Beneath anxiety, depression, guilt, and shame, are core emotions that are hardwired into our circuitry. When you’re able to tap into the core emotions – and move through them – you’ll feel a new sense of freedom and empowerment – with the ability to handle anything that life sends your way. Our guest today is Hilary Jacobs Hendel. She’s a psychotherapist and the author of the new book, “It’s Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self,” which will definitely be a game changer for you. Today she has some practical tips for you on how to identify and work through these core emotions, so that you don’t get stuck in the secondary emotions that can get in your way.
As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
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Visit Hilary Jacobs Hendel’s website to learn more about her work.
Pick up your copy of Hilary Jacobs Hendel’s book, It’s Not Always Depression: Working The Change Triangle To Listen To The Body Discover Core Emotions And Connect To Your Authentic Self.
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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host Neil Sattin. It’s been my mission of course to give you the best tools that I can find to help you have an amazing thriving relationship. And some of those tools are relational and how you interact with other people, and some of those tools are all about the inner work and how we can come to understand ourselves better and experience life more fully, shine more brightly and to get past the obstacles that stand in our way. And today, I hope to synthesize both of those things for you. Though, we’re gonna start with the inner work as we unearth how to get to our core emotional experience and just why that is so important. And along the way you’re gonna learn how to identify when you’re in a core emotional experience and when you are not and learn exactly how to handle that situation. We are diving more deeply also into the work known as AEDP: accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy. Which is a mouthful but if you listened to Episode 176 with Diana Fosha, or episode 189 with David Mars then you’re getting a sense for how this way of working with people can be so profound in its ability to create positive change.
Neil Sattin: Today’s guest has taken the model even further in showing us how we can apply it for ourselves. So, it’s great when you’re doing it in, in therapy it’s great when you’re doing it in couples therapy. And this is going to show you how to do it on your own so that you can experience this kind of change in your daily life, using what’s known as “the change triangle.”.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Our guest today is Hilary Jacobs Handel and her recent book: “It’s Not Always Depression: Working The Change Triangle To Listen To The Body Discover Core Emotions And Connect To Your Authentic Self,” is, I think, a game changer for you in terms of deepening your experience and being able to bring that fully into your relationship with your spouse, your partner, and your relationships with others in general. As usual we will have a detailed transcript of today’s episode. You can get that if you visit Neil-Sattin-dot-com-slash-triangle, because we’re talking about the change triangle, or as always you can text the word passion to the number 3-3-4-4-4 and follow the instructions. So let us dive in to the change triangle and discover how to get even more in touch with who we are at our core and how to bring that into the world. Hilary Jacobs Hendall, thank you so much for being here with us today on Relationship Alive.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Thank you Neil. I am delighted to be here talking about my favorite subjects, of emotions and relationships.
Neil Sattin: Perfect. Well we’re on the same page then, definitely.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes we are.
Neil Sattin: And I do want to mention before we get too deep in, that if you are a visual person and need a visual representation of the triangle that we’re talking about then that’s also available both on Hilary’s Web site, which will announce in a little bit, and also at Neil-Sattin-dot-com-slash-triangle, where we have the transcripts. You’ll be able to to see it in front of you if that’s required. But we’ll do our best to to make it, make it real for you as we’re talking about it.
Neil Sattin: So Hilary, why, why is it so important to get in touch with our core emotions and and how do we distinguish core emotions from just that emotional wash that can come, come at us or come over us throughout our day?
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Well, it’s, there’s many reasons why it’s important to get, not only get it, well understand the different types of emotions and to get in touch with emotions and to be able to discern what you’re what you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing. Because most of us live up in our heads. And thoughts are fantastic and we need them. And I love my thoughts but it’s half the picture of knowing who you are and what you need and what’s good for you and what’s bad for you. And core emotions are these biologically wired survival programs that really tell us, at the core, so much about what we who we are and what we need that if we’re not listening to them and our society really teaches us to avoid them and block them, which I think is responsible for the epidemic we’re seeing in depression and anxiety and so many mental health issues, that, and we don’t learn anything about emotions, that, that without knowing about emotions and understanding how they work, we’re really at a huge disadvantage to thrive in life.
Neil Sattin: Right, when you’re able to identify the emotional experience that you’re having, it gives you clues as to how you need to best respond to the world in the moment with whatever is going on in your life.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly and I think what’s become more and more important for me, just to say from the beginning to the people listening out there, is that this is not about wearing emotions on our sleeve. This is not about looking for an excuse to act out or behave badly, to rage or to cry, experiencing emotions is a wholly internal process it has nothing to do with what we actually then show to others, or, or enact. It may, but I’m, we’re always trying to think about what is constructive for us, constructive for the person we are with. It’s not about an excuse to behave badly and I think we live in an emotion phobic culture partly because people don’t understand that, they think “Oh my gosh, you know, if we’re all into our emotions it’s just gonna be you know not good. It’s just, it’s…” I’m only thinking of curse words now that would come out and explain like a shit show, but I’m just you know that type of a thing. And this is a very thoughtful process that I am talking about that only helps us. There, there is no downside to getting in touch with emotions the way that I am thinking about it and the way that I try to educate others.
Neil Sattin: Right, what you just said is such an important distinction that we’re talking about a constructive way to meet your emotions and to metabolize them into something that’s beneficial not just for you but for the other people in your orbit or for life in, in general. And you know we had Harriet Lerner on the show to talk about her seminal work, “The Dance of Anger,” and turning anger into, into a constructive emotional phenomenon. And I love how in your book it’s not always depression you talk about each of these core emotions and we’re talking about emotions like sadness and fear and anger and disgust, and we’re also talking about emotions like joy or excitement or sexual excitement. Lust I think is the way that Jaak Panskepp talks about it. And we’re talking about all of those core programs that you just mentioned and looking at how they lead to our common good. The common benefit and also ways to know when, when something’s coming at us that really isn’t healthy and and how to respond effectively to that.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly right. In particular with using anger to set limits and boundaries and to assert ourselves without being aggressive.
Neil Sattin: Right. Right which you’re able to do when you’ve figured out “Wow I’m, I’m really angry. And here’s why I’m angry right now.” And so it becomes less about telling someone that you’re angry and more about setting an effective limit with them.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes, and I would add an additional piece: it’s, it’s also working with that anger internally to to discharge some of that energy that causes us to, to act too quickly, and act, and say mean things or do hurtful things, so that there’s techniques to work with the energy that, that most emotions have and that grip us into impulses right and these impulses have to be thought through very, very up, down and sideways, before we decide to say something or do something that we really want to be thoughtful about ourselves and the action that wants to come out.
Neil Sattin: Right. Yeah.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: It’s hard work too, this is a lifelong process.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. So important to name that and, and for you, listening, we’re going, we’re gonna get to some of these techniques of how to really integrate and and process your emotional experience in the way that Hilary was just naming. And I want to say too that well, as you know I read a lot of books for this show and I love the ones that just right out of the gate, I’m like, “This book is gonna make a difference in my life.” And I definitely felt that reading your book it’s so practical and in some ways the title is misleading because I think people see it and they think “Oh this is a book about depression. I’m not sure that impacts me.” And so I want to encourage everyone listening that this is really a book about what we’re talking about: how do you encounter your own emotional experience and chew it up in a way that’s beneficial for you and then bring that into how you how you interact with the world around you.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah exactly. And I think you’re right about the title. I guess if the title was exactly what it should be, it would say “This is a basic emotion education that you should have received in high school,” and hopefully one day people will. But it’s something that every, everybody knows that the title came from the article that I wrote for The New York Times back in 2015 and because the article went viral and so many people responded to it, that Random House said let’s just name the book that. And you know it’s not always depression what is it? It’s really life, and how surviving our childhoods and all the adversity that life entails affects us emotionally and what happens when you block those emotions and what happens when you embrace those emotions and learn to work with them. And it’s it’s it’s a fork in the road. And it matters.
Neil Sattin: Yes. Yeah. So let’s start with talking about “the change triangle,” because I think identifying the three different corners of the triangle will be really helpful for everyone in understanding what we’re talking about because why is it a triangle, why isn’t it just like well you’ve got to have your core emotional experience, and there, there’s more to it. And this was where your book was so eye opening for me in many ways, was getting to see oh these kinds of things that I experience< they're happening because I'm, I, I'm trying to I'm trying to protect myself from a core emotional experience as an example. So, I think as we as we dive in this is going to make a lot more sense for everyone listening. So, where's a good place to start, Hilary?
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: I think just a quickly, describe it and and what I, I’ll try to bring it to life a little bit.
Neil Sattin: Great.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: So for everybody listening you want to imagine an upside down triangle superimposed on your body. The point of the triangle is in your core, you know, somewhere between your stomach and, and your, under your ribs. And that’s because, and that’s, at the bottom of the triangle is where core emotions are and they’re in the body and that’s why I’m asking you to imagine them in your core. And they’re, the core emotions to say them again are: fear, anger, sadness, disgust, joy, excitement, and sexual excitement. And each of those have their own unique programs and they’re very simple in a way, you know, when something, when somebody hurts us… Well let’s just take anger because it’s something that we all struggle with in our culture. And there’s so many myths about anger, but anger is there basically to protect us. Anger and fear. And when when somebody attacks us. And I always think about how these were designed to be sort of, hundreds of thousands of years ago, if somebody wanted to kill you, and, and had a threatening pose or gesture you would evoke anger in the middle of the brain, like where all core emotions are evoked, and then it sends out a myriad of responses to all organs of the body to ready the body for an action and that action is meant to be adaptive for survival. So anger will make us kind of want to make a fist and put up our dukes and get ready to attack. And it come, it’s visceral. We all know that experience of when someone we care about insults us or doesn’t do something that we really needed to and there’s energy in the body and our, and we get tension in the body and we really feel like we want to lash out. So it’s a full body experience and each of the core emotions have their own program that has an, uh, an uh, group of physical sensations that we can learn to recognize and name, and each of the core emotions has an impulse to action that we can learn to recognize, and, and explain and name, and, and an impulse to action, that we are, that it’s pulling for us to do. And it’s that whole experience that we want to get really good at recognizing and that is really just a part of knowing ourselves. The, the emotions react similarly in everybody. But there is nuance in everyone. So the way that I experience anger will be differently than the way you experience anger, Neil. And that’s the same for all the core emotions.
Neil Sattin: Great.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: So that’s the bottom of the triangle. Does that make sense?
Neil Sattin: Perfect.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: OK. Now there’s uh, there’s three corners of the triangle, which I’m going to explain. But there is a fourth point here and I’m just going to share it real quickly now because when we have a core emotion, we’re at a fork in the road and there’s base likely two ways it can go. We can bury that emotion and push it away and block it and then we’re going to be moving to the top of the triangle. Or, we can validate it, name it, and work with the experience that it’s evoking, in which case we get to this place that I put on the bottom of the triangle. That’s called the “open hearted state of the authentic self.” And what that is basically, a more practical way of saying, is it’s a regulated state of mind and body and that when we are with our core emotions, and we let them process through, and we are allowed to experience them, and again nothing has actually happened yet in the outside world it’s wholly internal, it’s a way that comes the body back down. Because core emotions come up they kind of cause an arousal of the nervous system like a wave. You ride the wave and then they come down. And if we don’t block them the energy kind of naturally will dissipate over time, and in ways and techniques that we can help with that, and then we come back to this kind of calm state, where our mind and body feel relaxed, and in that state good things happened, and there’s a bunch of c-words that I borrowed from Richard Schwartz with his permission, where when we stay in this kind of calm regulated state, we are more curious, we feel more connected, we have a greater capacity for compassion for ourselves and other people, we tend to feel more confident because we can deal with our own emotions and we feel more courageous in life and we have more clarity of thought. So you obsess less. So this is where we all want to spend more time.
Neil Sattin: Definitely.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: And it’s not that it’s the goal to spend all our time there, right? That’s impossible because life happens but that’s where we want to spend more and more time. And so working this change triangle to get back to core emotions and to go through them down to this calm state is the whole point of this.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I think it’s important to mention that too, that we’re describing this, this static image but it implies a process that you can go through in order to get to the openhearted state of self energy that that Hilary’s just described.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Right, because we’re moving around this triangle all day every day many times and it’s what we do that matters and then we’re also kind of moving around in this triangle in life on a macro level spending less time in our defensive states and more time in the openhearted state. So. So that’s sort of a sort of a micro and a global way to look at it.
Neil Sattin: Great. So then when you have that core when you’re when some core emotional response comes up, you said you’re at a fork in the road and you can head, you can ride the wave and and get to that core self state or…
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Or like most of us do, because that’s what we’re taught to do in our society, is we tend to block them. And so the top of the triangle if we move to the top right that corner is labeled inhibitory emotions and the inhibitory emotions which everyone will recognize are anxiety, guilt, and shame. And again what they have in common is that they all push down, and block, and bury core emotional experience, in purpose for the purpose of pretty much getting along in our society. There are more social emotions, so that if the core emotions are the selfish emotions what’s good for me the inhibitory emotions are, “How do I curb my own impulses and desires, so that I stay in the good graces, good graces of initially my mother and then my father and my siblings, my family, then my peer groups, my uh, by then you know as you broaden into society, my religious groups, my, oh, my collegial groups…” That we it’s so important for human survival to get along. So in a way there’s a fundamental conflict here. So, so the inhibitory emotions when we it’s the way that we block our core emotions. And so what we end up doing is noticing that we have anxiety, for example, and if we have anxiety we know that we’re on the top right hand corner of the triangle. But what that means practically, is that we also know that we are inhibiting some core emotional experience that if we can get to and name, and, and, and use, we will likely feel less anxious. Feel much better and I can give an example of this, but, then the way we do this is with muscular contraction, all sorts of maneuvers that anxiety, shame, and guilt block these core emotions and for different purposes. And some of us will feel more shame, some more anxiety. You know, we have to mix in genetics and disposition here, and then the environment for why we end up feeling ashamed or guilty or anxious.
Neil Sattin: Right and something that feels important to name right here is the way that you can feel those inhibitory emotions from a core positive emotional experience as much as a core negative. And I’m kind of putting those words in quotes because I think what we’re getting at here is that they all have the capacity to be positive but one might not think like, “Oh you know, I’m, I’m experiencing shame because I’m feeling too much joy right now,” or “I’m too excited. And so my anxiety is coming in to to block that, or my guilt about being excited about this thing.”.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: That is so crucial and the more that I do this work in psychotherapy and just observe the people that I’m with, the more I believe that it’s the larger emotions. I wouldn’t even say so… I think you’re right, that people block joy and excitement and pride in the self and anything that makes us feel physically bigger. It’s kind of fascinating you can almost reduce all below the neck deep experience into emotions that have energy that makes us feel larger, which is dangerous when we take up more space and we feel bigger, we tend to experience some inhibition either anxiety, guilt or shame. And so people tend to stay small and in a way people go negative… I’m not so sure anymore, which came firrt, err, do people kind of move into negative thoughts to keep them small? Because there’s some core fear? Or is it that it’s a it’s a way not to feel big? I dunno if it gets sort of too complicated. But you can start to think of everything as almost like amoebas like am getting bigger or I’m getting smaller? And to begin to understand one’s experience as, “Is this an expansive emotion now, that I’m feeling, like, joy and pride, and anger?” In which case it’s going to make me feel vulnerable and then I’m going to come down on myself with some anxiety or shame or guilt. So that’s just getting to what you were saying about people struggle with feeling good.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah. So it could go either way. And, and what I love is this sense of, “Oh. When I notice shame or anxiety or guilt that the problem isn’t the shame or the anxiety or guilt.” That’s, the I don’t want to spend all my time there, because they’re indicating that there’s a deeper core experience that’s happening and that’s where the the gold is.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly. That’s where the gold is. Now. I think it’s also important to mention that that, we’re talking about kind of detrimental levels of anxiety, shame and guilt here, that the shame has a purpose too. Guilt has a purpose. Like when we do something that hurts somebody else it’s good that we feel guilty. That means that we’re not a sociopath and so we want to listen to the shame. Listen to the guilt. Listen to the anxiety. And we also know that we have to look for our core emotions. So, it’s, it’s both because the inhibitory emotions are going to bring us to the relationship piece. But we also need to know what we’re feeling so that we can express ourselves to, to yourself and to others.
Neil Sattin: Yeah and I will say just as a side note your, your chapter on dealing with anxiety shame and guilt. I think it’s also super helpful along with creating self compassion but for understanding the other people in your life and what might be motivating certain behaviors that you experience from them. That was, in many respects, worth the price of admission for the book because that’s part of what’s going on is not only understanding yourself but being able to see these things happening in other people and to, and to recognize how it might be impacting them as well.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes. So we can understand ourselves and others and I’ve had so many people read the book and tell me that they thought it should be in the Parenting section of the bookstore because we also want to understand our children’s emotions so we don’t unwittingly cause too much shame and guilt and anxiety when it can be avoided just by the education and emotions.
Neil Sattin: Yeah yeah they should have a “self parenting” section in the bookstore.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah. Self parenting, and parenting though, there’s so much you know parents mean well, I made so many mistakes. If I had had this at this book in my 20s that would have spared me and my children a lot of heartache and I know most people feel that way. Most people have intent to do good. And if you don’t have proper information, and you’re just basing things on what you sort of intuition and how you were raised and what society says then it’s easy to make mistakes anyway, easy to make mistakes, and we’re not free that you know there’s no way not to screw up your children on some level but you just want to know what’s going on in the emotion department. It’s really, really helpful.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. So we’ve covered the bottom corner of the triangle the core emotions, and the top right which is these inhibitory emotions that are are meant to block or suppress the core emotions.
Neil Sattin: What’s up with the with the other corners triangle.
: So and again if we go back to that this is superimposed on the body. The point is of course in core emotions as in is in the gut area and then we’re coming up. So anxiety and defenses are kind of sitting above the shoulders, is how I imagine them because they’re out of, they kind of take us out of our body, they take us up into our head. And so because emotions, core emotions feel so at best they feel weird and new if you don’t know what they are, and, and at worst they feel awful emotions and core emotions, and inhibitory emotions when they come in, in large doses and they come, many at one time and they’re all mixed together… It’s a horrible experience and a horrible feeling. And so we then tend to want to avoid the whole enchilada and we move into defenses and that’s the topped, top left corner of the triangle. And defenses are basically anything we do to avoid feeling something that we don’t want to feel and I don’t even mean it in a pejorative sense I always say that that defenses, as I learned in AEDP training, which was so helpful, are really these brilliant creative maneuvers that humans can do to spare themselves pain as opposed to in my psychoanalytic training… I don’t want to sell psychoanalysis down the river because I got a lot out of my studies there, but there was always this negative sense of bad, that you’re doing something bad, and you’re resisting and that defenses are bad and I think that defenses really need to be appreciated for one when they hold up. They get us through life. And two, when they don’t hold up and we break through and start to have symptoms of depression or anxiety or many other things that we needed them at one time those defenses and now they’re not working so well and then we need to embrace other ways of being that bring us peace and calm.
Neil Sattin: So defenses are like toward the, the last stop on the on the train. They’re, they’re, they’re meant to help you not feel anything.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes. Exactly. Or to for, to exchange one emotion for for something else like defenses… Emotions can be used as defenses. For example, I would, you know, my whole younger life, if I felt scared or vulnerable I sort of had a more of an irritable, crusty armor and I would get angry and I would try to curtail it a lot because I had a really sweet, gentle mom and a really sweet, gentle sister and I was kind of the, the, the, the tougher one in the family. So I was always working hard to be quote sweet like like my mom. But I felt it. I felt it and I really didn’t understand. I would beat myself up for you know, Why, why do I feel angry?” And it was really a big defense against fear.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: I had no idea I had no idea even I was the one that I was anxious when I was younger because it was just kind of covered by this kind of this kind of tough armor.
Neil Sattin: Right.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Or how many people do we know that might be feeling fear but instead go to like humor or lightheartedness, instead of instead of being able to go to that place.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly. And so there are so many ways we can use defenses can be emotions. They can we can use behaviors as defenses. Self-destructive behaviors like, like cutting just behaviors like joking, making, being sarcastic, eye rolls, shrugs this is like body language defenses, not being able to make eye contact. There is, there is a myriad of defenses and I list a ton of them in the book and on my website. And you can try to recognize your own defenses which is probably one of the hardest things to do. It’s much easier to see other people than ourselves and so you could probably much more easily recognize the defenses in the people in your family. But it’s good to begin to recognize our own defenses so that we can loosen them up a little bit and know what the feelings are underneath them and then it kind of, gives us more resilience, more choices for how to be.
Neil Sattin: Yeah if we wanted perspective from an outsider that we more or less trusted about our defenses what would you say is a is a safe way to ask for that from another person?
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: That’s such a wonderful question. I think it’s not only the safe way to ask for it, but I think you’re saying to make sure that person is safe is a safe person to be vulnerable with. Yeah, because what we really want to spare ourselves, as much as possible, is the excruciating experience of being shamed or humiliated. So, I think I would say and I do say this to my to my husband and my children, even friends sometimes: “Please let me know if I do something that…” I mean it’s not so much as a defense, I would say, “Please let me know if I do something that you don’t like or that hurts your feelings or that doesn’t feel right.” And then I guess if I was asking it I think I would just leave it at that. I’m concerned for the people out there listening who might say that to somebody they care about who doesn’t have a lot of therapy background or understand emotions that might not be so gentle. So, I think you could always say: “But, be please be gentle with me.” You know and I believe in using humor and lightheartedness in relationships a lot, but you know be be gentle. But I do want to know…. Yes.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. No, I think that’s great to name that desire for for gentleness or just to point out like, it’s, “It’s kind of tender or vulnerable for me to even be asking you this but I know that you may see, something that I don’t see.” Yeah.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: That’s it’s such an interesting question Neil. No one’s ever asked me that and I think it’s because most people get feedback from their family, when they’re, when they’re acting in ways that are are not pleasurable and they they might not all be defensive maneuvers some may be just like self care. Like I don’t want to do this. Setting a limit or a boundary and then somebody reacts badly to that. But some of it would be defensive. So again, it’s sort of interesting to think about.
Neil Sattin: Right and I think if you’re not inviting someone into that conversation, then the feedback that you’re getting is most likely not coming at you either at a moment where you’re truly receptive to it, or in a manner that’s that’s constructive.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Mhmm. Exactly. Constructive being the operative word.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. So we we found our way up to the top. And let’s talk about what the process would look like if I noticed, “Oh I’m about to do that defensive thing that I always do.” So maybe for someone like I’ll just kind of out myself here, I might go to a political blog or to Facebook or something like that. I’m doing that, it doesn’t serve any real constructive purpose in my life. So, even though, you know, you could argue about being informed or whatever but when I notice that I’m doing that, what would be the steps that I would want to take to help bring me into identifying whether or not there was a core emotional experience at work? And I think, especially because we as adults… Like these patterns are pretty well developed for us. So, so it may be a bit of a journey to find your way down into into your core, but what’s, what’s the map look like?
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah. Yeah but I think very possible, and, and I like your example, which I’m going to address. And you know, we could also use the example of reaching for a snack when you’re not hungry or reaching for a drink right after work. Right? These are all these kind of they’re just sort of automatic defensive behaviors and they don’t serve us. So what I do is, you know, for all these examples is the first thing we have to be able to do is notice, right? If we don’t notice what we’re doing then we can’t work the change triangle at all. And the way you get good at noticing is really by slowing down. We can’t really notice much about how we’re feeling if we’re moving fast, it just tends to obscure or we just stay up in our head and our thoughts are churning and it kind of numbs us out below the neck. So, I when I’m teaching new people this you know you can just set aside, you can write in your, in your inner, in your, in your calendar, in your phone, you know, just set aside three times a day and remember to kind of check in and observe what you’re doing. Meditation, obviously, is a great practice for this. So, let’s say you actually notice that you’re about to go check, what did you say Facebook or the political blogs?
Neil Sattin: Right side or more or more likely I’d, I’d be you know five or 10 minutes in, and I’d be like, “Wait a minute here I am. You know here I am on Facebook again.”.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Good. Good. OK. So before, or during…
Neil Sattin: Just being, just being honest.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah of course. You know, join the rest of humanity. That’s great. So what you would do is stop what you’re doing. And you would, kind of feel your feet on the ground like you instructed me to do before this, and, before we started, and maybe take a few deep breaths to kind of set the stage for noticing. And then I personally especially in the beginning would ask myself I would kind of scan my body head to toe, and toe to head, and just kind of see what I can notice about my physical state. Am I tense? Am I anxious? I might even go through all of the emotions and ask myself, “OK Hilary,or Neil, you know, do you notice any anxiety now check? Do you notice any shame? No, not right now. Do you notice any guilt? No. OK, so we’ve got some anxiety. What else? Let’s see if we can get below that anxiety and see what else we might be feeling”. And you may want to bring in the context of what’s going on in your life also and what might be affecting you. So let’s say, uh, this is the day my, my, my kid goes off to kindergarten. What else is happening today? I have work stress, what not. So then I might ask myself, “Is any of these things in life causing me fear? Check.” And then we want to go through all the core emotions, do I feel angry? No. Do I feel sad? Check. And you want to name all the emotions that you possibly can but kind of holding them all together like, as I tell my patients, try to hold all the emotions but imagining them with lots of air and space between each one, because we have to, we have to attend to each emotion separately. Another way that I say it, is don’t say “I feel afraid but I also feel sadness.” I want to change the “but” to an “and.” “I feel sad, and I feel afraid, and I feel excited, and I feel happy.” And once we get a lot of emotions going at the same time it’s a lot of energy. We can automatically push those down because we don’t know we can handle it all. Feel some anxiety and then boom. Reaching for a political blog. So, that would be the idea to try to start to name the emotions and then just by doing that just by naming emotions and taking that time to slow down and do that, you might feel much, much more relaxed and in fact it gives you space to think, “OK do I want to continue with the blog? Because this is a good distraction that I need now.” Because defenses aren’t bad by definition it’s only if they’re hurting us or if we rely on them all the time. So you may continue to read or you may decide, “You know what. I’m going to go exercise instead or I’m going to go tell my partner how I’m feeling about everything going on.” That type of thing, and that’s the last step is to think through, what’s the best thing for me right now? If I don’t feel better and I’m trying to change my state what are some things that, that helped me feel better where I can take better care of myself. Or you may want to work with one of these emotions using some of the techniques that I, that I outline in the book. Staying with them in the body or imagining using fantasy to discharge some of the energy.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I definitely want to talk about fantasy, but before we go there, I, I just want to name that for me even though I knew this to be true it was really a revelation to stop and think about what that’s like, that we can be experiencing fear and disgust and joy and sexual excitement that we could be feeling all of those things at the same time.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes.
Neil Sattin: Each one calling out for potentially a completely different kind of response.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes.
Neil Sattin: So, no wonder we get all bound up with anxiety or overwhelm or feel any any of those things that just kind of paralyze us in a moment. Or if we, if we name one and we just kind of go with the first thing, “Oh, I’m feeling sad right now,” and then you neglect the others, how you could feel incomplete in terms of actually processing the experience that you’re having.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly. Exactly and that’s why it’s so important to keep sort of searching when you notice one particular emotion to just keep looking around. What else is there? And to, it really helps to kind of run through that checklist. I still do that I’ve been practicing this a long time and I, I run through the different emotions and once you name them and search for them you know you might even find them. I say to my patients, “Even there’s you know just check for like a little molecule of joy there, or a little molecule of sadness, and then if you find it you know, Oh maybe I need to actually make space for this particular emotion I spend so much time, you know, really orienting myself towards my anger, that I’m missing out on what the sadness or the fears telling me.”.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. I was I was searching for a good acronym while, while I was reading the book, I was like there must be a good one for those core emotions to like help people just kind of do the, do the checklist.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah. Did you find one? Because I looked hard also.
Neil Sattin: Not yet but I’ll let you know if I can.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah. Yeah.
Neil Sattin: And there’s not a good one for all those C’s when you’re when you’re… But I do like how you also offer that as an example of looking for you know am I feeling calm, right now? Am I feeling clear? Am I feeling compassionate? To be able to go through that list to find the nuances of your experience right now and to highlight, “Okay here are ways that I am feeling courageous even though at the same time I’m getting all this, this tremulous fear going through my body.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes, exactly. And I think even sometimes you can bypass the whole thing and just really try to shift into those states if you don’t like what you’re feeling right now and it’s a particularly a great idea when you’re about to have a conversation with somebody important to you, to before you do try to, try to just see if you can shift into a calmer, certainly more curious standpoint, more state, where you can try to take a couple of deep breaths and access some curiosity, so we don’t make assumptions about another person’s motives because they’re often incorrect you know we make up our own stories and then we believe them without checking them out. And to try to lean into connection, so that, let’s say you know again your partner really pisses you off. It’s important, and the brain doesn’t naturally do this, you have to push, put energy behind this idea of remembering the good things somebody has done to kind of take the steam out of the uh… You know, we can rev ourselves up with anger and start to think it’s like chaining, you then, everything that someone ever did to hurt you comes back with a vengeance. Unless we really pull the other way and say, “OK, what is why do I love this person.” Or if I can’t remember that I loved him at one point, you know what is it that I used to love about this person and try to conjure those that part of it as well. It takes energy. It’s not easy because we’re really pulled to tough places and we have to use mental energy to pull ourselves back and it doesn’t feel good at first, always.
Neil Sattin: Yeah yeah. Wow so many different directions that I’m going in at the moment. I think first I just want to name, it’s really lovely the way that you show the integration of AEDP work through the vignettes, vignettes that you offer in your book, and also internal family systems and working with different parts of you, younger parts. If you’re a listener for, and you have been for a while then you’ve perhaps heard the interviews we’ve done with Dick Schwartz, the most recent one is episode I wrote this down episode 140, where so you can you can get a sense of how the two modalities work really well together, fit super well together. And so all of that work to get to understand and process and metabolize your emotional experience, and to learn how to show up for yourself can come through what we’ve been talking about today and can also be helped by getting to identify the places in you that are stuck in a past experience. And the reason that I wanted to bring that up is because you were just talking about like the the possibility of skipping to connection and calmness, or doing what you can to to get to that place especially if you’re going to reach out to someone that’s important to you. And I liked how you also bring in the work of Peter Levine and talk about how all of this energy that emotions bring up in, in us when they’re not processed when, when that energy isn’t metabolized, then that is what creates trauma in our bodies — that, that stuck energy that never quite got released. And so some of those stories in your book are just were so moving to me, as I, as I read them and got to see like oh right there’s another nuance of how this could apply to me or to my clients. And so really beautiful, I think, to to see it written out like that but let’s get into a little bit more of the…
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Thank you by the way.
Neil Sattin: Yeah yeah you’re welcome. Let’s get into the metabolizing and in particular let’s talk about fantasy, because that use of the imagination and how it can help I think can be so powerful for us when we, when we’re wrestling with that question of: “Well, I feel so angry or I feel so sad or bereft or whatever it is, and I don’t know like I want to bring it to that person I want them to feel my anger. I want them to see the depths of my sadness.” How can we do it in a way that’s actually going to be more productive and give us the satisfaction of truly handling and, and, and giving our body some relief from those unfulfilled impulses?
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah. That’s, that’s, that’s, that’s a question that has many levels because I think what I’m first responding to is this idea of wanting someone to see and wanting to really be seen, in with one’s emotions. And so I think that is legitimate. And, and then there are times when that’s all somebody sees and they get weary. So it’s it’s really… you have to keep a lot in mind. So, I thought you were just going to kind of ask me about working with child parts and releasing stuck energy as a sort of either, either as an alone process or with a therapist and then you surprised me when you brought in this idea of, if you bring it into relationship and that makes it all sort of like it, I think we have to deal with one and then the other.
Neil Sattin: Yeah let’s start with a first part.: Yeah, let’s start with the first part…
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah.
Neil Sattin: …which would be that the inner process that we might go through, and then and then we can bridge into bringing that into relationship.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Great. Great. So, I now I really consider myself a trauma therapist and I now think of trauma as something that everybody has just from surviving their childhoods. And so then we were changing the definition of trauma. This is still very controversial. You hear the word trauma, which most people still think of as a, as a some major catastrophic event happening, that is trauma. I’m adding on to that something that is also called small-T trauma — which many people in the trauma field object to because it’s it’s sort of putting a value judgment on trauma. That one is smaller or bigger, which is, I want to say, that, that’s not the case it’s just some way to to differentiate different types of trauma. And small-T trauma is really what I believe everybody has, and small-T trauma is really, um, can be from so, so many, so many things that actually happened in our childhood. But the bottom line is, and I’m sure Diana Faucheux and David Marr spoke about this in the other episodes, that whenever we have too much emotion which happens a lot when we’re children because our brains are full of emotion and very powerful emotion. So when there’s too much emotion and too much aloneness at the same time, then the mind figures out a way to kind of block it. So it’s not overwhelming. And then once that happens a lot where we’re kind of blocking whole parts of ourselves and whole experiences and those are these little kind of child parts that we all have that are alone these kind of child parts of us exist alone because they had to be kind of cordoned off. So this, this happens you know if you have… In most families there’s a parent that doesn’t tolerate a certain emotion and so when you feel that emotion you are really told, you know, to put it away or get over it or you’re yelled at or it’s not acknowledged. So that kind of thing, on a small level, becomes big because when we have to exclude parts of our experience then they are literally excluded in the mind, they’re not integrated. They’re not connected to other parts of the… of us. So these are the the parts when I use the word parts from Richard Schwartz or in psychoanalytic literature they were called interjects. That we might have absorbed parts of our parents in us. It can be many, many different things but these are the parts that sort of live on with us, within us and they can get triggered and then we can start to react. The reaction is, is not really commensurate with what happens in our adult relationships. So, I think everyone can relate to like just when somebody pokes you in that just wrong place and you felt the feeling many, many times before and you can kind of track it back into fourth grade when you were bullied or ostracized, or you can track it back to sixth grade when you started to know that your sexuality or gender wasn’t the same as the people around you or you were punished too severely, yelled at, you know all these or somebody you loved died when you were young or got sick or there was substance abuse, active substance abuse in the family, all these type of things and then these parts of us hold… They have their own triangles in a way and we need to be with those parts and liberate those old emotions so that they don’t fire off and cause havoc in our adult relationships and inside us and make us feel bad all the time.
Neil Sattin: Yes. So we can, so you can get related to in a particular moment. The part of you that is feeling, that is having this emotional experience and to what was happening at the time and the way that you portray that in the book, I think is, is a great illustration of how to go through this process for someone and then talk about if you could, that, taking it to that next level of where you incorporate fantasy as a way of helping either a younger part or just helping yourself in the present with an emotional feeling how you could actually kind of burn off some of that energy before you’re bringing it out, into how you connect with the world.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah I guess I’ll use the, we could take any emotion and you can change this, but I’m going to, I’m going to go with these big energy emotions that are common like how you burn off as you say anger energy and also kind of feeling good about the self prideful energy both of these create a lot of anxiety and depression in people when they’re blocked. And so I really like to, to harp on let’s liberate this, this energy and how can we do it in a safe way. So one of the the the most effective ways to work with anger is, and I use this a lot myself… And I’m sort of pausing here because as people listen to this, it may seem kind of crazy. But we begin with the fundamental idea that the brain doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality in certain, in emotional ways. And we know this from experiments where somebody imagines running and they’re hooked up to an FMRI, that they imagine they’re running. And there is movement in the in the parts of the brain as if they were actually running. So… And we see this every day in clinical practice. So, let’s say I am angry, I’m going to take my sweet and wonderful husband John as an example here because I use him all the time. Let’s say John does something, and he really doesn’t anymore, we really get along quite well. But let’s say he did something that really, really threw me into a rage. What I have learned to do and practice many times is before I go talk to him about it, I will, I know I will be able to identify that I am angry, right? And rage is sort of all emotions are on a spectrum from a little irritation or annoyance to outright rage. I will know, I will be able to say to myself: I am enraged. I will be able to feel that deeply in my body a burning energy in my stomach and a, and a movement of energy that wants to come right up and out, and I will not do anything, but I will focus in on that energy, listening to it with a kind of curiosity, kind of tuning in like a radio receiver feeling it deeply and seeing what that energy wants to do to John and it might want to just, so I and then I try to make it into a fantasy. So the idea is I’m noticing that if that energy could come up and out of me in a fantasy or a movie like, let it play out in a movie I would see myself just like punching the crap out of him. Like that’s how angry I am that I really want to hurt him. And then I will allow myself in a fantasy to imagine doing that. And I do this in sessions for people that have a lot of pent up energy from being abused as children and neglected and various very hurtful things that were done to them. So I can see myself actually doing what this anger wants to do and trying to really even feel it as I see myself making contact with skin. And just let it… Imagining it and imagining it, watching it and watching it and watching it, and doing it and doing it and doing it in fantasy, until it feels done. Like the the energy will discharge and will drain out. And then when I tune back into my body, I’ll feel probably tired and a little more calm so that I can then gather my wits about me and go back and say, and say, “We need to talk about what you did. I was so furious because you hurt me so badly when you did this this and this. And I never ever want you to do that again.” That type of thing as opposed to storming out, I wanted divorce, you know this isn’t working or attacking him you know verbally abusing him for everything that he’s ever done, and which isn’t going to help, it’s going, it may feel better in the moment. And then I’m going to feel guilty afterwards. He’s going to withdraw. It’s going to escalate a fight and it’s going to increase our disconnection.
Neil Sattin: Yes. .
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Does that make sense?
Neil Sattin: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And one thing that I think you mention in the book is how often you can go with that initial like you’re feeling all that anger and rage and seeing that. And then when that is finally discharged through imagining this scenario, that it leaves room for another core emotion to rise up. So it may not end there, it may be that after you experience your rage, you then experience your sadness or your fear.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly.
Neil Sattin: And so there’s there’s a lot there to be processed and what you named so beautifully was the problem not only with having those experiences, but, or emotions but having them and feeling alone and how showing up for yourself in this way also undoes that aloneness. I think that’s such a powerful aspect of the work as you describe it. It’s also so powerful in my experience of Dick Schwartz’s work in IFS, that it it’s kind of undoing aloneness with yourself not that you don’t want to get to a place where you’re inviting other people in. But, it also just builds such resilience knowing that in a moment like that, a powerfully charged moment, you actually have the capacity to to do something about it. Just you.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly. And in that sort of reminds me to say that when you are connecting to yourself in that way, one has to have the utmost compassion and empathy as though you were relating to your own child or pet who you love or someone that you really cared about that you would never hurt. It’s really unconditional love and positive regard, and not shaming yourself not judging yourself. Right? Because fantasy is so fabulous it doesn’t hurt anybody. Even though some people get scared you know, when a lot of people that have a lot of trauma or even a little trauma, and I first kind of try to teach them how to do this. They… Guilt comes up and they’re like,” Well I don’t feel good about myself. You know good people don’t do this,” and and I was like, “Well I’ll explain. You know, you don’t do it out in real life. That’s what we’re trying to to prevent.” But, the capacity to use fantasy is very, very healthy and that’s why it’s so important when you have little children to use imaginative play and even as parents listening that when you’re one child let’s say wants to hit your other child, when they’re young, because it’s not always easy to have a sibling. Just use this as an example. You don’t kind of block the anger and say no you have to love your your sister or brother, and, and we don’t hit, you have to find a way to, to accept and to channel it, like we don’t hit grown ups and we don’t say mean thing — we don’t say we don’t hit people and we don’t say mean things to people. But here’s this doll you can imagine it’s your sister. And we can beat it up together and have a good old time. And that way the kid is learning to sublimate — how to use emotions and play at the exact same time and that it doesn’t have to be a toxic experience that the emotions are validated and they have to be released. And it doesn’t have to be with again beating up like or even a fantasy of beating up like I just shared about myself. It could be writing these things out, unedited, just writing what you want to say to someone drawing a picture of what you want to say or do to someone. The idea is to just get it out, and it has to work so we not only have to get it out but you have to sort of the next step after this is do I feel calmer. Do I feel better. And if the answer is no, there’s either more to be done or there’s inhibitory emotions that are getting in the way and complicating it or other emotions that need tending. And it may be that you need to bring it to someone who is a professional to help you do this.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I was going to say this could be a good place to get support. Especially at something. If you’re like, Oh, that feels like a big river of rage or grief or whatever it is. Well great. Like it’s awesome that you identified that and sit with someone who knows how to help, how to hold you in that.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Exactly. Exactly.
Neil Sattin: Well what a rich conversation. And before we go today, Hilary I’m wondering if we can just take a moment to bring this back into the relational realm and, and talk about how, like, if you identify something going on with your partner or something is going on with you and we’ve talked about taking this space so that you can process and metabolize, is there a way to bring what you now know about the change triangle, maybe into your connections so that you and your partner can now be on the same team with seeing how this dynamic is at work as the two of you come together? What’s a good first step, I think, for people to bring this into their relationship?
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes. Well, what what I would say as a, as a good first step is to make sure that both of you have the exact same information. So when possible, I really wrote the book to be used in many ways as a, as a workbook and to read the book together with your partner and to go through the exercises gives you just that, you’re on the same page. And even though it will take practice over a lifetime to work it together. That at least you have the same bit of knowledge and you’ve gone through the same exercises which are pretty simple and, and, and, and, and just to say why I put case examples is because emotions have to be experienced. How do you help somebody get a sense for an experience? And that had to be through the stories. So, I would say just to make sure that the person that you’re wanting to connect with has some basic emotion education. And…
Neil Sattin: Perfect.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: And then after that established ground rules. I wrote a little blog on this for, for, for how to find your life partner on medium that you want to establish ground rules that you won’t be mean that nobody is going to attack or retaliate in ways that are dangerous and hurtful and that you don’t abandon, so that if a conversation has to stop because it gets hard, and one person gets too anxious, then you then you have to be able to say to each other. I’m overwhelmed I’m not able to really think as I’m talking to you, anymore. Let’s take a break but we’ll come back and finish this because really in relationships all there, all there is is talking. You have to just keep talking. And then lastly I would say is you want to try to use the change triangle to make sure that, that both people are relating as much as possible from a core place. Either from that openhearted state or from the emotional state of the core emotions where you’re saying, you’re using I statements like, “I’m afraid,” “I feel anger about this,” “I feel sadness about this,” as opposed to you, you, you, you, you. And that, when you’re, when both people move to the top of the triangle, when you’re either you’re they’re anxious or ashamed or guilty or defensive, you really have to stop. Like, I make a time out motion when I’m working with couples or even working in my own relationship, let’s stop and then I say let’s rewind to where we were going fine and then somehow we went off the rails and then it’s usually a miscommunication, or let’s stop and take a break and calm down and let’s come back tomorrow again sit and have coffee or tea and begin again and see where did we go wrong, where, where, literally if you sort of track moment to moment: You’re having a discussion. Everything is going fine. I want to talk about you know, why we, we don’t have more fun together and then all of a sudden one person starts to get anxious or you start to, one person starts to get angry then you can literally stop and say, “Let’s rewind to right before you, like I felt like I was with you we were connected and then all of a sudden I said, ‘Well I don’t really you know. You know, you’re no fun anymore.’ And then I noticed you got defensive.” And then that’s where you have to work because the person might say, “Yeah. When you told me that I wasn’t fun anymore it hurt my feelings. And then I, I went up into the top of the triangle. I started to get defensive.”
Neil Sattin: That’s great. And, and I see to this opportunity for couples who really start to get this together to like, in a state of shame or anxiety or guilt those inhibitory emotions to learn how to show up for each other in those moments to help, settle whatever is going on or to help navigate their partner back into a place of like feeling understood or seen, and that might be a good, a good return visit for you on the show to talk a little bit more about how how they can collaborate in a moment like that to bring themselves back to a core emotional state.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yeah I would love to.
Neil Sattin: Hilary Jacobs Hendel, thank you so much for being here. If people want to learn more about your work where can they find you?
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: I have a website with tons of free resources all about emotions and that’s Hilary-Jacobs-Hendel-dot-com. Or you could just google “the change triangle” and you can also get there by going to “the-change-triangle-dot-com,” and there’s articles that I’ve written for major media outlets. There’s my blog which the titles are pretty explanatory of what they’re about. And then there’s a tool box section that has a lot of resources. So that would be the best place. I also have a youtube channel, so I could go over and explain certain aspects of this and I do something called 1 minute videos on emotional health, because everybody’s so busy and nobody has an attention span anymore, so that’s “The Change Triangle” YouTube station and then my Website. And then of course the book is the whole enchilada because it was what I did is it’s got exercises so that you work The Change Triangle along with me as I’m working The Change Triangle with the people in my practice and then there’s little bits of no jargon science to explain what’s going on because I wouldn’t have been interested in any of this had it not been deeply grounded in current neuroscience. That was really important to me. So, that’s really gives you the whole kind of flavor of what’s going on.
Neil Sattin: Great. And again the book is called “It’s Not Always Depression” and we will have links to all of that on the page for this episode where you can download the transcript. And that’s Neil-Sattin-dot-com-slash-triangle or as always you can text the word passion to the number 3-3-4-4-4 and follow the instructions. Hilary…
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Yes. Can I just say one more thing?
Neil Sattin: Yeah of course.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: The book just won two book awards that won the 2018 Best Book Award for psychology and mental health, and the Nautilus Award for personal growth. So I just wanted to share that because I’m hoping that people will read this book and that eventually the, our entire society will be very well educated from an emotional standpoint. I think it can really change things for the better.
Neil Sattin: Absolutely and congratulations on those awards. They are well-deserved. You definitely have a gift from taking all of this information and making it really practical for people who read the book. So, big recommend for me.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel: Thank you. Thank you.