’s everywhere. This idea of True Self You know We You know a lot and it, and it’s been around forever. You know so many people have been talking about it for centuries now they’re sort of, it’s kind of almost trendy. But even that sometimes now is like, but, but what is it really? So that’s kind of the big picture behind the book. And then two years ago as I was beginning to write this book and really unpack some of the toxic messages I’d received and what kind of putting my finger on and really being able to name, I had a stroke, I had this medical crisis and it was just nuts because then I went in, I’m fine, but I went into this whole new kind of period of recovering, of Healing myself.
Alison (4m 52s):
So that those are the two contexts in which the book was born.
Amy Julia (4m 55s):
And, I wanna ask you like 17 questions about both of those
Alison (4m 58s):
Amy Julia (4m 59s):
Yeah. And so hopefully we’ll get to that. But I, I wanted to start actually just with that experience of having the stroke because that’s where the book starts. Yeah. And I’m curious because later on in the book you write about our bodies as a guide to Healing. And I’m curious to hear about that in general, but also in what way was the stroke your, was the stroke your body guiding you towards Healing? Like do you see that as a manifestation of like the previous 20 years or something like that? Or what, I mean, how do you, how do you think about your body in that regard? Yeah. When it comes to Healing,
Alison (5m 33s):
That’s a great question. No, I don’t, I I think they were unrelated. I think what happened to me medically You know was, was unrelated in my case, I do think some health conditions are absolutely related to trauma and there’s certainly a lot out there. That was not my case. It was more of a metaphor, I think in my case because what was okay, what was fascinating about it was I couldn’t, the, the cues that my brain was sending, we, we take for granted, right? That our, our brain says move finger, pick up a cup. We, we don’t think about that consciously. You know, you don’t con I’m not conscious right now going nod your head so that You know. I mean, You know it.
Alison (6m 13s):
And so what, what happens when you have a stroke or in my case, the, the blood clot, I couldn’t, like my brain was sending the cues, but it wasn’t connecting right to my hand. Yeah. So I, I used it metaphorically. It was like, oh my gosh. Like we take for granted these cues that we send ourselves and in my case, all of a sudden what happens when that gets severed? Yeah. You know and you can’t do the thing. And and so more what I’m talking about just in the emotional spiritual realm is we’re getting cues all the time. Our emotions are sending us cues, Our anxiety responses are sending us cues. Our nervous system is sending us cues. Our bodies are exhausted. That’s a cue that we need to pay attention to our Soul to our spiritual and emotional health.
Alison (6m 54s):
Amy Julia (6m 54s):
Yeah. Absolutely. Well, and that One of the things I think in what you just said on your big picture introduction and then throughout the book is that you’ve got this Christian perspective that you have not abandoned. Right? Right. It wasn’t like you got to graduate school and you said, Oh my gosh, I guess all that church stuff is out the door and all I need now is You know these kind of psychotherapists. But you also said, Wait a second, why was I not taught any of this when I was growing up within the church? And what does the Bible have to say about this? And are they integrated? And I think especially for people who have grown up with some sort of church or religious background. There are lots of those types of questions as we encounter modern psychotherapy.
Amy Julia (7m 38s):
And you write a lot about this and especially even your title, right? The, Best of You becoming the best version of You Can, at least in certain circles sound like becoming selfish or ignoring what You know Jesus means when he says die to yourself or take up your cross and follow me. And you do a lot to unpack that. So I won’t ask you to give all of it away right here, but I’d love for you to just explain why becoming our best selves is not an act of selfishness.
Alison (8m 7s):
Yeah. And I. How,
Amy Julia (8m 8s):
How do those things fit together? And,
Alison (8m 9s):
I think that some of the misconceptions in our culture, right, is there is this sort of superficial veneer of the best you, which is it’s all about me. I, I’ll do me You know. And I’m like, well no, that’s not exactly it. The best of who we are is deeply relational, is deeply connected to the welfare of other people. And so I I kind of break it down as, as selfhood again, as I understood it from psychology, there’s this, there’s this and And I use the, the example of Jesus, which again, y talks about Jesus as the archetype of the self. Meaning Jesus had a strong sense of self. He wasn’t a doormat.
Alison (8m 49s):
If he was selfless, it was always because there was a greater purpose. It came from strengths. Yeah. And, I think sometimes there’s these two extremes where it’s like selfishness, which is it’s all about me. I don’t care about other people. I just do me. And that’s not healthy emotionally or spiritually. And then there’s selflessness, which is, it’s never about me, I’ll just be passive. I won’t ever insert myself. And that’s not healthy spiritually or emotionally either. And to me the True Self is this idea of become the self that God made us to become. And that inherently goes hand in hand with how we navigate well relationships with other people.
Amy Julia (9m 28s):
That’s a wonderful succinct yeah. Summary that you really do spell out in greater detail in the book. But I, I love the way you put that and that was part of why this book was a challenging read For me. Like it was wonderful, it was inviting, it was important, but it was challenging because you push on some assumptions that I didn’t even necessarily knew I had both as a woman and as a Christian. Cuz there’s kind of a double layering, I think of cultural assumptions about womanhood as well as then Christian’s as assumptions about You know being selfless or whatever. And I. Then one of the things that came up again and again was the idea of desire or asking the question, what do I want And I think for much of my life I have seen that as a question of being selfish.
Amy Julia (10m 16s):
I I’m supposed to sacrifice for the self of others or even just like I don’t have time to think about what I want because other people have so many wants and needs and I’m supposed to be taking care of them. Right. So I really appreciated that one of the exercises was to go and write down eight to 10 things that you want and just do it. And it was such a revelatory exercise For me. So thank you for that. But I wanna focus in right now and just ask you like why is it important for us to ask that simple question? What do I want and and why is that, again, not a selfish question to be asking.
Alison (10m 48s):
Yeah. Because I love that exercise. I’ve done it myself too. It’s very, it’s always, and the reason I think it’s important is this, especially for women as you say, is we You know, imagine you’re going to dinner. Simple question, where should we go to dinner? I don’t care. What do you want? And it’s fine to always be the one to, there’s nothing wrong. I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t compromise. I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t, especially we don’t care. But what about when we do care? And that’s what I started to notice in myself. Like someone would say, Do you wanna eat this brownie now? Sure. And I didn’t want it. I did not want it at that. So I’m like, why am I saying yes? Why I don’t want this no one, I don’t need to eat this brownie to make this other person happy.
Alison (11m 33s):
I’m thinking of that example because it was literal, it was like, I remember this day I was stuffed, I had already eaten And I was gonna coffee with a friend and she’s like, Oh I really, let’s get some brownies. And that was this light bulb moment For me that I was like, okay great. Let sure And I started eating brownies. And I was like, I don’t these brownies. Yeah. And this is a friend I, I can say, Oh no thanks, go ahead. Like I don’t have to eat these. So that’s what I mean by, it’s a silly example, but how often do we do that? And, and that’s where I do think even knowing and, and so we have to know, we have to know the impulse, how deep that impulse is in so many of us to just immediately jump to whatever the other person wants.
Alison (12m 18s):
Sure. There’s gonna be times where in a bigger thing, like I don’t want to move, I’m just making this up You know, Yeah I don’t want to move to Chicago but my whole family is moving to Chicago, therefore I have to move to Chicago. Right. At least I know I’m gonna do it because it’s what’s best for the people that I love. But I’m also gonna honor the part of myself that doesn’t wanna make that move. And, I’m gonna work, I’m gonna befriend her and I’m gonna care about that part of her, that part of me. Right. So I think, I think when we get to the root of this question, what do we want, it’s not always, okay, I’m gonna, how do I get it? It’s how do I honor it? How do I at least honor it even if I can’t get it
Amy Julia (12m 56s):
And For me. In addition to what you just said, it was also really helpful to recognize first of all there are some really good things that I want.
Alison (13m 3s):
I love that like
Amy Julia (13m 4s):
You know I, I want to be present to my kids You know and like, oh gosh, that’s great. I mean I really do. I want that. Okay. Is there anything getting in the way of that are am I able to, am I able to honor that part of me like asking some of those questions. And then there were some other things where I was like, gosh, like I want to lose five pounds and not like that’s a bad want, but I was like, I really do and I’m not sure I would like be able to say that out loud and it’s good For me to kind of explore, well where’s that coming from? Like am I, do I need to like start some new regime or do I need to actually be a little more like tender with You know post pandemic me and and and be okay with this being my body You know.
Amy Julia (13m 44s):
So it was just a really, it was a good exercise For me not only in terms of getting in touch with desire, but also in terms of getting in touch with again, that sense of self and who I am in my You know, I don’t know, strengths and weaknesses or the things that are really kind of altruistic motivations and the others that might not be. And being honest about that just it felt really important to
Alison (14m 6s):
Me. Exactly. I love what you just said. There’s some things that surprises that were like, I didn’t realize how much I really want that. And that’s a really good thing. And I want to bump that up on my priority list. I wanna make that happen. And then there’s some things I’m recognizing I want and I’m not sure that’s coming from the best of who I am. I do want it. There’s a part of me that wants it. Yeah. So that’s interesting. You know, how do I You know? How do I be tender with that part of me You know we’re getting into this whole idea of parenting ourselves and you think about parenting your kids You know, You know our kids come say, I want this candy bar. And we’re like, I get it, you do want that.
Alison (14m 46s):
I’m not gonna give it to you because you’ve already had You know, but I hear you that you do want it. And that’s hard. And it’s hard to want something that we have to say either no or not right now to that’s how we’re starting to be with ourselves.
Amy Julia (15m 3s):
Yeah. And, I love that sense of being gentle and curious, which comes up a lot in your book. I wanna go back to something you said early on in this conversation. You talked, well you talked about the Fawn response, And, I wanna get to that. You write about how we respond to stress and to fear with four different responses. And I would imagine that lots of people have heard fight or flight and some people maybe fight flight and freeze that like when we encounter a fearful or stressful situation, we fight back, we run away from it or we just freeze kind of deer in the headlight type of thing. But I had not ever heard until I actually listened to a podcast of yours where you described the Fawn response.
Amy Julia (15m 43s):
So we’ll put a link to that in the show notes cuz it’s a longer explanation than we might have time for here. But I still wanted to ask you just to give a quick explanation of what the Fawn response is and how we can learn to respond to fear differently. Because I am someone also who has a very robust Fawn response, And I. And I’m needing to see that and and learn from that. And and you’ve been helping me in that. So I thought you could maybe say a bit about that.
Alison (16m 10s):
Yeah, I think so. And, I, again, I won’t, I won’t give you the long winded sort of technical explanation of it, but if you think about fight as sort of this activating energy where we’re angry, where we’re sort of amped up flight is sort of this retreat energy, fun, what psychologists, what therapists are beginning to discover. It’s, it’s a conditioned response and meaning that’s what I’m getting at by the, the conditioned, meaning it happens outside of our conscious awareness. And it’s this response to please to win over, to make whoever’s in front of me feel good. And that’s what was happening in that moment with my friend. Oh, she wants brownies. Sure, let’s have brownies.
Alison (16m 50s):
Right? It was conditioned. I, I wasn’t even conscious, I was so conditioned to say the thing that the person in front of me wanted to hear that it was almost outside of my conscious awareness. And so that’s what we mean by when we talk about it as a nervous system response. It’s not even something where aware is happening. And so we’re walking through and that was sort of my story is I was, I was, I became aware through that, that in my thirties where I kind of had to become consciously aware of, I don’t even realize that I’m in these conversations with people so attuned to what they want from me that I don’t even know what I want to say or how I want to show up or that I’m tired or that I’m this and that is a conditioned response that is very affirmed.
Alison (17m 48s):
Unlike the fight response or even the flight response or you’re gonna get some external people be like, Why are you so angry? Or why are you so passive? The Fawn response you get a lot of affirmation for Yeah. People like it. And that’s
Amy Julia (18m 1s):
Simply though within that you are likely to lose yourself because you’re still simply responding to what other people want or expect or anticipate rather than getting in touch with how you are, I don’t know, at a deeper level maybe responding to the situation.
Alison (18m 20s):
Yeah. Pete Walker is the therapist who came up with it. He really does link it to this idea of codependency. He was the first person to do that. And I talk about that a lot in, in The Best of You, which is essentially we’re we’re, we’ve lost touch with that place inside, which is self You. Know that place inside where we’re clear, where we’re calm, where we know who we are and we’re present. And so if you think about an interaction between two people, You know right now you’re, you’re, you’re connected to yourself. You’re thinking about the next questions you wanna ask me, I’m here going, okay, how do I wanna respond to that question?
Alison (19m 2s):
To, to have a healthy interaction with any two people, two people have to be connected to their own selves, right? I mean it’s, And so yeah. And so what happens if we’re, we’re kind of leaving our, our own self in an effort only to please to win over. It’s a survival strategy. It sort of works in the moment to keep us safe. It’s a way of being camouflaged. That’s what we call it, the Fawn response. It’s like being a camouflage and the becoming invisible. I call it the, the cloak of invisibility, right? Of it’s the armor of invisibility. It’s like if you don’t really see me, if you don’t know what I think, if you don’t know what I want, if you don’t know what my preferences are, you can’t hurt me.
Alison (19m 43s):
So, but, but then you also can’t know me and you also can’t have a genuine authentic relationship with me because relationships require knowing and they require negotiation. And they require two people coming to the table with two sets of opinions and two sets of preferences.
Amy Julia (20m 1s):
And that brings up another kind of You know buzzword these days, which is to say vulnerability, which I think in the You know kind of Latin root means ability to be wounded. Yeah. And so there is a sense of, I am, I am putting myself in a place where I can be wounded by this other person. Yeah. If I’m coming as a vulnerable True Self. But that also means I’m coming in a place where I could be connected through love and engaging in a true relationship. And it makes me think about, there’s a place where you write about you, This is a quote, In order to show up as your True Self you have to face your wounds. And I’m curious about that. So there’s this, like your True Self is both a place of vulnerability right now.
Amy Julia (20m 44s):
Like I know that I could be wounded and not, not I’m looking for that, but just like I’m kind of being vulnerable enough that that’s a possibility. But in what way do we need to face our wounds, like from the past in order to know our True Self? And why is that necessary?
Alison (20m 59s):
Because, and you’re, you’re touching on something so important here. We don’t wanna expose all our vulnerabilities to everybody. We don’t people, some people are not safe, they’re just not. Right. I’m a therapist, You know we all know this. Right. But so therefore I need to know where I’m tender. I need to know where I’m vulnerable because I ultimately need to care for those parts of me, speak up on behalf of them and in some cases protect myself in a healthy way. But I, the i the sacred eye, which is the self me is aware I’m not, I am not only my wounds, they’re a part of me.
Alison (21m 51s):
My vulnerabilities are a part of me. And the more I understand them, the more I can gently protect them when they need protection from certain people, the more I can care for them in ways that not even the best person in the universe can care for them. Because I know them intimately. And this is really into this deep, deep self care is such a sort of superficial, trite word, but it’s the deep work. Now my First book,
Amy Julia (22m 20s):
Alison (22m 21s):
I go into the internal family systems model. Yeah. I touch on it in The Best of You and And I. Don’t know how familiar you are with it, but it’s a model of therapy.
Amy Julia (22m 31s):
I read it, but I would assume that most, most listeners have not. So,
Alison (22m 35s):
I mean Right. I’m talking really that book gets into the technical
Amy Julia (22m 40s):
Alison (22m 41s):
It’s great. Of what we’re talking about. I would say The Best of You is almost a prequel for it. You know. It’s the bigger, I don’t know, you tell me, but it feels to me like The Best of You is almost like the the entry level. And then it’s like if you really wanna go deep, you’re gonna go into this. Which, but the idea of it is we, we have this family inside of us. We have the vulnerable parts of us, but we have to be tender with, we have to know. And we don’t wanna face those parts of us, but they need us because if we don’t face them, we’re either gonna shove ’em aside, which is what we do when we’re fawning. We’re saying we’re not telling the truth. Now this is nuanced. When we shove those parts of us aside to please someone, we’re not telling the truth in the sense that we’re saying, I’m fine, I’m fine, whatever you need.
Alison (23m 27s):
Here’s the thing. Just because we face those wounds and we know they’re there and we feel tender, doesn’t mean we go telling I’m te You know telling everybody. It means we might in that moment say, tell ourselves I’m not gonna answer that question cuz that’s not safe. But I’m doing it consciously. I’m taking, I’m doing, doing it intentionally. Right. There’s a difference. It’s a, it’s a consciousness.
Amy Julia (23m 51s):
Yeah. I mean I’m even thinking about the superficial example of your brownie where you might become aware that every time I’m with this friend, I walk away feeling stuffed with sugar and You know what this is the last time I’m gonna do that because, or You know last time we got in a fight over whether or not I would eat the brownie cuz I said no. So I’m gonna say yes this time, but we’re not gonna go out to coffee anymore or You know. Like I just, I like that idea. I mean I appreciate the way you’re putting that, that it doesn’t mean therefore I am bleeding out in front of everyone and You know just look bearing my wounds left, right and center. But rather I’m so conscious of the fact that they exist and hopefully that some of them have actually healed.
Amy Julia (24m 32s):
But they still might be a tender spot. Right. Like a Exactly. An ankle that is broken and healed and You know what, when the weather is cloudy, it hurts. And so I have to take different care of it. That’s right. So just being that sense of awareness, because so many of us, myself included, have spent so much of our adult lives walking around with wounds that we didn’t even consciously know. Were present in our bodies, our minds, our spirits, And, I really do believe that that is some of the work that You know God very much wants to do in and through us is the work of Healing those wounds and getting in touch with that True Self is a huge part of that.
Alison (25m 7s):
You also become aware One of the things I talk a lot about in the book is these, these wounds are created typically in our environments as children. And so, and were drawn. And that’s where you also begin to get curious. You’re like, why was it hard For me in that setting to say, no thank you to the brownies. Is there something about this other person? Is there something about this situation that for whatever reason, pulls out? Because there’s a reason we develop that coping tactic in our families of origin. Yeah. You know whether they didn’t, our parents didn’t see us, they weren’t attuned to us, they weren’t present to us. So we learned You know how not to stay to need, how not to stay to present a preference.
Alison (25m 52s):
And sometimes is not the person, Like in the story, I tell the story of my husband. My husband was like, Stop, I don’t like this. Stop trying to please me. It’s not And I was like, what? Like that is the, like it felt, it felt mean almost when he was saying to me, I don’t want this part of you. I was like, but this is the part of me I, I know how to give.
Amy Julia (26m 15s):
Right. And I get affirmation for it. I mean that’s early on in our marriage. My husband was like, Could you please just tell me to take out the trash rather than you can yell it at me. That would be better than you saying. So were you thinking you might ever do the job that you agreed that you would do every Tuesday? Or is that something I should be doing? You know. And he was like, Oh my gosh, just tell me I’ve screwed up. Like so Yeah. I think when we
Alison (26m 39s):
Amy Julia (26m 40s):
To that, those things, I mean And I was like, Oh my gosh, you’re right. Right. I just didn’t even realize that that’s how I communicate
Alison (26m 46s):
That. That’s a thing that I’ve learned that. And so again, we just begin to get present and curious, Well we know our wounds, right? So now You know. Now You know there’s a part of me that is afraid to ask for something directly.
Amy Julia (27m 0s):
Alison (27m 1s):
So, and sometimes like with my husband, people who become safe, I’ve really worked on that and it’s a muscle and I’ve learned to develop it. But man, when you go into a new setting and all of a sudden you’re at work or you’re somewhere and all of a sudden that that starts to sneak out and it’s like, what’s going on here? Is this unsafe? Right, Right. Or am I defaulting? And that leads to discernment. You know, Right? What we, we know as You know, the Bible talks so much about wisdom and discernment. Is this an unsafe environment where I need to be a little careful about asking for what I need and want or And I being You know what’s actually happening inside of me because then I can take the wheel of my own life and be wise in how I navigate these external situations.
Amy Julia (27m 49s):
Yeah. I love that. And that’s really helpful. I wanna ask you about something that you call the empathy trap. So this is somewhat moving to a different topic. Yeah. But they’re all, they’re all related. I was really keyed in when I read just those words, it was just funny cuz the day before I had said to a friend, I think empathy is overrated. Cuz I was just, I was kind of, well, I was mad because so often in my life, empathy leads me to the dynamic that you describe in the book of, because I understand why someone has behaved in a way that hurts me. I then end up not confronting them or more likely in my case, like I just don’t even set a boundary to protect myself.
Amy Julia (28m 30s):
I just say, Well, I understand why they hurt me, and so I will let that keep happening. And so my empathy or what feels like my empathy gets me stuck in a really codependent Yeah. Pattern of behavior. So I’m curious to hear how like You know empathy works when it’s in a healthy way. And I’m wondering whether that is in any way related to a difference between empathy and compassion. Yeah. So if you could just talk about that a bit. I’m, I’m thinking about it. I’m learning about it. But I’d love to hear your thoughts. I
Alison (29m 1s):
Think so I do think there’s a subtle difference. I think empathy is a beautiful quality. I think it’s a gift. I think it’s the ability as we know to feel with, it’s almost like just intuitively you can put yourself into somebody else’s shoes. The problem with empathy that I describe in the book, especially in the context of setting healthy Boundaries, is we could put ourselves in the shoes of someone who’s hurting us. I get why they’re doing that. Right? And so we don’t wanna do the thing that’s gonna hurt them by setting a boundary. Right. And so we hurt ourselves, right? And so we have to set healthy Boundaries with empathy.
Alison (29m 40s):
We have to, to differentiate from it. We have to see it. We have to go, I see you there. Empathy, again, self I that sacred place inside. How do I wanna act on behalf of empathy? Do I want to, am I gonna still have to say no and do the hard thing and feel that inside and say, You know that’s where maybe prayer comes in. God, I, I have to distract. I have to disentangle from this situation, extract myself. You know you take over with that person. How am I gonna manage my empathy? Not letting my empathy lead me into unhealthy situations? It takes a lot of courage. I talk about we have to have courage side by side with empathy.
Alison (30m 23s):
I do think compassion, when we’re self led, when we’re leading from within compassion is less of allure. There’s something about empathy that pulls us right into those shoes and we can just lose ourselves. I do feel like compassion is the healthy state of, of course I have compassion again, thinking about the kid, the child You know that the best analogy is the child who’s acting out. Of course I have compassion for you And. I have to say, No, I have to stop You know we can’t do this. Yeah. It, there’s a more grounded quality to compassion
Amy Julia (31m 5s):
That I, I have found with my kids as you mentioned that, that I tend to, if they have a hard uncomfortable, even just an upsetting situation, my instinct is either to fix the problem or to be dismissive of the problem rather than to simply enter into the pain or discomfort of the problem with them. Yeah. And obviously as a parent, sometimes it is my job to fix the problem.
Alison (31m 32s):
Amy Julia (31m 33s):
Probably never my job to dismiss it in the sense of I’m judging you and telling you you shouldn’t feel that way. Which I have an instinct to do. Right. Like when my daughter is complaining, because we haven’t been to Disney World three times. And so and so has, I mean, I just want to be like squash you down. Right. But I’ve tried to learn to be like, okay, it is a hard thing when you realize that other people have gotten things that you haven’t and you want them. Yeah. So I can enter into you enter into that hardship with you and we’re not going to do that again. Like, that’s awesome.
Alison (32m 8s):
Absolutely. And this is not what our family You know is about. And Yeah. Yeah, yeah. You can both, two things can be true, but I think empathy to your point, that’s a great example of compassion. Right? I get it. Yeah. It’s hard For me when I see other people get things that I don’t have and then getting back to what I want and then I have to go, do I actually want that? What’s the thing beneath the thing? So there’s that piece. But empathy can also lure us to, Oh, I know, I feel so bad for you too. Let’s, we will go You know. And that because you genuinely feel what it feels like in her little body to see all these other people getting all these amazing things, And I mean we could do that too.
Alison (32m 48s):
And that’s also not healthy.
Amy Julia (32m 49s):
Right? Right. Yeah, exactly. And so I, I just, I, I appreciated you naming that because yeah, I feel like there’s such a buzzword around empathy. And as much as I certainly want my kids, I want myself to be able to stand and choose that are not my own and have that measure of like feeling on behalf of others. I really want that. But I also have seen that be really destructive in my own life. And in other people, And I think it’s really, it’s just an important thing to name that. And then the other thing that you write about that I had not ever seen before and that seemed really important was this idea of spiritual codependency.
Amy Julia (33m 30s):
So just to give listeners a little bit of context here, you’re writing about a lot about healthy Boundaries, right? So about kind of overcoming codependency with healthy Boundaries within ourselves, families, friendships. But then you also talk about essentially healthy Boundaries with God, which is not something that I had had thought about. And the example you gave that was the most of like a whew wake up call For me was the idea of making decisions. Do I want God to just tell me what to do and I’ll do it? Or like, is that what I’m always looking for? And I have a hard time making decisions unless I’m very clear that that’s what God wants For me. That was the one of your examples that really hit me because I do often think, Oh gosh, You know until I have some sort of like affirmation or word from the Lord.
Amy Julia (34m 19s):
Should I really move forward? I’d love for you to just explain the idea of spiritual codependency and again, that balance of like a relationship and a discernment between the self and God. Again, not becoming completely independent and saying, I just make my decisions myself, but also not being that’s independent in a sense of, it doesn’t matter who I am or what I want. It only matters that I know what the Lord wants. Right?
Alison (34m 48s):
Yes. You nailed it. That’s it. That you exactly nailed that. Those are the two extremes. Right? It’s neither, And, and And I like you, similarly, it was like, it’s not about me, It’s all about God. And that language is still very prevalent. Yeah. In certain communities, And I always just go, Well, it is a little bit about you You know And I. Think God wanted to be that way. God made you and For me. The best analogy, the best metaphor is For me becoming a parent as my kids have left the nest that For me has taught me more about a healthy dependence on God. Because you raise your kids to leave you. Right? Yeah. We equip our kids because ultimately we want them to thrive on their own as independent adults.
Alison (35m 33s):
Yep. And I, as you start to see that happening, and it’s amazing. You’re like, Oh my gosh, they’re, they’re doing it. It’s, it’s this crazy weird thing. I think to myself, Why would it be any different with God? Why would God wanna keep me as a five year old where he’s got a spoon? Feed me all the lightning bolts. Cause God does work that way in our lives sometimes. Why wouldn’t he also want to acquit me to be wise? You know, to be smart, to be discerning, to be brave as a, as a fully fledged adult woman. And You know you can come up with scriptural references that back that up and they’re in the book.
Alison (36m 15s):
But really what taught me that was watching my kids, I was like, and yet they’re still connected to me. Yeah, there’s still connection. But it does change as we grow. And that was how in the start of the book and the introduction, I talk about how after the stroke I ask God, what is it you want from me? And that was a little bit of a reversion to that codependency of just like, Just tell me what to do. God, I give up. I don’t know. And God was like, What do you want? Now that came the context of that is years of walking with God, of growing as an emotional and spiritual being. God saying, Uhuh, what do you, I’m not playing that game with you anymore.
Alison (36m 58s):
Right. What do you want? I’ve given you a mind. You’ve honed that mind. You know. And that reminded me a little bit at that when my 20 year old comes to me and is like, I really need advice. I’m not gonna say You know I’m, it’s gonna be different. Right. How I approach that 20 year old than when they’re two. Yes. I’m gonna say, let’s think about it together. What do you think? Yep. What are some thoughts you have? Oh yeah. You know. It’s just our nature with our relationship with God grows.
Amy Julia (37m 28s):
Yeah. And, I think, I mean, again, that really spoke to me because I’ve found myself in a stage where I’ve even used exactly those words. Like, just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. You know. Cause I think there is this obedient person within me that is like, I’m so afraid to get it wrong. And. I just want you to tell me what to do. And then there’s a, and yet there’s an invitation to a relationship of trust and interdependence that I think I have not like fully realized in my own experience with God. And that was, that was just a good encouragement to me.
Alison (38m 5s):
I love that. Yeah.
Amy Julia (38m 6s):
Absolutely. Thank you. I did have one more question for you. I, I’m thinking a lot, I You know, have written a lot and thought a lot about Healing, thinking about body, mind and spirit, which certainly is related to your book, but also thinking about the way in which the Healing that we experience within our body minds and spirits affects our communities and our relationships. And we’ve touched on this a little bit, but I just wanted to close by asking you how you see this work of Healing the self and of understanding the self. How does that open us up for other possibilities for health and Healing in our families, in our wider communities?
Amy Julia (38m 47s):
Like how does kind of Healing beget Healing?
Alison (38m 50s):
Yeah. No, I think it does. I do think it’s, it’s, it’s not just both and You know it’s all, and it’s, as we heal ourselves, we be more Healing to our families. We be more Healing to our neighborhoods, our communities. Conversely, the more there’s Healing in other people, the more our, our world becomes a place, a safer, less toxic place. So You know, I guess I, there’s a lot of ways to slice that onion. I think. I think the way that I can really slice it in in the book is this idea of we can, we can forget that this work of Healing our own self is intimately connected to every relationship that we have.
Alison (39m 43s):
It is how You know we so are so quick to look to how do I heal the marriage? Or how do I heal the kid? Or how do I heal the friendship? Well, one component of that is how do I heal myself? Yeah. So that I can show up in this relationship in a different way. Which sometimes You know challenges, relationships. But I guess in the grand scheme of things, I do believe ultimately, and this is sort of where the faith piece comes in, is that if we really are all created in God’s image, and if God really does want each of us to become this truest deepest, God made self, that somehow as we each do that and learn to live in harmony with each other, that’s kind of what heaven is.
Alison (40m 35s):
Amy Julia (40m 35s):
Alison (40m 36s):
Isn’t that the whole thing? Isn’t that what it’ll be? Is not just that we all just disappear, it’s that I’m seeing you as the most beautiful version of who you could possibly be. I’m showing up as a, and all of a sudden we show up together as a community in that way.
Amy Julia (40m 53s):
Well and one of the You know this is a very well known passage, but that’s been coming up as we’ve been talking, has just been love the Lord your God with all your heart, Soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Yeah. And just that sense of all three things are in there. The self love, the neighbor love and the love of God. And the fact that the love of God comes first, I think has as much to do with us understanding God’s love for our, for us as it does. Giving that love You know back to God. But that sense of love, your neighbor as yourself so speaks to what you’ve been talking about. If we don’t know how to love ourselves, if we don’t understand that that’s a really critical component to becoming ourselves as we’re meant to be in the world.
Amy Julia (41m 38s):
We won’t actually be equipped to love our neighbor. We won’t be equipped to Right. Be a presence that has an ability to participate in Healing rather than harm in the world. So there is that, that dynamic that for some reason I think, again, our culture at large being a woman and within the church too, the self part of the love For me at least got lost for a lot of years. And it’s been really good to start to re understand that. And
Alison (42m 7s):
You know, there’s the cliche saying that, that you hear all the time, which is hurt people hurt people. Well, we’re the hurt people. So You know. And, and that’s, that’s I think what You know Jesus’s commandment. There is, I You know, I talk about that all the time. Is there’s implicit that it’s, it’s almost, if you think about it, it’s almost like he’s saying the facts. We’ll, we will love others as ourselves. Yeah. That’s just the way it is. So if we’re filled with shame and rage and un unaddressed wounds and unacknowledged wounds, that’s gonna be how we show up with other people.
Amy Julia (42m 41s):
Alison (42m 42s):
If we’re Healing and and learning to show those fruit of the spirit. I talk a lot about the fruit of the spirit. We think about as putting on toward other people, but learning to be kind to ourselves, learning to be patient with ourselves, learning to be gentle with ourselves, learning to be faithful to ourselves. Yeah. Guess what? We’re gonna be those things more with other people.
Amy Julia (42m 59s):
Yeah. That’s beautiful. And, I. Think there’s a truth to exactly what you said, like how we show up towards ourselves is how we will show up towards others. But also You know, hurt people. Hurt people. And. I. Think people who are Healing contribute to Healing right’s.
Alison (43m 16s):
Right. There is exactly
Amy Julia (43m 17s):
You Know a relationship there that goes the other direction. And I. Think your
Alison (43m 21s):
A hundred percent,
Amy Julia (43m 22s):
Your book is a contribution to that Healing work. So thank you very much for that. And thank you much very much for your time here today.
Alison (43m 29s):
Thank you. Thanks for such a rich conversation.
Amy Julia (43m 36s):
Thanks as always. For listening to this episode of Love is Stronger than Fear. And I know I said this during the show, but I do wanna recommend Allison’s newsletter, her podcast, and especially her latest book, The Best of You. We will include links to all of those in the show notes. I also always want to say thank you to Jake Hanson for editing this podcast and to Amber Beery, my social media coordinator who does all the show notes and so much behind the scenes. I’m really grateful for them. I’m also grateful for you, for being here, for listening, for sharing this show, for reviewing it, for rating it, for telling other people about it.
Amy Julia (44m 16s):
And I. Do hope and pray that as you go in your day today, we’ll carry with you the peace that comes from believing that love is stronger than fear.
Learn more with Amy Julia:
- To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope
- The False Self is Fragile. The True Self is Vulnerable.
- The False Self and the True Self
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