Episode 122 – Dr. Curt Thompson, Being Known and Loved – Pt. 2

This week, we continue a very special three-part series with Dr. Curt Thompson. Curt is a board-certified psychiatrist and the founder of the Center for Being Known, a nonprofit organization that develops resources to educate and train leaders on the intersection between interpersonal neurobiology and Christian spiritual formation. For this series, Curt and Jessica take us into their journey of understanding doubt, the reality of living in a pandemic, anxiety, fear, being known, understanding love, and seeing beauty in the world.


Jess: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.

Anxiety – we all feel it at varying degrees during different parts of our life. To be honest, the first few months of COVID-19 were so centered around crisis and problem-solving that if I was anxious, I didn’t really feel it because I operate out of my head, and I love crisis and I love going in and making a difference and problem solving. And then September came. Online school at brand-new schools for each of my kids, an election, continued uncertainty, a near-cancer scare, and some other things going on personally set off my anxiety monster, which is what it feels like. I felt anxiety in my stomach, at times in my chest, and I definitely felt it at 3:00 in the morning. And it was actually this anxiety that caused me to want to do this podcast series. I mean, I feel like everyone’s done a podcast series on Mental Health this year. But guys, I didn’t need this until right now, so I thought if I need this, I know you do too.

This episode is the second in a series of three with Dr. Curt Thompson, and I really don’t know of anyone better than to speak about anxiety than Curt Thompson. He’s a psychiatrist after all – they’re like masters in anxiety – but more than that, he has a passion for people to feel truly known and loved so that they can be free to go create beauty and goodness in the world. With a considerable dose of warmth and, you’ll see, some humor, Curt will you put together an understanding of interpersonal neurobiology and a Christian view of what it means to be human. Now, I know faith is not often at the central part of Going Scared, but at this particular time in my own life, I needed it more than ever. So, that is the context of much of what Curt shares about. How Curt frames and talks about anxiety today may very well blow your mind, so don’t press double speed on this one. Actually, you’re going to want to slow this one down, get out of pen and paper, and soak it in.


Dr. Curt Thompson: Being Known and Loved
Part 2

Jess: You mentioned anxiety, I wanna transition now to talk about anxiety. It’s funny, I was chuckling this morning thinking about Curt, Dr. Curt Thompson, is coming on this podcast, which it is your second time to be on the podcast, you were on one at the very beginning, which I just loved. We talked a lot about community there. But my podcast is called Going Scared, which is a little ironic because you help people pay attention to their own fears, and hopefully and eventually bring people to a place where they aren’t afraid anymore, and maybe they’re not going scared. So, I thought, "Do I need to change the name of my podcast?" Oh Lord, it just does reveal something about me, which is obviously that fear plays such a big role in my life, which I mean, I wrote a book called "Imperfect Courage," which came from that.

So, let’s talk a little bit about fear and anxiety, the correlation between fear and anxiety. You say that anxiety is one of the most primal human distress responses, and it also plays a critical role in our own mental and relational wholeness and well-being. And I think most of us that are anxious, we know we’re anxious, you can feel anxiety in your body, or… I mean, I’m not gonna blanket statement, I know a lot of people are in anxiety and don’t know it. But it’s an emotion that is a little bit more telling maybe than another type of emotion. But I don’t think that most of us are aware that a lot of our life’s activities center around avoiding our awareness of our primal fear of being alone. And I know that is… when we were speaking earlier about doubt and attachment. I mean, your thesis of, I feel like, the undercurrent of all of your work is about this idea that ultimately, we are afraid of being alone. And that it’s not that we’re afraid of experiencing grief or emotion, whatever, fill in the blank, emotion, we’re afraid that we’re gonna experience that alone. So, is being alone, ultimately, the root of our anxiety? And can you break down this life-work thesis of yours for us?

Curt: Well, I think you’re right that in my work, I pay a lot of attention to what we might call Biblical Anthropology, right, this notion of what does it mean for us to be human. And to answer those questions, we go to Old Testament texts, we go to the first several chapters of the book of Genesis, and there we read a number of things that are important, one of which we hear God say, it’s not good for the man to be alone, when he’s talking about Adam and his aloneness after having been made in the 2nd chapter of Genesis.

And I would say that this is also informed by just seeing many, many people over the years in psychiatric care, and I come to find out that ultimately, whatever it is, if I’m anxious about giving a speech in my 10th grade English class, if I’m anxious about asking the girl out, if I’m anxious about going off to college, if I’m anxious about whether or not my child is going to survive their Lymphoma, if I’m anxious about losing my job, and even though it’s large or small, those anxieties have other questions lurking behind them. Am I gonna lose my job, which means am I gonna be able to provide for my family, which means am I gonna be living in a box under a bridge, and that’s gonna be really shaming for me because I have this image in my mind that I’m gonna be incapable of doing things and people will leave me because of this, that I’m gonna be left alone in the world. Reflecting back to this comment that God makes of Adam early on in the creation narrative.

And it’s not hard, you name anything that we’re anxious about and at the end of the day, as we look, another thing that we like to say is that anxiety, then, a couple things are important. Number one, anxiety is about future states, right? I’m anxious about something that’s coming in the future, whether it’s five seconds from now, or minutes or years from now, that’s number one. That some point in the future if the story does not go well, that ultimately I’m going to be left alone, but not just left alone like the broom is alone in the closet, but left alone with my feelings of grief and shame and with no way to regulate that, no way to come out of that. So, this sense of being alone is also… and it also carries with it a story in which I’m not worthy of people come to get, people aren’t interested in coming to find me, I’m alone because there’s something wrong with me.

The other thing that is important about anxiety has to do with this notion, again, as you’ve said, like when I’m anxious about my child, or my job, or my spouse, or my friends, so forth and so on. Another important thing to know about anxiety is that anxiety is always… my anxiety is always, ultimately, about me. It’s not only about me, but it is always, ultimately, about me. So, even when I’m anxious about my child, yes, it’s true that I’m anxious about my child and my child’s welfare, and so forth, and so on. But at the end of the day, if my child’s outcome is not good, what I’m really ultimately anxious about is what that’s gonna be like for me.

And this is the thing that we then don’t end up paying that much attention to, I don’t pay attention to the fact that my anxiety is ultimately about me. And then ask the question, "What do I need to be doing about my anxiety?" If I’m anxious that my child is not going to pass their English course, what I want my child to do is to work harder so that I’m not anxious, not just so they’ll pass their English course. But if I’m then doing things like helping my child with their English course because I want them to pass in order for me not to be anxious, I’m actually then crippling my child from learning how to deal with their English course on their own.

As you’re well aware, we’ve now moved from helicopter parents to lawnmower parents. We now have parents who are not just hovering over their children, making sure that their children don’t have any suffering. But now we have parents out in front of their children contacting high school and college administrators ahead of time to make sure that they pave the way for our children because of my anxiety. It’s not about my child.

Jess: Isn’t that crazy?

Curt: Well, it is crazy.

Jess: It’s not that it’s not crazy. I just mean, I just want our listeners to really… because it’s this nuance, it’s when you can recognize that and become aware of it. What does it shift?

Curt: Well, I think the beautiful thing is this: first of all, it’s important to remember that my anxiety is not just a feeling, it is a function of my perception of isolation.

“It’s important to remember that my anxiety is not just a feeling, it is a function of my perception of isolation.” Dr. Curt Thompson
Jess: Break that down for us.

Curt: Right. So, I perceive that if whatever my future is that I’m worried about, I perceive that I am going to be alone having to deal with it. So, one of the things that we talk about as far as brain function is concerned is, when it comes to the future, when it comes to anything, actually, we pay attention to things that are emotionally salient. The things that my attention is drawn to are things that emotionally jump off the page at me. They could be good things, they could be frightening things, it could be a range of different things, it is emotion that captures my attention. So, my anxiety is my attention being drawn to things that are emotionally salient to me. And if it’s out in the future, what’s significant is not only that I am thinking about my child’s future, or my job or whatever, I’m not just thinking about a future.

So, I tell people, look, when you say… or if I say, "Well, what are you worried about?" "Well, I’m worried that my kid’s gonna flunk out of school. Or I’m worried that my kid is gonna get caught in some internet black hole, and they’re never gonna come out because they’re online eight hours a day." What we are actually saying is that if you’re… we named the event, right? I’m worried that I’m gonna lose my job, I’m worried that my son is going to die. I’m worried about any range of these things that we have. But the brain is actually not mostly paying attention to the event itself. Whether we know it or not, the thing that our brain is paying attention to is our perception of the emotional state that we will occupy once we get into that future.

Jess: Into this worst-case scenario future that we have created in our minds.


We’re Not in This Alone

Curt: Exactly. So, I’m not just worried that my son will die, that’s true, but I am mostly worried about the grief that I will experience, I am mostly worried about grief. I am paying attention to the emotional state because that’s what I pay attention to. But not only that, I worry because I assume that when I find myself in that place of grief, there will be no way out. Anxiety is about perceiving a future emotional state that is overwhelmingly afflicting and from which there is no escape. That’s what anxiety really boils down to. And what makes it impossible for me to imagine that there’s no escape has everything to do with me being alone. And this gets back just to the way the brain most effectively regulates emotion in the first place.

You see, when a little newborn comes into the world, she is… actually we say every little baby comes into the world looking for someone looking for her. Looking for someone looking for him. And when they are in distress, their distress lands on the ears of her caregivers, and her caregivers help her regulate from the moment that she arrives. And we learn over time through what we call the social engagement system. It’s a real kind of neuron-based system in the brain and body. We learn that the most effective way for human beings to regulate distressing emotional states, distressing effect, is through what we call co-regulation. We need somebody else’s brain to help me regulate my emotional state. And through secure attachment, that’s what we learn to do. In insecure attachment practices, we don’t learn to do that very well, we find out that in some way, shape, or form, I’m actually more on my own having to regulate my own stuff. And this is really hard on the brain because the brain is left with these emotional states that are afflicting, that are unpleasant, that we literally feel them in our bodies, in addition to sensing them in our minds, but I’m somehow having to try to find out a way to figure this out by myself. And we don’t do that very well, we’re not built for that. It’s not good for a man to be alone.

“I’m somehow having to try to find out a way to figure this out by myself. And we don’t do that very well, we’re not built for that. It’s not good for a man to be alone.” Dr. Curt Thompson

And so, if I grew up in a system in which I learned to co-regulate, right, my parents are attuned to my emotional states. I learn through trial and error, and through their presence, I learn that, gosh, there are a whole range of emotional states that might be afflicting, sadness, anger, joy, grief, shame even that I can learn to co-regulate with my… they help me learn how to regulate that so that as I continue to mature, I take the memory of that in, and then when I’m off on my own, I can regulate that pretty effectively by myself, but not because I’m really by myself, but because my parents are in my head. And so, I then learn that when it comes to even distressing emotional states, I don’t have to worry about them in the future, because I’m living as if, oh, there will be people who will help me regulate this. So, even when it comes to grief, I might say, “Yes, of course I might be anxious about this or about that. But I know that I have friends who will come to find me, and I will not be left alone.”

Now, it’s not… I think it is no accident that it’s understood. I’ve heard this from a number of different sources that the single most commonly uttered command in the entire Bible is “Do not be afraid,” over and over and over and over again. And the reason I think that we hear it is because we’re such a frightened people, we’re easily frightened, we’re easily anxious. And I don’t get the sense that in the New Testament or in the Old Testament, we don’t get the sense that Jesus or that God through the prophets is yelling at people. "Shut the heck up. Why are you so afraid?" he’s not condemning them. He’s aware that fear is a real thing. And just simply says, "Don’t be afraid." "But why?" "Don’t be afraid because I am with you. Joshua," God says, "Do not be afraid for I am with you." Notice he doesn’t say, do not be afraid because all the circumstances are gonna be exactly the way you want them to be. Do not be afraid because you’ll never be upset. Do not be afraid because you’ll never be sad, grief stricken, you’ll never be embarrassed, you’ll never make mistakes. "Do not be afraid because I am with you."

And it is this practice of presence. When we practice imagining that Jesus is always coming for us every single day, right? And we wake up in the morning, we wake up in the morning and if we were really awake to the world as it is, when our alarm goes off, the first thing that we would actually be aware of if we were able to see the real world, we would sense the presence of the Holy Spirit, and we would see the presence of the Father and the Son in our bedrooms. That when we wake up in the morning, the Trinity is already waiting for us with His mercies that are new every morning. And that mercy begins when we come out of bed, takes us into the shower, takes us to breakfast and coffee, it takes us with our kids. And it never stops all day.

And if I am practicing this, this is what we like to say we remember what we pay attention to. What I pay attention to I remember, and what I remember becomes my anticipated future. My anxiety is gonna be shaped by what I’m remembering. And if I’m remembering to pay attention to the presence of God, in this present moment, I then imagine him being with me in the future moments and I become less anxious. And by that I don’t mean that like the word never anxious. Again, God appears to be quite willing to tell us over and over and over and over again not to be anxious. It’s not that we got told once, and then He never says it again. He’s just like, "I told you once that I’m just not gonna tell you again because I’m just so impatient, kind of upset with you." No, He just keeps saying it, drawing our attention back to him.

“My anxiety is gonna be shaped by what I’m remembering. And if I’m remembering to pay attention to the presence of God, in this present moment, I then imagine him being with me in the future moments and I become less anxious.” Dr. Curt Thompson

In the book that Paul Young wrote, in which the primary character, Mack –
"The Shack." The primary character Mack has this dream state in which he imagines and encounters the Trinity. And one moment he’s having a conversation with Jesus. And Jesus says, "The trouble with you humans is that when you imagine your future, you don’t see me in it." And that is something that we have to practice, Jess, I have to practice as part as my, and especially in this time of COVID, in being immersed in the scriptures, it’s not just enough for me to read verses that somehow, I then happen to know are there. I have to imagine, what is it like for me being… what is it like for me to watch Jesus come and find Matthew at the tax collectors table? What is it like for me to be a friend of Jesus, I’m one of his disciples, and here he goes, he’s gonna go and he’s gonna recruit this tax collector? This would be like me being a member of the young republicans or the young democrats and my leader going and finding somebody from the other party and saying, "Hey, would you come and hang out with us?" This is me imagining what do I feel in my chest when I watch Jesus go and find someone who’s different than me and invite them to come to dinner. Again, that’s upsetting.

And Jesus is looking, turns and looks at me and says, "Curt, you’ve always been with me. And I have this. And just because I’m bringing Matthew along, you need to know you’re no less my younger brother." He puts his arm around me. He says, "I’m not ever leaving." And he says, "When your son’s in trouble. I’m not leaving you. When the world is on fire, I’m not leaving. I need you to hear my voice. I need you to see my sight line. I need you to see my gaze. I need you to feel me being with you. I need you to look around and see that Jess is with you, see that your wife is with you, see that your friend Neil and Rich and Brian are with you. I’m not leaving you alone. I’m not ever leaving the room. I didn’t leave the room during the exile. I’m not leaving the room in COVID. I’m coming for you every single day. I just really want you to be awake to the fact that that’s what I’m doing." And so, practice not being anxious, not just because I’m white knuckling it, just not thinking about what scares me. But instead actively paying attention to my sense of Jesus being with me in the room.

Jess: And I think the cost of us not doing this, the cost to our children is disconnection because we find it intolerable to be in the room with them when they’re in doubt, or when they’re exhibiting like they’re walking to the road of this worst-case scenario outcomes. And so, we wanna just begin to control the outcome in order to protect ourselves from feeling the grief we’re gonna feel at the end of this imagined outcome because we don’t think we’re gonna get through it. And then how does that, when we stay in that place, what does that ultimately do to our ability to actually be with our kids in that moment?

Curt: Well, I think you really point out an important thing again, it’s not just what the future is gonna hold, but it is in that moment I feel alone. In that moment when I discover the thing about my child, it frightens me. Internally, I feel alone with this. I don’t… it’s hard for me to sense Jesus being in the room in that moment, and saying to me, "Curt, I’m not worried about Rachel or Nathan, I’m not worried about them. I want… I’m going to tell them their story. I’m not worried about them. But I want us to talk about you. What are you worried about?" And I can say, "Well, I’m worried about the end of the day that Nathan or Rachel aren’t going to be okay. And somehow, I could have done things differently. Somehow, I could have, somehow, I could have, somehow, I could have." And I can imagine him, and I have to practice hearing him say, "I really get that. And I want you to know there’s no shame here. I want you to pay attention to me. Pay attention to me, even now. Look at me looking at you." And that’s the thing, Jess, repeatedly, I have to… Jesus says, "Look at me." And I look at him. And then I turn my gaze back to my son or my daughter whom I’m worried about and now I’m paying attention to my worry. And he calls me back again, he says, "Look at me. Look at me."


Sharing Our Stories and Naming Our Feelings

Jess: So, I wanted to ask about so much of this is about aloneness, loneliness, not being alone, and finding God, putting our attention towards him finding us. But so much of what you talk about is neurobiology, and how we can embody this to other people. And I’m wondering, I mean, I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling very alone and I’m digging more into that now. And when I started Noonday, a lot of what my fear was, was no one was gonna show up, no one was gonna come and shop the collection. And that’s a primary fear of a lot of our ambassadors that sell is, "I’m gonna show up, I’m gonna start this business and no one’s gonna buy from me, and no one’s gonna gather women in their homes, or I’m gonna invite people and no one’s gonna come."

And I’m curious, what do we actually do about loneliness, like if we’re actually feeling lonely? Maybe some of us are Christians, and we are practicing the presence of God, we’re intentionally turning our attention to knowing because I think for so many years, I was a young Christian. I haven’t talked a ton about my own personal faith on this podcast, but I really encountered God at 15. And actually, has kind of been a love affair ever since. And have had that strong sense of God being with me, but it’s the people part, the trusting part, or just believing that actually, people are gonna stick around. It’s that part that’s been a challenge for me. So, I’m just thinking about the listener right now who is like, "Great, you’re talking so much about… this is all about ultimately, the end the day I’m all alone in the world, and no one’s gonna come to help me."

How do we get to this embodied part? Because, unfortunately, my original copy of your book, "The Soul of Shame," I think I loaned it out and it had all my notes in it. So, I just had to get a new one. And it’s too blank, it doesn’t have all my underlining and that beautiful stuff. But I believe it was in that book, where I remember just this idea of we actually don’t… we aren’t really even individuals. That was my takeaway. It was like, “we’re actually not individuals, we only exist in correlation with other people.” And that was a very “aha” moment for me. And even as we share our stories, we’re actually sharing our stories in the context with another person and how they listen to us is gonna influence how we share our stories. So, how do you help people and especially, I mean, frankly, and in this environment?

Curt: Those of us who follow Jesus believe that we are made to be known, but on the way, we’re made to be known for the purpose of creating beauty and goodness in the world. We’re not just made to be known. And so, once I’m known, that’s it. I’m known in order for us then to go and create, to be image bearers of God, to be like God is to also make as God makes. That’s important because to partner with people to make things this beauty that we believe the world is emerging, and becoming, or can be, that is something that – we don’t talk much about evil in the world. And you don’t go to cocktail parties and have conversations about… well, we don’t go to cocktail parties at all for the last nine months. But if you do, you don’t really have many conversations about, "Well, so what do you think about the work of evil in the world? Is it a really personified thing?" We’re not having these conversations.

All this is to say, is that to connect with people to be known is an act of creativity. It’s not just an act of survival, it’s an act of creativity, it’s an act of great beauty. And it is something against which evil will martial every force at its disposal. And so, I think it’s important for people to know that this feels hard. The COVID feels hard is not just a function of isolation. It’s not just a function of the neurobiology or the interpersonal complexities of this, or the economics or the racial dimensions, or the… all these kinds of the political dimension. All those things are true. But underneath and behind all this, as St. Paul might say, there’s a darkness that is wanting to exploit all this. And so, it’s something against which we are pushing. So, when this is difficult, when we find this to be difficult, I want our listeners to know, it’s not just difficult because we’re weak or because we haven’t practiced or because we’re stupid or because we’re cowards, it’s difficult because we are pushing against the force that wants to devour us. And that’s not a small thing. And so, I want us to know that this is hard to do. The act of creating our life together with another with whom we share our story is an act of creativity that is gonna get resistance. But do not be dismayed because the beauty that comes out of it can be remarkable.

“The act of creating our life together with another with whom we share our story is an act of creativity that is gonna get resistance. But do not be dismayed because the beauty that comes out of it can be remarkable.” Dr. Curt Thompson

So, here’s the example that I wanna give: every year during the academic year, between October and May, I run a time-limited men’s group. And this group will have 8 to 10 guys in it. And this is the first year that we’ve run this group, it meets every week for 90 minutes. And it’s the first year that we’ve done it from beginning to end virtually. And so, these are folks who don’t know each other, but they’re coming to this Zoom meeting for 90 minutes. And the first order of business, as we go through the first several weeks together, is for each person to have the opportunity to tell their story. And we have what I call a liturgy of storytelling. And the liturgy goes something like this, that the storyteller, the speaker for the evening, the guy whose turn it is to tell his story, we give him… I give him 20 minutes to tell his story. And I don’t tell him how to tell a story because it’s important that he tell his story the way that he would typically do it, not in some fashioned way that I come up with, but we wanna learn some things, we’re not just gonna… because we’re gonna learn some things from him not just from the content of what he shares, but how he tells the story, what are the things that he emphasizes, or the things that he pays attention to doesn’t pay attention to, and so forth and so on.

So, he’s gonna get 20 minutes to tell the story. The second part of the liturgy is that I then give the listeners the other members, the other men in the group, I’m gonna give them the opportunity to describe what they feel in response to his story. Now notice, I’m not gonna give them the opportunity to provide an analysis. They’re not gonna ask him questions. They’re not gonna tell him what they think things meant. They’re not gonna give a critique. They’re not gonna get a grade. They’re gonna say, "Stephen, when you talked about this part of your story, I felt really angry or I felt really sad or I felt really encouraged or I felt a whole range of things." And of course, with a bunch of dudes like it’s not always easy to get them to name what they feel, but they learn to practice naming what they feel. And we’ll do that for a few minutes, everybody will speak to this.

The third part of the liturgy is we’re gonna return to the storyteller. And I’m gonna ask the storyteller to say, "What do you feel now after hearing the words of your listeners as they’ve responded to your story?" And they will then start to say things like, "Gosh, when Bill talked about him feeling angry. So, I’ve never paid attention to my anger in my life. And as Bill talked, I think I probably am pretty angry, but I never pay attention to it." Or he hears them talk about their joy, or their shame, or their sadness, or their grief, whatever those things are, the storyteller is then gonna learn some things about their story that they didn’t know they didn’t know. And they are gonna reflect on what they feel in response to the words that the other men have offered to them.

And then the fourth part of the liturgy, this is the fourth and final part, we come back to the speakers and I ask the question, "What is it like for you? I want you to tell me what you feel now that you’ve heard how your words have impacted Stephen? All you’ve said to Stephen is what you feel. And you’ve heard from Stephen, what your words have meant to him, tell me what’s it like? What do you feel when you recognize what your words have meant?" And I will tell you, Jess, it is mind blowing to listen to men talk about how, first of all, they had no idea that they’re merely talking about what they feel could be so encouraging, or could be so compelling, or it could be so compassionate, could be so merciful. They didn’t have any idea that merely them naming what was coming from up within them could have the capacity to heal and transform someone else who was hearing their words.


Transforming Our Stories

Jess: Well and it speaks so much to the power of listening, which we, in a previous podcast series, the art of difficult dialogue, we talked a lot about, what does it mean because we’ve talked a lot, you and I, and you talk a lot about sharing your story, sharing your story. But in neurobiology of the brain, it’s not just the sharing of the story, but it’s in the listening of the story that can transform that story in its telling, right?

Curt: Right. And here’s the thing, if our speaker Stephen, it doesn’t just… And this is the thing, or this liturgy that I’m describing, what’s important about it is that the speaker, the story of both the speaker and the listeners, everybody’s stories in the room are being transformed. Everybody’s stories are being transformed, partially because they’re listening well, partially because they are actually naming what they feel. And in the process of all of this, they are literally interpersonally and neurobiologically interknitting their lives together and having the experience, each individual, having the experience that their own internal neural state of affairs, their brains neuron networks are becoming more fully integrated within their own minds because I’m having the experience of no longer being alone with the nature of how I have told my story. And because I’m not alone, I can imagine telling my story differently. If I’m Stephen, and I grew up in a house where I was really angry, but I was never really allowed to be angry, I now find myself in a room where I’m not only discovering that I’m angry, but my anger is actually invited actively into the room. I discover how to be angry and become comfortable with it, despite the fact that I’ve been so uncomfortable with it that I haven’t ever named it until somebody else names it for me. And I see myself in somebody else’s eyes, someone who I don’t even know.

“I’m having the experience of no longer being alone with the nature of how I have told my story. And because I’m not alone, I can imagine telling my story differently.” Dr. Curt Thompson

And I would say this has been one of the most remarkable things, when we first started this group now about a month ago, this year’s group, I was anxious. I was doubtful. I didn’t know, like, these guys don’t know each other, and they’re gonna be starting this on Zoom. They’re not gonna be in an embodied place. How is this gonna go? And there’s no question that if this was taking place in a room where everybody could see each other, in embodied state, I think it would be even that much more powerful, but I want to emphasize that, to our listeners, what is this all about in terms of the question that you originally asked? And I wanna say that we are all desperately and deeply in the process of longing for our stories to be heard, to be told. And so, practically speaking, what does it mean? Well, I wonder if you could name, if any of our listeners, if you can name the two or three people in your life who you really want to be deeply known by and to say, "Look, I’d like for us to begin to meet on a regular basis, and tell our stories and talk about what’s going on internally for us. I wanna be able to name what I’m sensing and imaging and feeling. I wanna be able to hear my story through your ears, I wanna see my story through your eyes."

And of course, it takes some work at listening to somebody’s story and not necessarily giving them my feedback about what they should be doing differently, or how they should think differently about their story. I wanna be able to confidently be present with their story without trying to fix their story. This is one of the things in this group that is so powerful. And that takes some real restraint, right? Because somebody’s telling their story. And I got a bunch of guys that are like at the ready to fix the problem that they sense, right? Because they wanna be helpful. But what they don’t recognize yet, Jess, they don’t recognize how powerfully helpful their very presence can be, that when they walk into the room, their very presence can direct a path of healing. And not because they give somebody information or insight about what they should do. They can walk into the room and simply be curious about someone, they can walk into the room and hear somebody’s story and validate that by saying, "Gosh, that is really hard. That reminds me of something else in my own story."

They’re not there to correct the other person’s story. They are there to join with them in their story. If you’re drowning in the pool before the lifeguard pulls you out, the lifeguard needs to know that you will first allow her or him to join you, right? Because if you’re flailing around, the lifeguard might see, "This is a problem to be solved. I got to fix this problem." But the lifeguard actually asks that you have to allow the lifeguard just to join you before they then start to pull you to the edge of the pool. Long before any solutions are offered, we must allow others to see us because ultimately, my biggest problem is not that I have problems. My biggest problem is that I am alone with them.

Jess: “My biggest problem is not that I have problems and said I am alone with them.” Curt said something similar to me I met him a few years ago, he said, “It’s not that you’re afraid of grief but it’s that you’re afraid you are going to be alone in your grief.” This is so helpful for me to hear because our problems may never go away, but actually, you don’t ever have to be alone. The vulnerable act of moving from isolation to relationship is available to each of us and it is one that I hope that you choose today.

Next week, we will wrap up this series and put a bow on the Going Scared podcast for 2020. What a year! To keep up with Curt, go find his work at CurtThompsonMD.com. Some of his writings during COVID-19 have been what I’ve returned to again and again and again.

And finally, I have to mention, because I know you’re holiday shopping right now, Noonday Collection. We have you completely covered this year. We have our first ever men’s collection, we have this incredible candle that we worked here on developing this scent, I promise you you’re going to love it. We have DIY kits for kids, and then of course, special gold jewelry that tells a greater story. We’ve got you covered, and it would mean so much to me to know that my Going Scared listeners will be gifting and getting some Noonday under the tree this year.

Our wonderful music for today’s show is by Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.