4. Giving Yourself Permission to Feel with Marc Brackett

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Marc Brackett isn’t the first person to feel like an emotional wreck after a disagreement with their partner, family, or friends – and neither are you. Emotional intelligence starts with becoming aware of your own feelings then understanding your reactions to them. This episode’s practice is about self-compassion and how to go easy on yourself when you’re feeling big feelings.

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Claire, Marc Brackett

Claire  00:09

Hi, everyone, welcome back to NEW DAY, I hope you’re enjoying this podcast as much as I am, I can tell you that just in a couple of months I’ve been working on it, it’s already had such an impact on my life. I’m thinking a lot about my current state of being, how I’m feeling, how I’m reacting. And I feel like I’m actually getting a little more clear on what it is I’m seeking in my life. I’m not saying I have it all figured out by any means. But honestly, I really think recognizing what’s going on in our lives, like really seeing the truth of it all is the first step towards progress. And like, I know that might sound a little lofty. But each week with each conversation I’ve had, it feels like I’ve been able to narrow the lofty to the doable. And man, all I want these days is for shit to just feel doable. That said, I was really excited and a little nervous to talk to my guest today. Marc Brackett is the founder and director for the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence, and a professor in the child Study Center at Yale University.

Claire  01:04

So even for therapists like me, this sounds intimidating. But we had such an awesome conversation, Marc, and I dig into some big ideas around emotional intelligence, and what it means to become aware of our feelings and understand our reactions to them. But we also did on what fighting with our husbands looks like, because, really, we can talk about emotional intelligence all day. But tell me it doesn’t all go out the window when you’re arguing with your partner. One of the things I particularly love about Mark brackets work is that he presents an undeniably solid argument for emotional intelligence that even the most pragmatic person can get on board with, for example, my husband, as someone who lives pretty much entirely in emotion, I somehow married a man who lives only in logic and practicality. And honestly, it’s maddening sometimes to try to communicate with them. But this is life, right? Trying to communicate with the people around us, trying to understand them and ourselves in order to live a more fulfilling existence.

Claire  01:57

As you’ll hear Marc talk about when we’re able to recognize our emotions tend to them, to regulate them, we are better able to function in school, at work, and at home. And this is really important. You’re also going to hear me geek out about the more granular aspects of understanding emotions. I mean, I get really excited about this stuff. Because in all my years of work, this is the stuff I see that actually helps people create change in their lives. Most of the time, when a new client comes to my office, they’re a big tangled mess inside, they’re not sure what they’re feeling. And so a lot of the work we do is to recognize and pinpoint all the things they’re feeling, why they’re feeling them, and how to respond to and manage those emotions. For instance, one thing you’re going to hear me talk about in today’s interview is the difference between anger and disappointment. When I was reading Marc’s book Permission To Feel in prep for this interview, I literally stopped in my tracks during this section about anger and disappointment.

Claire  02:51

He explains that we feel anger when something unjust or unfair has happened, and that we feel disappointment when our expectations are not met. And that often we think we’re angry, when really, we’re disappointed. Think about that for a minute, like conjure up something you’re mad about, maybe right now or in the past, and ask yourself if the situation was an unfair one or if you’re actually disappointed because your expectations weren’t met. I mean, I’m sorry. But this blows my mind. You wouldn’t believe how many people I talked to who are masking their stuff with anger, because it’s easier to feel that than more sensitive emotions, like fear or sadness. But once we pinpoint the real feeling, anger or disappointment, we can actually do something constructive with it. And yes, this is the work I do all the time with clients. But this is also the work I’ve been doing on myself for a long, long time. Losing both of my parents honestly really fucked me up. I constantly felt lonely, abandoned and anxious. And because I didn’t know what to do with those emotions, I self-medicated with booze, escapism, and toxic relationships, pulling myself out of those things looked like learning to understand what I was feeling and why. And this remains a constant practice for me today. Alright, enough about me and my feelings. Let’s hear from the real expert here, Marc Brackett.

Claire  04:15

Hi, Marc, thank you for joining me.

Marc Brackett  04:18

It’s my pleasure.

Claire  04:19

So I start by asking everyone a question that I think you also ask everyone, which is how are you feeling today?

Marc Brackett  04:26

Yeah, well, it’s been a rough couple of hours. I was flying home from a trip in San Diego and my flight got diverted and then it got canceled and it got reinstated then it got canceled. And so finally got home at 6:15 this morning. And so I’m praying that I’m going to be aware for this conversation.

Claire  04:50

So when stuff like that happens in our regular life, that’s like a whole roller coaster of feelings and emotions that we go through, right?

Marc Brackett  04:58


Claire  04:58

Do you feel like that you’re really good at managing that at this point, or you still a regular person and go through all of like the anxiety and disappointment and frustration and all the things?

Marc Brackett  05:09

Well, I think I’m better than I’ve ever been. Because you know, I’ve been teaching this stuff for 25 years. And so I really like to practice what I preach. So, you know, I think oftentimes on the inside, I’m imploding. But, you know, I can regulate, I have my, I have my strategies.

Claire  05:29

So you know, I am a therapist, I specialize in grief and loss. And I’ve been sitting with emotions for a long time. And one of the things I think I do a lot in my work is give people permission to grieve, which is something that our culture is pretty illiterate with is grief. But you talk about how we aren’t so great at emotions, period. So what are the ways that you go about helping someone, just let themselves feel something?

Marc Brackett  05:59

Well, as you know, like, I wrote this book called Permission To Feel, and it’s really at the heart of everything that I do and believe, because I don’t believe that we, as a society, give people that permission to be their true full feeling selves. And, you know, I was a kid who had a lot of trauma. And I had to suppress my feelings. You know, I couldn’t talk about them. I was abused, and the abuser was certainly not interested in my feelings. And I had two parents who loved me dearly. But they were stuck trying to figure out their own emotional lives. Right? They had no emotion education. And so yeah, it’s tough.

Claire  06:39

How did you go about opening up to letting yourself feel again, what was that process like?

Marc Brackett  06:46

Well, you know, like, you know, is that oftentimes there’s a special person in your life. And so I had that special person, his name was uncle Marvin. And he was my mother’s brother. And the long story short about uncle Marvin is that he was a middle school teacher, who was literally writing a curriculum in the 1960s and 70s, to teach kids about their feelings through social studies and history. Wow. And lo and behold, he was also getting a master’s degree, and the town where I grew up, and he comes stay with us on the weekends. And we would sit in the backyard, and honestly, Claire, he was the first person who said, Hey, Marc, how are you feeling? And when he did, that, no one else had ever done was he listened. And he didn’t judge. And for whatever reason, I opened up my entire story to him. And then he didn’t say, get some grit kid, or toughen up. He said, Well, what are we going to do to get through this together? And it changed my life. And it gave me a career, to be honest with you.

Claire  07:46

So you say for whatever reason, you opened up, but there’s got to be a reason. What was it he did that helped you open up?

Marc Brackett  07:54

Yeah. So it’s interesting, you asked that, because I’ve been doing research on this recently. I call it the characteristics of people who give you permission to feel and it’s quite straightforward, actually. They’re compassionate. They’re empathic. They are vulnerable themselves. They provide unconditional support and love. They’re amazing listeners. All the things that I know that you would think are so important. And yeah, and so I’ve been asking people this question for years now and looking at like, what are the top characteristics? And it does seem like that self and other compassion is, you know, at the top?

Claire  08:40

That is fascinating to me, the self-compassion part. That’s something I am working with all the time with clients, you know, just forgiveness, self-compassion, how do we have those things for ourselves, I can’t tell you how much my clients judge themselves beat themselves up for going through the series of emotions that are grief, you know, being vulnerable, feeling all the range of emotions that come when you go through a big loss, and they come to me and they are so upset with themselves for experiencing these emotions. And so a lot of the work that we do is helping them feel self-compassion. But you’re saying that that also lends itself to being someone who can give compassion to others.

Marc Brackett  09:21

Correct. You know, it’s interesting, because when I was writing my book, I tried to think, well, who are these Uncle Marvin’s? You know, where do they come on Robin? And I came up with a basic idea that’s kind of at the intersection of emotional intelligence research, and the work on mindsets. And so I call it the Emotion Scientists versus the Emotion Judge. And so the emotion scientists is open to emotion. They are curious about emotion. They want to get granular about their feelings, they’re comfortable to saying I’m fine, I’m okay busy or stressed. It’s like, well, how much anger am I feeling? Am I peaved, or am I raged, how much anxiety am I feeling? Am I an easy or am I terrified? And then when they fail at dealing with their emotions, which we all do, they have a growth mindset around that they’re like, you know what, today stunk. I messed up, but you know what, I’ve got my whole life to get better at this stuff. And then of course, there are the emotion judges who we all know, too well. They’re close to emotion, they’re critical to emotion. Like my father was an emotion judge, he’d say things like, son, you know, get over it, toughen up, or his favorite one was, you know, this is how I deal with things son, learn how to deal with it. I’m like, Dad I have been learning how to deal with it for 30 years. What do you think I’m a psychologist. And so it’s interesting, you know, how many judges we have in the world. And, I mean, obviously, as you can imagine, I can go on and on and on about this.

Marc Brackett  09:54

Okay, so I read your book Permission To Feel and I really want to talk about RULER. We should explain though. It’s an acronym for recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating, did I get that right? Marc, can you say more about ruler and how you’re incorporating the strategy into schools for children? Like break it down for our listeners.

Marc Brackett  11:14

Yeah. RULER, essentially, is a set of skills that helps us to use our emotions wisely. And so the first skill is emotion perception, or recognition of emotion, being self-aware, like, what am I really feeling? And then how is the person I’m interacting with feeling? And that’s a tricky one. Because we don’t have a culture that gives each other permission to feel we mask our feelings a lot. You know, we live with people that don’t tell us how they really feel we work with people who think they have to put on a face, right to be successful. And so it’s hard to actually know how people are feeling. The second is understanding of emotion. So where do those feelings come from? Like what’s the difference between anger and disappointment? I’ve asked literally a million people that. We default to these basic kind of feelings of like, I’m pissed. But like, really? Like, what was the antecedent, like what happened? Oh, something you expected to happen didn’t happen.

Marc Brackett  12:13

But everything was legitimate. Okay, well, that’s probably the disappointment, emotion. Whereas if there was unfairness associated with it, well, that’s anger. And the reason why that’s so important is that as a mom, a dad, a teacher, a partner, you’re going to be more helpful, if you understand the actual feeling. Because, you know, when I was a kid, you know, I had a lot of challenges. I didn’t know what I’m an emotion was from anything else. And I come home from school where I was bullied in hated school, I hate Joe, I’m never going to school again. And my parents would send him in my room and say, Who do you think you’re talking to me that way? It was a whole thing. not helpful, not helpful, right. And my parents were triggered because of my behavior. Because they didn’t, they didn’t get underneath the feeling. And so if they had known, I was feeling shame, and fear, my hunches, you know, they probably would have done something differently to help me. And so that’s why the labeling is so important that our RUL. Is all about my experience in your experience. But now we got to like do something about it. Right? That’s the E and the R. And so do I express my feelings to you? Is it safe for me to tell you how I feel? Are you going to judge me? Are you going to be there for me? Are you going to be uncle Marvin? Are you going to be one of the bullies?

Claire  13:34

Are you going to judge yourself as you tell someone about your feelings?

Marc Brackett  13:37

Completely. Because we have feelings about our feelings? You know, I’m embarrassed for being anxious. Like I’m a director of a center for emotional intelligence, how can I be anxious, I have to be like content and optimistic and hopeful all the time. Well, guess what? True. And so expressing is a tricky one, too, because it also brings in societal factors around power, and culture and race. Because not everyone has equal permission to express their feelings in our society, which is clearly a problem and an injustice for many. Gender is actually just finished a paper, what we call the Emotional Glass Ceiling For Women In The Workplace. And what happens is that as women progress in their ranks in the corporate sector, they feel less and less comfortable and less and less willing to express their negative emotions.

Claire  14:34

I’ve seen this in my clients.

Marc Brackett  14:37

And then the final skill, which is, you know, the big one is emotion regulation. So those strategies, the cognitive strategies, that behavior once that mindfulness strategies that breathing exercises, that physical activity, you know, that help us to use our emotions wisely. And I say that intentionally because I think there’s a lot of misperceptions in our world. That it’s about control. And I really want to get people away from that mindset.

Claire  15:34

Okay, Marc, I want to go back to anger versus disappointment. Because you know, anger is such a common response to grief and loss. I see it a lot. But underneath that is where we really need to set. Anger is valid, but how do we get people to look underneath the anger?

Marc Brackett  15:49

Yeah, well, this is like a three-hour conversation. So, you know, the, I think, firstly, and I’m saying this just because it’s relevant to the conversation, I’m a gay man. And I think my father was deathly afraid of that. My father was like, this tough guy from the Bronx. And, you know, all of a sudden, now he’s got this, you know, his son who likes to play hopscotch. in that football. By the way, I have a fifth-degree black belt in the martial art. So I think subconsciously, I was wanting to be that tough guy. But um, you know, I always joke around, I really am a very skilled Martial Artists, but I’m not a tough guy. Because I think the whole mindset is just so messed up. Right? It’s toxic masculinity at its highest level. But, you know, going back to your point, it’s why in the work that we do in schools, it’s always adults first. It’s not about like, I’m gonna buy this program and do it to kids. And the same thing works, you know, in our parenting training, parents come and teach me how to raise an emotionally intelligent child. And they leave saying, Oh, no, I’ve got a lot of work to do on myself. Right? Because they don’t have the language. Right? How many of the people that you work with, really know that difference between anger and disappointment. Give you an example. I did a, I talk for 300 major leaders of companies. And I said, what’s the difference between anxiety, stress, fear, overwhelm? What do you think the number one response was?

Claire  17:21

There is no difference.

Marc Brackett  17:22

Yeah, exactly. You hit the nail on the head. And I’m like, this is not a trick question. Right? There really is a difference. And when I started explaining it, and then thinking through how, as a leader than might be supporting someone in their team who was feeling anxious versus overwhelmed versus fearful versus, you know, something else. It was like, Oh, my gosh, I didn’t even know this. There’s like this lexicon?

Claire  17:50

How did we get here, though? I mean, I was reading your book, and I just kept thinking, How did this happen? How have we gotten this far into humanity? And we have failed  to be teaching emotions from the beginning, you know, why aren’t we learning this as children? And I mean, you’re changing that now. But how did we get here?

Marc Brackett  18:10

The emotions are were, I should say, seen as like idiosyncratic impulses, right? You can’t measure emotions, right? They’re ephemeral. They’re, they bring you to dark places. Like it’s emotional, right? And what does that term say? It’s hysterical, crazy, out of control. And I think that was the prevailing mindset. Until the 1950s and 60s, really, when people were discovering that, wait a minute, emotions are sources of information that ensure survival, fear is an adaptive thing, it tells you to get out of the way because there’s danger ahead of you. And so I think the short answer to that is the history of emotions, being non-measurable, the view that when you’re feeling emotions, you’re not able to be in control. And then obviously, I mean, we’re culture I mean, let’s get real here. That only really values academic abilities, right? It’s like K to 12 education. What does it take to get into a place like Yale where I teach, it doesn’t take emotional intelligence, it takes test scores, and grade point averages and all that stuff.

Claire  19:21

But you’re arguing differently, you mean you’ve been studying, you’ve been measuring emotions, or at least measuring the value of emotional intelligence. And I mean, I’ve read a lot about how you can learn better, you can focus more when you are regulating your emotions.

Marc Brackett  19:38

Yeah. So the best example I have is myself, I was a failing student. And you know, I joke about this like, but I’m a pretty smart guy. And, you know, I couldn’t function academically as it gets. Think about that. I’m being abused by a neighbor for years, unable to speak about it because of the threats and imagine what that does to your system. And then I have parents who love me, but my mother was having breakdowns all the time. My father was just telling me to toughen up all the time. So what am I doing? I’m suppressing my emotions, I’m eating my emotions, I’m crying, you know, in secret. And only when I became a professor, did I realize that the same neurons that were firing, you know, with all that tumbled, are the same neurons that are firing when I’m sitting in a classroom trying to absorb information. And so my brain throughout my childhood was in survival mode, not learning mode.

Claire  20:32

I had my first panic attack shortly after my mother died, and I ended up in an ER with heart palpitations and dizziness. I thought I was dying. They ran me through every test every physical test possible. Blood work, EKGs. I mean, this is almost 25 years ago. And never once did they ask me what was happening in my life, how I was feeling, what was going on. My mother just died. I was a freshman in college, you know, there was a lot going on. They’d never asked me any of it. And they sent me on my way telling me I was probably 1 in 10 people who has heart palpitations. So I spent the next several years thinking there was just something wrong with me, wrong with me for feeling the way I was feeling. And trying to get over that.

Marc Brackett  21:14

It’s almost like you’re gaslighted out of your own emotional life.

Claire  21:18

Exactly. Yeah. So that’s what I was going through for a long time. And it was, you know, similar to you, I just had these awakenings as I went through school, particularly about what was going on for me and what was going on for a lot of other people. But so, back to RULER, I mean, recognizing emotions within ourselves and within others. It’s that’s tricky, right? It’s tricky. It’s, again, like things like the difference between anger and disappointment, or what about projection?

Marc Brackett  21:44

Happens all the time. You know, I always joke about I have this one, and every time she calls, she’s like, what’s wrong? I’m like, you, stop putting that stuff on to me, I’m feeling okay. And we attribute emotion to people, as opposed to find out how they actually feel. Mm hmm. I mean, this is the problem, because we’re not curious explorers of other people’s emotions, we just want to be certain that we’re right about how they’re feeling. Because then everything’s easy, we can move on. And it’s why I think so many relationships are dysfunctional and fail. You know, think about it clarify, I asked you, hey, Claire, how are you feeling today? I really have the intention of listening. And if I hear something, as your friend, as your parent, as your teacher, as your partner, that I’m not expecting, which is you don’t say fine. Right?

Marc Brackett  22:41

You say, you know, Marc, I’m feeling a little hopeless and frustrated and scared. That’s a lot for someone to deal with. I always tell people this, you know, if someone says something like that, maybe you don’t have to say anything. Maybe you just have to just listen, and show your empathy and show your curiosity. And that alone is a strategy of co-regulating. But I think what happens is that I say, How are you feeling? You say, Fine, I say, great. And then we move on. And so we that’s the training we have is like, it’s transactional and fast. And so now my question is, how much time there are schools, then in helping kids build and maintain healthy relationships and have self-awareness?

Claire  23:26

Yeah, they’re doing a lot of math.

Marc Brackett  23:29

A lot of math, a lot of language arts, you know, and that’s important. Don’t get me wrong. But I have to tell you, learning how to build and maintain friendships is really hard. Because when people activate you, and you don’t get what you want, as a kid, how do you deal with that? And so the way I see it, is that, once I had it my way to be fully honest, you would start in the womb. Gonna start early. But we start with our approach in preschool. And we go all the way to high school and in college. And the idea of creating like a curriculum for emotional development really has a strong parallel to my work in the martial arts. So I have a fifth-degree black belt in this martial art called Hapkido. And, like for a yellow belt, right, you got to learn how to do this kind of punch, and this kind of kick in the head of block punches in a certain way. For a blue belt, the kick hits a little fancier, you know, the block gets a little faster. You know, you got to learn how to spar and fight people. And then red belt, black belt, first degree, etc. And I always thought when I was working on the system with my team, let’s give everyone a black belt and emotional intelligence by the time they graduate from high school. And so what would that look like? Well, they have to learn all the words, but you’re not going to teach a four-year-old like, alienation.

Marc Brackett  24:54

It’s a little bit much right? How about lonely, sad, angry? Then you could scaffold the teaching of these skills across the years. And I get excited, and I get angry, because I imagine the schools that we work with, and I imagine the schools that say, this is Bs, and we’re just going to prepare kids for, you know, Career and College Readiness. And so the kids that are going through the [..] training every year, they’re having conversations and feelings in their classroom. They’re given, you know, problems to solve around alienation and isolation, and all kinds of, you know, emotional experiences to think through the problems To regulate. And then these kids no education, so I consider it completely an issue of equity at this point in my career.

Claire  25:46

You do have this going in, like, what 2000 schools though?

Marc Brackett  25:49

Actually, good news is that this summer, we hit 3200 schools.

Claire  25:56

That’s amazing. Congratulations, that makes me feel hopeful.

Marc Brackett  26:00

Me too. It’s exciting.

Claire  26:28

I got a little personal for a minute. What do you do with someone who really doesn’t know how to let themselves feel their emotions, as a therapist who constantly sets in a sea of emotions that I am excited to talk about and look at and feel. I married a man who really does not allow himself to feel emotions. He’s as stoic New England as they come out. My joke is always that he’s unreadable. He could be having the best day or the worst day of his life. And you cannot tell. And maybe that’s why I married him. Because it’s like a challenge, I don’t know.

Marc Brackett  26:57

He’s the blank slate that you can develop.

Claire  27:00

I’ll ask him how he’s feeling. And he will tell me what’s happening with his job. Or I’ll ask him how he’s feeling. And he will explain something that’s going on with money. You know, like, there’s no, I feel good, or I feel scared, or lonely or anxious. It’s, here’s what’s happening with work. Because that’s how he equates all of his emotions.

Marc Brackett  27:20

That is funny. My husband is Panamanian, and very emotional, in terms of like, very activated, but, like, has zero patience with me about like getting granular and specific. Just give you an example. And then I’m going to jump in on your thing. A couple months ago, we got into this argument, and I knew it was not going well. And I’m like, you know, let’s talk about he’s like, I don’t wanna talk about I’m like, are you angry? Are you overwhelmed? Are you scared? Are you frustrated? Are you anxious? Throwing out like, 300 feeling words? And he’s like, give me a break from this feeling stuff? And so like, it’s a balance, right?

Claire  27:58

And this is similar to what’s happening in my house.

Marc Brackett  28:02

It’s a balance. And so I think, A, is that we have to be role models, as much as possible. Think about this as a parent for a minute. Like, how many dads, you know, maybe something went wrong at work, you know, I got into an argument with a colleague, and you know, whatever it is, and they get home and they look kind of irritated or even kind of blank. And the kid says, hey, Dad, how’s it going? Fine. And that’s the end of it. Dad goes to watch television kid goes to do his homework, or whatever the heck it is, as opposed to helping people understand the following. Hey, honey, daddy had a really rough day at work. Oh, really? What happened? Well, I got into this fight with a colleague. And I said something that was kind of mean, I really regret it. And I’ve been thinking, you know, as I was driving home, about what I could say tomorrow to apologize, you know, and ask for forgiveness. So if I look a little off tonight, that’s the reason why. So what did I just model?

Claire  29:03

I have chills, can you imagine if we were all doing that all the time with our kids?

Marc Brackett  29:07

Exactly. I mean, modeling A, like daddy makes mistakes. B, daddy thinks about his mistakes. C, Daddy is comfortable talking about it. D, daddy reflects, you know, and tries to strategize. I mean, all that happened in literally two minutes of an interaction. And so I think we need to do that as couples. You know, sometimes people need more support in terms of, you know, coaching them into it. Asking interesting questions about, you know, what was the most frustrating aspect of your day? What was the most inspiring aspect of your day? Like just priming people more, I think can be really helpful.

Claire  29:50

I agree. I’m going to keep working on it.

Marc Brackett  29:54

So what is it? What is it? How does it make you feel just for curiosity? Like what does that do for you in your relationship.

Claire  30:01

Often it makes me feel frustrated and lonely, is the truthful answer. But I feel like we can work through it and often do but my initial feelings are anger or frustration or loneliness, you know, that I can’t get what I’m looking for from him. You know?

Marc Brackett  30:18

and that’s another thing, you know, oftentimes we are projecting how we want to deal with our own feelings on how everybody else should deal with theirs, and, you know, that can be really problematic. Because, you know, by way of example, for me, I really don’t do well, with like, leaving things hanging. Like it really, it’s like, that uncertainty place is killer for me. And so, if my partner and I get into a fight, like I want to solve it, and like that is the exact opposite of his strategy. He’s like, I don’t want to talk to you right now. I’m going to the movies, go into the movies, what are you talking about, like, you’re gonna sit here all on worrying that you’re going to get into an accident and a car on the way to, like, an hour, like having a complete nervous breakdown that like, he’s not going to get a handle his feelings, and he’s gonna, you know, be distracted, and that it’s crazy. And then I realized after now we’ve been together, 27 years. Finally, I think in the 26 year, I’m like, this is his way of coping. And it’s not right or wrong.

Claire  31:23

We really do need to understand how other people move through their emotions, and how they work through different things, because it’s not the same across the board. And so when we are in relationship, understanding that as part of the RULER, you know, really understanding how someone else is moving through their emotions is such a huge part of the process.

Marc Brackett  31:40

Well, and I think also, it’s remembered that emotion scientists emotion judge piece, we have to do that with our strategies. And so, like, am I curious about this strategy? No, I’m judgmental about it. I’m like, I don’t like the fact that you’re abandoning me. And like going to the movies. I’m like, that doesn’t work for me, I don’t want you to do it. But guess what, it really works for him. And he comes back, and he’s fine.

Claire  32:07

And this goes back to self-compassion, because I think that feeling compassion for ourselves as we get activated, or as we struggle with, say, like this example, you know, like, you’re having a hard time with him going off to the movies, or my husband likes to just go to sleep in the middle of an argument. That’s his way of checking out. Right? And, you know, that makes me feel angry and frustrated. But then I have to have compassion with myself for not being awesome at letting him have his strategy. You know, not none of us are awesome at this, we have to be, you know, compassionate with ourselves about being human and moving through these things.

Marc Brackett  32:43

Well, what are your go to strategies? So when you’re perceiving him using a strategy that you don’t want him to use? And it makes you have these feelings? Like, what is your..

Claire  32:54

Yeah, I go cold, like, I’m the most emotional person, when you push me to fire my actual reaction is to go completely cold and emotionless. And it’s rare that I will get to that place, I’m usually very warm and just constantly open and communicative. And I will just really shut down and retreat.

Marc Brackett  33:15

So that’s your go to, we’ll call that the maladaptive one. But what are the, you know, as someone in the field? Like, I’m curious to know, like, what are the most helpful strategies for you as a person?

Claire  33:27

That’s a good question, I think, trying to really recognize what I’m doing and see where I’m getting triggered and see what’s coming up on my end, you know, I have a lot of emotional history, I lost both of my parents young with a lot of grief and loss. So I very quickly go to places of abandonment of old grief, old loss. And so for me, really taking a step back and seeing how much of this is something that’s happening right now with this person, how much of this is an old emotional state that I fall into very easily?

Marc Brackett  33:58

So a lot of perspective taking, like you’re stepping out of it for a minute and kind of examining it and looking at it, you know, some reappraisal strategies here and there. Which are I mean, so important. And, you know, the reason why I ask is that, it’s a complex process. And you can’t just like, a lot of people were like, what’s the best strategy? I’m like, there is no best strategy. You know, breathing is the new one that already thinks is gonna be the savior. And over mindfulness, mindfulness is the answer for everything. Yeah. And I don’t disagree. These are all excellent strategies. But like when my partner abandons me and goes to the movies, like I do some breathing exercises, I’m like, Okay, I’m even clear why I feel abandoned. Exactly. Like I need to really like process it and like shift my attributions and you know.

Claire  34:47

Is this emotion regulation is this what you..

Marc Brackett  34:49


Claire  34:51

So it’ll, you know, as a as a last part of this conversation, like break that down for us, what is, what is regulating our emotions mean?

Marc Brackett  34:56

So at the broadest level, it’s learning how to use all of our emotions wisely. But at a more specific level, it’s the self-regulation pieces, like, you know, don’t eat that cookie. Don’t say that nasty thing that you want to say to somebody. It’s the CO regulation piece. It’s like me being a good friend to you and a good partner to someone and being able to help them work through their feelings. But it’s fraught and I, you know, I talked about this from, you know, seven domains of regulation, the first is always permission to feel no judgement, all emotions are good. Literally, anxiety is a is a real emotion, we’re not going to judge it, it is what it is. We need the breathing exercises to help deactivate our system. We need strategies to shift our thinking, you know, to get ourselves from, you know, being those ruminators. I’m a ruminator. You know, it’s like, that’s my like, whatever, you know, thank you, Mommy, thank you genetics, thank you, whatever, like I just obsess, like, what am I gonna do? And I could spend hours like, just ruminating about one thing. And I’m like, Mark, is this helping you solve the problem? No. Is this helping you fall asleep? No. So might be that scientist about the strategy. Then there’s the exercise and nutrition, sleep. There’s the relationship aspects of this, that uncle Marvin, who’s in your life. So anyway, lots of strategies, and we spend way too little time on them. And I think many of us have to unlearn the unhelpful ones that we learned growing up, and then relearn them and practice them for the rest of our lives.

Claire  36:34

But I think what you point out is so important. It’s a lot of things that we have to look at, right? It is our nutrition, it’s sleep, it’s our relationships, it’s what are our, you know, habits like rumination, it’s not one thing that we’re going to change, people often feel so stuck, like they feel stuck in who they are, or how they are. But there’s so many ways to look at small pieces of ourselves and change little pieces of those.

Marc Brackett  36:59

Completely agree. And it’s you know, and that’s why you need the whole repertoire. Because sometimes, like you’re traveling a little late last night, when I was in this flight, it was a disaster. And they literally changed it four times. I have friend in Chicago, and she’s like, I’m making the bed for you. And I call him like, I’m not coming. And then I call it back. And now I am coming. And it’s like, I can’t believe I’m not coming. And I’m sitting on the plane next to some guy who’s actually coughing and sneezing. I’m having a complete breakdown from like, why is this guy sitting next to me, I cannot believe this is happening. And then I was like, Marc, remember, this moment isn’t permanent. This is not your whole life. This is a moment of your life. You’ll get through this. Take your breaths, right? Think about what’s happening tomorrow, you’re gonna be on a podcast with Claire. Okay, that makes me feel more positive. But honestly, it’s like, it’s such hard work. And it’s because our emotion system is more complex than our cognitive system.

Claire  38:01

Yeah. One of the first steps I always advise my clients is, is a lot of what you’re talking about that kind of that curiosity. But curiosity about ourselves, you know, start to notice these moments, you know, you don’t have to change them right away, you don’t have to be great at it. But start to notice that you’re ruminating, maybe you don’t even notice it for 45 minutes. And then you’re like, wow, I’ve been ruminating on this for a long time. And so just start to see what you’re doing and where you’re doing it like that moment on the airplane for you, you kind of all of a sudden realized where you were in that emotional sea, and that you didn’t have to be there necessarily.

Marc Brackett  38:34

Well, and relatedly, you know, one of the things that we remember that blackbelt metaphor I gave you for teaching this stuff, is that in schools and in homes and workplaces, we need a common language. Right? So we all have to know what anger means. We often know what disappointment means we all have to know what shame is we have to know what guilt is anxiety, fear, we have to have a common language for these things. And we also need a common language for the strategies. So that you know, we know what we’re talking about when we’re doing this. And that’s, you know, that alone, I think could make a huge difference.

Claire  39:07

I agree. oh, my gosh, I could talk to you about all of this stuff. For hours. We might we might have to sit down again and talk but I hope that everyone reads your book, and I hope that RULER ends up in every school in the world, not just this country.

Marc Brackett  39:20

What’s the expression, your wish is the universe command.

Claire  39:26

Thank you so much, Marc.

Claire  39:28

Thank you, Claire. Really appreciate the time.

Claire  39:36

Permission to feel, what a revelation. I was literally humming with excitement after this interview, and I have continued to think about it since this week. I would love for you to give yourself permission to feel. But okay, here comes my spiel about self-compassion. Because as you heard Mark say we have feelings about our feelings, such as giving ourselves permission to feel isn’t enough because a lot of the time we don’t feel so Great about how we feel we’re ashamed that we’re anxious or depressed or scared, we’re embarrassed to admit that we feel lonely or inadequate or abandoned. We’re afraid to be angry even when it’s warranted. So for this week’s practice, let’s start with some basic self-compassion. This is at the root of all the work I’ve done on myself, and all the work I do with others.

Claire  40:21

Because if we can’t allow ourselves to be human, to have all the feelings we do, we can’t begin to change. The great psychologist Carl Rogers has a quote I love that says, the curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. But what does accepting ourselves really mean? It means starting with where you are today, not who you hope to be tomorrow, like skinnier or nicer, or who you were that one time when everything was flowing, and you really felt like your best self. Ask yourself how you’re feeling right now, and what you’re struggling with, and be really honest with yourself. But if this is already feeling hard, here’s a little trick. Imagine that you have a really good friend who’s feeling and going through exactly whatever it is you’re going through. I want you to take a moment to visualize this. What would you think of them? Would you have compassion and sympathy for them? Would you understand what they’re going through and tell them that it’s okay to struggle? What would you do or say to support them through these feelings?

Claire  41:20

Okay, now see yourself through the same lens. Give yourself that same compassion and understanding. Take a deep breath and let out a big sigh. Let it be okay that you’re human, and that life might not be going as planned and that you fuck things up. Sometimes. self-compassion is something we have to come back to over and over. It’s a practice, sometimes a daily one. When I first started doing this work, I would just cry and cry. It was so hard to be nice to myself. But eventually it got easier. And that’s when things got better. If you feel like you need some more help with self-compassion, I recommend any and all of Dr. Kristen Neff. Her book Self-Compassion, step by step is the one I recommend to all of my clients. And she has this really incredible website self compassion.org that’s chock full of practical advice and meditations that can help you find more compassion for yourself. Try one of these suggestions. Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about your progress and your own questions about self-compassion, any breakthroughs? moments of clarity, or is this stuff feeling totally impossible. And now you’re feeling angry or disappointed with me? I want to hear that too. You can call leave me a message at 8334-LEMONADA. That’s 833-453-6662 or email me at newday@lemonadamedia.com. I really want to hear what you find.

Claire  42:42

NEW DAY is a Lemonada Original. Jackie Danziger is our supervising producer, our associate producers Erianna Jiles, […] our engineer, music is by Hannis Brown. Executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer, Lily Cornell Silver and Claire Bidwell Smith. NEW DAY is produced in partnership with the wellbeing trust the Jed Foundation, and Education Development Center. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at Lemonada Media across all social platforms or find me at ClaireBidwellSmith.com Join our Facebook group to connect with me and fellow NEW DAY listeners. Hear advice on how to live with more purpose and satisfaction and suggest tools that have helped you. You can join at facebook.com/groups/newdaypod. You can also get bonus content and behind the scenes material by subscribing to Lemonada premium. You can subscribe right now and the apple podcast app by clicking on our podcast logo and then the subscribe button. Alright, that’s it for us. Thanks for listening. See you next week.

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