Many of our fears as adults are holdovers from childhood. As a child, you likely had limited choices around what your life looked like (for example, it might not have been possible to remove yourself from an unsafe environment or to find friends who felt like a good fit). The good news is that as adults we have new tools and choices to design our life and to confront our fears. In this Emotional Push-Up featuring PR expert Courtney Hamilton, we explore how we can put ourselves in healthier situations and face what we’re afraid of head on.
Thank you for listening! Staying emotionally fit takes work and repetition. That's why the Emotionally Fit podcast with psychologist Dr. Emily Anhalt delivers short, actionable Emotional Push-Ups every Monday and Thursday to help you build a better practice of mental health. Join us to kickstart your emotional fitness. Let's flex those feels and do some reps together!
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The Emotionally Fit podcast is produced by Coa, your gym for mental health. Katie Sunku Wood is the show’s producer from StudioPod Media with additional editing and sound design by Nodalab, and featuring music by Milano. Special thanks to the entire Coa crew!
Ready to break an emotional sweat? Welcome to Emotionally Fit with me, Dr. Emily Anhalt. As a therapist, I know that staying mentally healthy takes work and repetition. That's why I'll share emotional pushups, short, actionable exercises, to help you strengthen your mental fitness, from improving your friendships to managing stress, let's flex those fields and do some reps together.Dr. Emily Anhalt (:
Hey, there fit fans. I'm here today with Courtney Hamilton, storyteller, media-maven, and founder of G'Knight Communications. Courtney, thank you so much for being here today.Courtney Hamilton (:
Yeah. Emily, thank you so much for having me on.Dr. Emily Anhalt (:
It's always a pleasure. And today we're talking about our fears and the things that we believe we can't handle. Something that I learned through my therapy and that I've gotten to support patients in learning as well, is that it's not uncommon that the fears we have as adults are holdovers from when we were young. When we're young, we have a very limited set of choices and tools at our disposal. We don't usually get to choose where we live, or where we go to school, or which adults that we have relationships with. If, as a kid, you're in an unhealthy environment, you usually can't choose to leave, or to make big changes in your life. So we do the best we can with the limited set of tools and resources we do have. Often that means that we build protection on the inside of ourselves. We build emotional walls and avoid things that feel unsafe. And then we become adults.Dr. Emily Anhalt (:
And as adults, we gain control and agency over our lives, and we develop new choices and tools that we can use. But so often we forget that our fears developed in a different reality. We forget that we can reexamine the things we're afraid of and decide if they're still so scary. We forget that we might have the tools we need now to face those fears. So I'll share an example from my own life. When I was a young kid, I went to a little private school where everyone was quiet and very well behaved. As a super rambunctious ADHD hellion, I did not get along with the other kids, and I was not especially liked by the kids or the teachers, but because I was just a child, it didn't really feel like there was much I could do about this. I couldn't decide to just change schools, or go out and meet new people. And I didn't really understand why people didn't like me. So I didn't know what behavior to change.Dr. Emily Anhalt (:
So to deal with the feelings of being lonely and outcast, I convinced myself that I didn't care what anyone thought of me. This was how I managed a tough situation, not caring, or at least trying not to, was the only tool that I had in my tool belt at the time. And it worked well enough that I survived a tough elementary school experience until I changed schools and I found my people who were thrilled to run around and make noise and trouble with me. So fast forward to my young adulthood, I'd been in therapy for a while. My therapist knew me pretty well at this point. And I was talking about some group of people I'd met, who didn't seem to like me very much. And I was telling my therapist how I am who I am. And if they don't like me, well, who needs them? And I couldn't care less.Dr. Emily Anhalt (:
And my therapist said something like, not caring about what people think is not your only option anymore. I was like, what? What do you mean? And she said, I know when you were young, not caring what people thought of you really felt like your only choice, but you have new choices now. You have the option to find people who do like you. You have the option to ask for feedback when someone reacts negatively to you. You have the option to just feel sad and rejected and to lean on your resources like therapy and the friends that love you to get through those feelings. So all this to say, what worked well enough when I was young was maybe not working so well anymore. But as an adult, I had gained new choices and tools and resources that I could try out. So Courtney, before we get to our pushup, what do you think about this idea, that we do the best we can as kids, but have new tools and resources that we can use as adults?Courtney Hamilton (:
I love it. And I think we don't often look at that ourselves and say, am I still the same person that I was when I was a kid? You just assume that you are, you carry that little kid around inside of you. And I think what you're talking about is a mindset shift that takes you away from taking for granted that we are, who we've always been. Our skills are what they've always been. Our circumstances are what they've always been, and really taking a step back and saying, hey, maybe all three of those things have changed significantly. And if that's the case, maybe there's a lot more possibilities right now than we thought there were before. And that, I think, is a good framework.Dr. Emily Anhalt (:
Yeah. I love that because we carry our child self inside of us and we are affected by who that kid was. But I love what you said that our circumstances have changed. Our skills have changed, a lot of who we are has changed. And we forget to remind ourselves of that. So to that end, our pushup today is to think of one thing that you might be avoiding because of fear, or because of worry that you won't be able to handle it. So for me, that was avoiding the feelings I had about being rejected and, or avoiding people altogether, if I didn't think they liked me right away. So for those listening in, press pause here, while you think of your example, or listen on to hear what Courtney shares. So Courtney, what example are you going to use for this pushup?Courtney Hamilton (:
Basically a fear of being seen, which manifests in my desire to write, the joy that I get in writing, the fact that it's something that comes naturally to me. And I'm probably pretty decent at it, given the field that I chose to work in, and yet I almost never write in my own voice. I'm just absolutely terrified of how people are going to respond when they read it. And the idea that they might respond negatively, or say mean things. And it's just so much easier for me just to keep it to myself than to share more broadly for fear of just how people might respond and not being able to handle that response, I think, which really comes fundamentally with that.Dr. Emily Anhalt (:
That's a great example. And as someone who has senior writing, I can say you're not giving yourself enough credit. You're a phenomenal writer. So I love that you are using that example for this pushup. So step two of this pushup then is to reflect on where that fear might have come from. Is it from an old story? Is it something you had to avoid when you were young, because you didn't have a lot of choices? So for those listening in, go ahead and think on that. And Courtney, I'm curious, tell us a little bit about your fear, about putting yourself out there, being seen, and where that might have come from.Courtney Hamilton (:
Well, I think where you think of yourself as a little hellion when you were a kid, I think I was this creative little girl who lived in la-la land. I would have tea parties with myself. I would dance and put on musicals on the top of my swing set, because it had a little roof deck on it as my stage. And I think I just was a kid who was having fun and singing from the top of their lungs. And the response was, let's just say pretty lukewarm, if not negative most of the time, I think a direct quote from my brother at one point was that when I sang it sounded like cats dying, which is not really what you want to hear when you're four or five or six. And a lot of these things are just typical sibling stuff, and the stuff that you can brush off whenever you get to being older. But when I was a kid, we lived in the suburbs. The only folks I spent time with would be my immediate family and my one sibling.Courtney Hamilton (:
And I think the message that I pretty much got was when you open your mouth, nobody wants to hear it. And so I learned that to draw attention to oneself, to make a scene, to share creatively whatever's going on inside of you was not going to be very well received, and that it was best just to keep it to yourself, both to prevent the hurt of the feedback that you're going to get, and also just to keep other people from feeling uncomfortable. I think I internalized this belief that what I was doing was truly bad or unpleasant. And I don't think I ever really was able to have the perspective to see it as anything else. So definitely just carried through with me. And the phrase that I used recently with a friend was I'm constantly oscillating between this extreme fear of being seen and this deep fundamental urge to run streaking naked through the neighborhood. And both of them exist simultaneously. And it's just a constant tug of war. And I have to admit, the fear of being seen definitely has won for the most part.Dr. Emily Anhalt (:
What you're talking about reminds me of one of my very favorite quotes by one of my very favorite psychologists, Donald Winnicott, he said, "It's a joy to be hidden and a disaster not to be found." There's a part of us that wants to play hide and seek and run and hide. But if no one's coming to look for us, it's a disaster, it's truly painful. So I really relate to what you're saying, this tug of war between wanting to be seen and also not wanting to be seen. So thank you so much for sharing that example. And so step three of this pushup then is to explore what new choices and tools and resources you might have now that you didn't have then, that might make it feel more possible to lean into this fear than it was before. So for those listening in, give that a thought, and Courtney, tell us a little bit about what those new tools and choices and resources might look like for you.Courtney Hamilton (:
So the irony is that I ended up choosing a field where I could stay hidden. I work in communications. It means I'm the invisible hand behind the scenes, working with very talented people to help them raise up their voice. And as a result, I have a network of folks that I respect the opinion of, who not only could I lean on for a little bit of positive reinforcement to get me that momentum to get out the door, but also who are there for me if I find myself in circumstances where I've pulled back the curtain a little bit and exposed just a little bit of what I'm thinking about to the world, and if it's comes back with some negative response, it's not like I'm sitting there surrounded by people who are going to be like, well, you were stupid. Of course this happened, instead it's going to be people who say, oh my God, I remember when that happened to me, I felt like I was such an asshole. And then I realized that it wasn't about me.Courtney Hamilton (:
And then I realized that actually it was about this other thing. And at the end of the day, there was so much more love for what I'd put out there than what I thought and what I realized. And I think it's both the chosen family, the chosen network of people who can scaffold and who can support and encourage, but it's also giving them space to do that because frankly, I don't think I let them see me all that much either, which is probably a bit of a shame.Dr. Emily Anhalt (:
Well, a few things came to mind. First of all, I was thinking about how, when you didn't feel seen or welcomed by the people that you loved and depended on the most, that was quite a different danger than the potential for not being seen or welcomed by people you don't really know, while also getting a ton of support by the people who you love and who you trust. So, that makes so much sense to me. And second thing that came to mind is that you have been one of those people for me, and I have really appreciated what it's meant to feel more safe to put myself out there because I have thoughtful people like yourself in my corner. So thank you for that. And thank you for sharing what this situation has looked like for you. So the final step of this pushup then, only for those who it feels right for, is to call on those new resources and tools that you might have, and to lean into that thing that you fear.Dr. Emily Anhalt (:
So for you, Courtney, I wonder what it might look like to put yourself out there just a little bit more today than you did yesterday, to submit that piece of writing or to reach out to one of those amazing individuals who are experienced and have them look over something that you are not quite sure about, or whatever it might be, to some and some support from the people who adore you. So for those who are listening in, think on what that might look like for you, and for Courtney, I'm curious, is there anything that you might feel willing to commit to even a small step in that direction that you can share?Courtney Hamilton (:
First before I go into it, I just want to groan, ugh. It's when somebody asks you to do something and you know what you're supposed to do, but you don't want to do it, which I believe is why you say people go to therapy, because we know what we need to do, but we don't know how to do it on our own. Okay. So I have a very close friend who works at the New York Times who has offered a number of times to look at my writing and suggest where she might place it. I have another close friend who is an extraordinary writer and editor who I often hire to help other people with op-eds, who I certainly could lean into.Courtney Hamilton (:
And I definitely have a number of people who are experts on some of the things that I write about where I could have them take a look at it and tell me, is anything missing? Does it meet the intellectual standard that they have? And between those three things, I would probably have a pretty good chance at writing something that resonates versus repulses. And isn't that what we all want? So I know, I think it's definitely a leap though, to put pen to paper, to pull it together and then to ask for help and to expose myself to that first circle, because it requires a bit of faith that they'll respond differently than those I cared about in the past.Dr. Emily Anhalt (:
It does require leap of faith. And it's completely fine if this 10 minute conversation did not shift everything inside of you. But I think the goal is just to remind yourself, as you just did, how many tools and resources and people and choices and support and love and permission you have in your world now that might not have felt as present before. So thank you so much for talking about this with us, for flexing your feels and breaking an emotional sweat. And as always, it was so wonderful to speak with you.Courtney Hamilton (:
Yeah. Emily, thank you so much. I will keep doing the reps with the hope that someday soon you'll see something with my name on it in print.Dr. Emily Anhalt (:
I can't wait. Thanks Courtney. Thanks for listening to Emotionally Fit, hosted by me, Dr. Emily Anhalt. New pushups drop every Monday and Thursday. Did you do today's pushup alongside me and my guest? Tweet your experience with the hashtag Emotionally Fit, and follow me at Dr. Emily Anhalt. Please rate, review, follow, and share the show wherever you listen to podcasts. This podcast is produced by Coa, your gym for mental health, where you can take live therapist led classes online, from group sessions to therapist matchmaking, Coa will help you build your emotional fitness routine. Head to joincoa.com, that's join C-O-A.com, to learn more and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at join Coa. From StudioPod Media in San Francisco, our producer is Katie Sunku Wood, music is by Melano. Special thanks to the entire Coa crew.