In this episode, I am speaking with Dr. Joan Rosenberg –a cutting-edge psychologist, best-selling author, consultant, and master clinician—about why emotional resilience, confidence, and managing negative emotions are the secret to an amazing life.
In this podcast, Dr. Rosenberg will cover:
- Why psychological distress is on the rise
- The importance of social relations
- Why confidence is essential for living a fulfilled and successful life (And why developing confidence can seem counterintuitive)
- The Rosenburg Reset Process
- How emotions affect your body (And how a single emotional experience can shape your life)
- Why she believes that soulful depression is more common than clinical depression
- Her approach to anxiety
- The concept of “disguised grief”
- The importance of speaking up (And how to become better at it)
- One of the MOST important keys to emotional strength
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Why Emotional Resilience, Confidence, and Managing Negative Emotions Are The Secret Keys To an Amazing Life with Dr. Joan Rosenberg – Transcript
Ari Whitten: Hi there, everyone, welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I am your host Ari Whitten and today I have with me Dr. Joan Rosenberg, who is the author of this wonderful book, “90 Seconds to a Life You Love: How to Master Your Difficult Feelings to Cultivate Lasting Confidence, Resilience, and Authenticity,” which I highly recommend. So, before we even get into this, I am going to recommend that everybody go to Amazon and get this book. Or, if you are on the web page on my site, we will have a link to it on the web page for this Podcast episode. Real quick on Dr. Joan’s background or Dr. Rosenberg’s background, I will say she is a cutting-edge psychologist, bestselling author, consultant and master clinician. She is known as an innovative thinker, acclaimed speaker and trainer. She speaks on how to build confidence, emotional strength, resilience, achieving emotional, conversational and relationship mastery, integrating neuroscience and psychotherapy and suicide prevention.
She is also a professor of graduate psychology at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, California. And this is her latest book which just came out, I believe, what a few months ago, maybe six months ago, something like that.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: February 12th, yes.
Ari Whitten: Yes. So welcome to the show. Dr. Rosenberg, such a pleasure to have you.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: It is a treat for me to be here. Thank you so much, Ari.
The root causes of psychological illnesses
Ari Whitten: Yeah. So, I am really excited to dig into this with you. Now before we get into the Rosenberg Reset and the 90 second exercise that is the crux of this book, I want to talk like kind of meta level, 30,000-foot view of psychological distress. And you know, the subtitle of your book is, “How to Master Your Difficult Feelings to Cultivate Lasting Confidence, Resilience, and Authenticity.” A big part of what this book is dealing with is depression, anxiety, things related to like a lot of modern-day psychological distress. With that in mind, what, like how do you conceptualize the broad picture of why there is such a need for psychotherapy in 2019 America and why rates of anxiety and depression and so many other psychological illnesses have skyrocketed in the last several decades? Like, what is kind of the 30,000-foot view level, you know, view of the root causes of why these psychological illnesses are increasing?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: That is a big question and I would say it is very multifaceted in terms of what the answer is. And so, I am not even sure I can keep track with as many thoughts as I was having while you were talking. So, I might have to jot some notes down.
Ari Whitten: Well, I rambled on to give you a little bit extra time to formulate.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: No, it is fine. But we have to look at a lot of different kind of, I would say, technological and sociological influences. And, at this point, I mean in this very moment I think that there are very real experiences that are, I don’t want to say fostering anxiety, evoking anxiety and perhaps evoking depression. If we, I mean all we have to do is to look at the headlines, right? We look at the Amazon burning and depleting our oxygen. We look at food sources. We look at technology displacing jobs. We look at the distraction that people get into because they are engaged in technology and dismissing paying attention to developing themselves as whole beings. We have the disconnect of social bonds, the breakup of the family, the breakup of the community, and then the breakup, if you will, of even our face to face interactions.
So, I mean, there is so many different things that I think contribute to your question in terms of, “Why do we see increasing rates of anxiety and increasing rates of depression?” So, and again, I will even highlight our current political climate is not focused on fostering a sense of safety. Our current political climate is focused on evoking fear. So, fear is naturally going to create this lack of safety and then increased anxiety based on that as well. So, it is, again, there is so much to unpack in terms of that specific question. But there are also other aspects if I look at the way I approach this work and psychotherapy. I mean, it is why does someone need psychotherapy if they are not taking the time to self-reflect or don’t even have a clear idea about how to self-reflect? Psychotherapy might be a good place to start with that, or meditation at the very least. But I also have, I have a different approach to both anxiety and depression which we may get into. But so that is my first response to your very complex question.
The importance of human connectedness in emotional health and resilience
Ari Whitten: Yeah, it is, I think you nailed it in a lot of aspects that you addressed there. One of the big ones from my perspective, and this was written about at length in a book that I just mentioned to you prior to starting this episode, Phillip Cushman’s book on, “Constructing America, Constructing The Self: A Cultural History of Psychotherapy.” He really puts a lot of the focus on the dissolution of community, of tribes, which historically from an evolutionary perspective, humans have existed in for millions of years. And then really just in the last century, especially, we have had the dissolution of tribes, communities, you know, of even the nuclear family, you know, let alone the extended family. But even the nuclear family where you have, you know, kids who are living in completely different cities from their parents and from their siblings and everybody has just become sort of an island unto themselves.
And in your book you actually have a nice section, that I really enjoyed, talking about kind of the US especially as a very individualistic culture where we teach people, “Oh, you should cultivate happiness by yourself and you should, you know, love is an inside job and you should sort of be content and happy and fulfilled all by yourself.” And it is a myth that a lot of people like to believe in. And even there is a lot of motivational kind of speakers preaching that idea. And I think it is just absolutely wrong. And you wrote in your book about why this is wrong. I would love to kind of start there about our connectedness and the importance of human connectedness, if you are okay with just touching on that topic.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Right. Sure. I mean if you look at the research now, even in terms of, and I know you just had another child, so this is, I mean it is a perfect opportunity to talk about it. We know from infancy that the way a child’s brain develops, our brains develop when we are children, is through social connection. It is through the social bond. So, there isn’t anything that is more important than to be able to have that connection with another human being. You know, it is like part of what the psychology literature talks about when it talks about attachment is that animals will run to a place for safety and infants run, or humans run to another human for safety. Not to a place, but to a being. So not only, so we have this notion that the attachment bond creates, helps facilitate and create that experience of safety for a child.
And it is the very thing that grows our brain, right? So, there isn’t anything more important than that. And people get into the myth that we are separate beings. We are all very connected and people get into the myth that, “I should go it alone.” And the truth is we are designed to do both. And we need both of those experiences in our lives. We need to be able to have a sense of independence so that we can go pursue something that is important to us to give us a sense of purpose and meaning. And we need to be connected to others. And, I get into that specifically when I talk about emotional strength. And so, it is both experiences in life. It is not one or the other. And a more balanced life would include both of those.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I think part of the healing power of psychotherapy is actually just allowing you to form a human connection and have someone to talk to in this world where we have become so lonely and isolated and disconnected from each other. It is like, “Oh, I can form a human connection where somebody will just listen to me for an hour.”
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Yeah, that is very true.
The importance of confidence
Ari Whitten: So, I want to switch into the Rosenberg Reset and your work with this book, “90 Seconds to a Life You Love.” So much of this book is about cultivating emotional resilience, dealing with difficult emotions. I want to read one quote from the book. You said, “As counterintuitive as it may sound, the key to cultivating confidence and creating a life you love lies in the ability to handle unpleasant emotions.” Explain that to people. And this is so much of the crux of the book but explain what you mean by that and this counterintuitive idea that handling hard, difficult emotions, painful emotions, why that is so central to having a good life.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Yeah. Well, you know, because it is central to every real genuine risk we take. That is why. And so, for me, the way I define confidence in the book is that it is the deep sense that we can handle, and here is the key piece, the emotional outcome of whatever we face or whatever we pursue. But what it takes to handle that emotional outcome is to tolerate unpleasant feelings. I talk about eight specifically in the book. So, the “90 seconds” piece is really the method. The focus as you have just identified is really our capacity to deal with these unpleasant feelings. So, it is like why, and I can go to the eight if you want me to talk about those now. Or I want to follow your lead…
Ari Whitten: I want to actually dig more into confidence first.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Okay. So, for me it is the way to the unpleasant feelings is that there is two main pieces I would say to this, Ari. One is that the feelings that I talk about in the book, the unpleasant feelings or, well… The unpleasant feelings I talk about in a book are centered, they are there because they are the most common outcome, emotional outcome to things not turning out the way that we need or the way that we want. And that involves any kind of risk you can think of. So, it might be that I want to turn to you and say, “Hey, I think you are really cool. I would love to be spending more time with you.” And I put myself out there in that way to get closer. You could say, “Yes” or you could say, “No.” And then if you say, “No,” I have to deal with the disappointment. Well then, I might have to go find other friends to make, right?
Or asking somebody out on a date or going to a boss to ask for a raise or turning to a partner or turning to a child and saying, “You know what? I was disappointed when x, y, or z happened.” So, it doesn’t matter who or where or what or when. It is that those same feelings are at the base of our ability to take risks and our ability to pursue the dreams or the goals that we have. The second part of it is that if we try to cut off from our unpleasant feeling states, we are cutting off from half of our life experience, which means that we are not being authentic human beings if we are trying to shut down on that. So, the other real key piece for me is that, is really understanding that we need to be incorporating or have the facility or capacity to tolerate that whole range so that we are full, complete and whole human beings.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Well said. So, on the subject of confidence, I think a lot of people have this expectation that before they take risks and go after something and have a difficult conversation with someone they care about, about something that disturbed them or whatever aspect it is of being vulnerable or taking a risk in life, people feel like they should have the confidence first. And almost, to some extent, to talk about confidence in this abstract way almost lends to that frame. Why is that not correct?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: It would, because the truth of the matter is, and this took a while to really make sense of, it is not that any one of us has confidence and then we go pursue the thing. And that is part of the counterintuitive nature of it. It is that as we take the risk, that is how and when we develop confidence. It is not the other way around. And so, it is true for taking actions. Like I want to go learn how to play tennis or racquetball or golf, or it doesn’t matter what it is, any skill, piano. It doesn’t matter what it is that I want to pursue. It is not that I have confidence and that I go pursue it. It is as I develop my skills in that area, and I go take the risks or I take the action to pursue it. That is when I am developing confidence.
And why? Because many times it is probably not going to turn out. And each time it doesn’t turn out and each time we get up and do it again we develop that deeper sense of ourselves that we can do it. So, another way that I look at confidence is it is the sense of can-do-it-iveness that is embedded deeply within us. And it is true as it relates to speaking up as well. And, which to me, is another very, very crucial skill. So, it is not that we know ourselves and then we speak. It is not that we have confidence and then we speak up. It is actually as we speak and through speaking that we develop, not only do we develop confidence, but we actually come to know ourselves better.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. I am a rock climber and rock climbing for me is like a microcosm of this. You know, the whole process of getting better at rock climbing and going from a very controlled environment in the gym to outdoor climbing, to doing lead climbing, which is where you are taking the rope up with you instead of a rope being hung up at the top. And when you take the rope up with you, you have to clip in as you go. And so, there is periods of time where you are above the last bolt. So, in other words, if you fall, then you take, sometimes they call it a “whipper.” If you take a really big fall, you can fall anywhere from like eight to, you know, sometimes in crazy routes you might fall 40 feet. And just this giant, really dramatic, very scary fall that is genuinely a free fall.
And then sometimes you come smacking into the wall at the bottom of it, too. And, for me, I was deathly afraid of this. I mean, I am afraid of heights. So, rock climbing itself was scary. But then you add in this element of taking a big fall if you don’t, if you slip off a hold or something like that. The process of becoming confident with that has developed only through taking lots and lots of falls and realizing, you know, once you take hundreds of falls and you realize, “Hey, you come out unscathed, or you know, with minor aches and you recover pretty quickly,” then it becomes not so scary, you know, that you can handle it. But I don’t think there is a way to develop the confidence in the absence of taking all those falls.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Right, right. And people, and that is, again, that is why I partly wrote the book the way I did. It is that people, it is like, “How does someone really do this?” And people have it very, very confused. They think that you just somehow imbue confidence or osmotically get confident and then you go do the thing. It is not the way it works. It really isn’t. It is just as you described, it is through the doing.
The Rosenberg Reset 90 seconds process
Ari Whitten: Yeah. So, the Rosenberg Reset is the crux of this whole process. This is this 90 second process to a life you love that is about cultivating resilience and confidence. What does this process look like?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: So, the easiest way for me to explain is through what I would call kind of a simple formula. And the formula is one choice, eight feelings, 90 seconds. And so, the one choice that I am asking people to, if you will, to choose into is to choose awareness as opposed to avoidance. So, it is being aware and being as aware of and in touch with as much of your moment to moment experience as possible. And so, it means not being distracted by social media or shopping or drugs or alcohol, or having feelings about having feelings or harsh self-criticism, or I think there is a list of 35 in the book that I go to in terms of all the different ways that we can distract ourselves. But so, it is, the key piece with the one choice is choosing into awareness.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: The second has to do with eight feelings. And it is really the eight feelings that are threaded throughout the whole book. And the eight feelings are sadness, shame, helplessness, anger, vulnerability, embarrassment, disappointment and frustration. So again, the most common question that would follow after I name those feelings is, “Come on, why those eight? There is so many more other feelings.” And lots of times what people are identifying as feelings I think of as thoughts, like inadequate or unworthy. So those don’t count for me as feelings. And the second is that because these feelings are the most common, everyday spontaneous feeling outcomes, if you will, to things not turning out the way that we believe we need or the way that we want. So, that is why those eight. And then the 90 seconds piece was the piece that kind of brought it all together.
I was always telling clients over the years, “Ride the wave, ride the wave, ride the wave.” And I was intuitively correct but absent the science. And as the neuroscience research and findings started to permeate the literature and actually everyday books now, there are a couple of really important pieces of information that came out of it. The first is understanding that most of us experience unpleasant feelings. Most of the, let me correct myself here. Most of us experience feeling through bodily sensation. That is how we come to know what we are experiencing. And I have wrestled with that question about, “What makes it so difficult for us to tolerate unpleasant feelings?” for a long time. So, they have that understanding. It is like, “Oh, so it is bodily sensation. Got It. Okay.” So, it is not that we don’t want to feel the full range of our feelings.
What I realized is that we didn’t want to feel the bodily sensation that helped us know what we were feeling. That is what we found so uncomfortable. And then the second piece was really what Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor talks about. And it is an observation she made in her, and describes in her book, “My Stroke of Insight.” And that is that when a feeling fires off or it gets triggered, that it kind of involves a rush of biochemicals into our bloodstream and it is that rush of chemicals that actually activate those bodily sensations. And then those same biochemicals flush out of the bloodstream in roughly 90 seconds. So, if I could turn to somebody and say, “Hey, stay aware, understand you are just dealing with these eight feelings and all you have to do is to be able to ride short lived bodily sensations, to stay present to the feeling.” Most people would go, “I can do 90 seconds. Got It.” And once they also understood that all they had to do was, that they were trying to push away a bodily sensation, it just changed the game for so many people.
Ari Whitten: Now, what happens after 90 seconds? So, you do this… Let me actually rephrase. So, let’s say somebody is already, they perceive themselves to be stuck in anxiety or depression or something like that, and they perceive your advice to be just be present to your anxiety or depression. They might say, “Well, I already am. But why would doing it, you know, consciously for 90 seconds make any difference for me.? How do you discern between those two things?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: That is a great question because I wouldn’t be wanting them to dig more into anxiety nor would I want them to be digging more into depression. Because if they are experiencing anxiety and they are experiencing depression, they are probably looping into old stories and old experiences over and over again. And that is actually not the focus. So, think of the notion of you have stubbed your toe against a chair or a wall or something. That is a short-lived sensory experience, right? And, so it is the emotional equivalent of that. So, what I want people to… So, I am not wanting people to dig into and stay present in more and more of the depression. In fact, I would be wanting to find out the root causes of that depression. And the same thing is I would be unpacking anxiety because both of those words, frankly, are way too vague for me to really understand.
And so, it would be, “You know what? I was supposed to meet a friend and the friend called five minutes before we were supposed to meet and said they are not coming. So now I am disappointed. And, so normally I blow it off. I act like it didn’t happen. And it is like, I chip away and lose just a little bit of respect if I don’t deal with it with the individual. Right?” So, the thing that I am asking for somebody to do in this kind of a situation is to go, “Okay, what am I, kind of, what is my reaction to this? Oh, all right, I am disappointed. You know, I am a little bit angry. This person’s done this to me three different times.” So, like, okay then so it is being aware of the experience in the moment.
It is not to belabor and keep going over and over it. But it is to go, “All right, let me see what this is attached to.” And so, if you can stop and pause, so you take a deep breath, stay present to that disappointment and anger. And if you can stay in it a little bit longer and most times it doesn’t even last 90 seconds. Then what you do is you start to pause and reflect and go, “Huh, what am I reacting to? Oh, okay, I am reacting to I just don’t want to be disappointed by this person. I would look forward to meeting with them or hanging out or whatever it was.” And then it is, “Oh wait, that has happened two or three times already. I have never talked to the person about that.” And then staying present to the experience in that way, reflecting to see what it is connected to can then potentially lead you to go, “Oh, okay. I either have a decision to make, I have something to express or maybe I need to take some kind of an action.” So, if you stay with the sequence like that, it actually allows you to live a life that is more present and then you actually take the actions that you need to take.
Ari Whitten: Now is the goal of the exercise to arrive at like an insight, like how you just described like, “I think that I should do this,” or, “I think that, you know, I should take this action,” for example. Or is it maybe an equally valid goal for it to just sort of dissolve and dissipate and go…
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: I would say both. I don’t think that is an either/or answer, frankly. I think it is both. I think sometimes you just have the reaction; you take note of it and you are basically done with it. And, you know, you have got a lot of, there is a lot in that emotional bank with the other person, it is no big deal. You move on. Or, in other situations I think what ends up happening when we allow ourselves to stay present to feeling is that insights do come, and the insights might be on the order of taking an action or expressing oneself. So, it is not either/or. But what I also will find is if we don’t allow ourselves to stay present to those feelings, we don’t usually get those insights.
Ari Whitten: Okay. So, step one is sort of basically like mindfulness or presence, awareness, you know, kind of synonymous with that. The second part of this is the framework of these eight emotional states and basically identifying which of these eight emotions. Can it be, is it just one? Or sometimes two or three?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: You know, it is rarely eight. That would be a rare moment. It might be, you know, one to three at a time.
Ari Whitten: If it is all eight then you spontaneously combust.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: That is exactly right. I really didn’t want to talk about that in the book. So, you become a spark in the [inaudible]. No, it is no more than usually two or three at a time at best. So, I can be sad, angry, and disappointed, for instance, all at one time. Right? I wanted something big and important to happen and it didn’t. So, okay, I have that reaction and then I am done with it.
Ari Whitten: Okay. So just explain the significance again of kind of these eight emotional states. Why this is, you are pairing that with the mindfulness aspect, the presence to this bodily sensation and then going through and identifying which of the eight emotional states are active. And then being, or, sorry, maybe I introduced the body sensation too soon. But presence then the identifying the emotional states, and then presence for 90 seconds to [crosstalk].
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: And again, what I want… Some people who have a really hard time with this will say to themselves, “90 seconds, 90 seconds, 90 seconds.” But it is not, again, it is to help them stay present to it when they are not practiced at that. Others just go, “Alright, I just have to understand that this is a short-lived bodily sensation that I have typically run away from.” And, “Alright, so this time when I have a reaction, the next time I have a reaction to something that is unpleasant, let me stop and notice.” And so, “Oh, okay. Yeah. Gee, embarrassment didn’t last that long.” Right? You know, there is a story I tell in the book to emphasize this, where I had talked on it at an event. I had spoken on stage, talked about the process, and one man, he came up to me several hours later that day and said, “I tried it. It really worked.” He was, he looked at a number of the people that were at the same event as heroes of his, but never would go up to them for fear of embarrassing himself and just didn’t want to have that experience. So, when I talked about being a short-lived bodily sensation, he went, “Alright, I am going to test it out.” So, he started to interact with people he typically avoided, wouldn’t even consider going up to, and what he found, he felt vulnerable and embarrassed. But to my point, it was very short lived. He stayed very engaged with these people. And over the process of that day and the next several days, he ended up making a whole bunch of new friends and he actually started to create some business dealings with some of the people he engaged with. So, it is like he was able to take that piece and just leverage it and it was within hours of understanding it. So, one can do that. It is just you stay present to the experience and then if you have the opportunity, pause and reflect about it and then see what comes and notice what comes. If nothing does, nothing does. If it does, then now you have more information about kind of where to take it next.
Why people end up in maladaptive coping styles when processing their emotions
Ari Whitten: Now, this is a pretty simple process. However, it is like pretty much the polar opposite of what most people do when they are dealing with difficult emotions. Most people really have a hard time with difficult emotions. The last thing they want to do is consciously be present to them and think about them and sit with them. Everybody is trying to distract themselves or withdraw from them or escape from them in some way. Why do you think we have such a difficult time and such maladaptive coping styles such that the intuitive thing for most people to do is the exact opposite of what actually works?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Right. Well, again, I would say the same thing I think we have been talking about. It is uncomfortable. So, you know, you got humiliated or, you know, go through big disappointments in your life. And early on you said to yourself, “I am never going to let myself experience that again.” But the, “that again” is really the bodily experience of it. And, but it becomes, the mental equivalent is the thing that you push away for years after. It is like, “No, I am not going to open myself up to other people because I don’t want to be hurt like I was hurt when I was a kid.” Right? So, then you develop and create a life around avoiding because it feels so uncomfortable. And again, one of the things I am trying to get across to people is we are talking about short lived bodily sensations that end up dictating your life.
You know, there is another story in the book, Ari, that, where I talk about, I think I gave him the name Paul. But we were at a lunch and he, you know how the pleasantries get exchanged, what do you do? And so, we are talking about that and I started to talk about what we are talking about now and he proceeds to tell me about an experience he had when he was a senior in high school. Loved to sing, did two solos at, you know, the last senior high school concert. And one of his friends comes up to him at the end of that concert and says, “Dude, you know you sang flat.” So,18 years old and he felt so devastated by what his friend said to him. And he was, he had to be in his late sixties or seventies at the time that he and I were talking, he had never sung publicly again. That is like a short-lived experience of disappointment or embarrassment and based on one person’s point of view, I might add, led to a lifetime of not doing something he loved.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I was just going to ask you, you kind of answered this question in a way that I was going to ask you, which is how does this play out like over the course of somebody’s life in terms of the kinds of decisions they make throughout their life and ultimately the destiny, the life that they are living, if they develop the emotional resilience and the confidence to know that they can deal with unpleasant and difficult emotions. Versus if they are constantly living in fear of the possibility of experiencing those emotions and then making decisions out of trying to avoid those negative emotions. What is this, and you just spoke about it with this guy’s story, but can you kind of paint a picture on a practical level of like how these, you know how these…
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Absolutely. You know what? If I go back to Paul as the example of what we don’t want. He took an experience in young adulthood or late adolescence and it became something that dictated a lifetime choice that, again, if he had stayed present to it… So, let me walk both sides of it out. If he had stayed present to it, he could have looked at the guy and said, “Hey, you are one opinion.” He could have gone to his parents and said, “Was I that flat?” He could have gone to his high school instructor and said, “I was told I was flat. Is that true? Can I train more?” And, then he would have done something to use the experience to kind of carry him forward and learn from it. And then, because it was that important to him, to continue to pursue the thing he loved.
But if, so painting the picture of what it looks like when we stay present to the stuff, Ari, is that I actually like to think of it as limitless opportunity. And so, if I go back to the first story, this guy who wouldn’t engage with other people now was engaging and speaking up and saying things and developing connections that never existed before. So, in essence, he is creating opportunity in his life. And because he is willing to take the risk and embarrass himself or willing to take the risk and be disappointed if the person says, “Not interested,” or “Don’t want to talk to you,” and he keeps taking those risks, then he is able to forge connections he would never have, say things he might never say, ask for things he might have never even considered asking for, and then get way more than he ever could have considered. So it is, so I actually like to think that when we allow ourselves to stay present in this way, we are exposed to limitless opportunities and we can’t even conceive of the possibilities.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think there is, you know, for you and I and many of our friends and colleagues who write books and do public talks and put videos online and articles online, there is actually a huge fear component in that. Especially if you are putting out some novel idea, you know. For example, like I did this huge literature review on adrenal fatigue, debunking the concept of adrenal fatigue. And I was really, really afraid that a lot of our friends, for example, in the Mindshare community would be, who believe in adrenal fatigue, would be really furious at me, would come after me, would try and, you know, say bad things about me. And I actually like sat on it for six months without publishing it because I was so afraid of the criticism. And you know, back in 2013 or 2014 when I published my first book, as my wife will attest to, when I got my first like negative review, you know, the first like one-star review on a book. And every book, as people know, every book on Amazon, even the greatest works of literature has some, you know, 5%, 2% of people that just think it is terrible and the author is a charlatan or, you know, an idiot or whatever else. I mean I would lose sleep for three nights getting a one-star review from some random person. And, I mean, it just, I took it so hard. It would have been so easy to have those kinds of experiences and then never publish another video or article or book ever again. And, you know, I have been through that process a thousand times now such that I don’t really care. There will be people who comment on this interview and say, “Oh, you should have let the person talk and you rambled on too much.” Or, “You should have asked this or you, whatever.” I mean, there is always some small percentage of people who have something negative to say. But I think looking at my own life, I see that the destiny could have played out so differently had there been a greater fear component and avoidance component of the negative emotions.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: I totally agree with you. And, so are you okay if I play with your words a little bit?
Ari Whitten: Absolutely. Yeah.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Because I want to take the word “fear” out of it. And, I do talk about this in the book, especially on the chapter on, around anxiety, that we misuse and overuse the words, “fear” and “anxiety.” And so, with fear, think of it as danger in the moment right now. And so, you weren’t really fearful. If anything, the better word to use would have been “anxious.” But I actually prefer the word “vulnerable” to it. So, this notion that you could get hurt, and what was the hurt going to be? The other seven feelings were going to get evoked. Right? So, the key in most of those kinds of situations where we want to go take a risk and put ourselves out there is that we are, then we are pushing back against the experience of vulnerability. And if we know that we can handle the other seven feelings, then we can handle being vulnerable because the outcome of things not turning out the way we want is going to be one or more of the other seven feelings. So it is, so putting your work out there had to do with choosing into being vulnerable. And then you went, “I got this. Okay. Alright. So, somebody rates me a one star. Okay. Move on.” Right?
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Did you have to go through something similar in your own process or…?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Well, yes, totally. You know, there is, yes, definitely. The first place I actually started to put the work out was in, I did two TED Talks. And I thought I had an idea that would make a difference. And mind you, I have been working with these ideas for roughly 25 years. And certainly, as the neuroscience research came out in the, you know, it just increased kind of my understanding and other thoughts came to me in terms of how to approach what I have developed. But, the first formal place I put it out to the mass public was in that first TED Talk. And, I am, you know, it has been nearing three years, but I am also nearing a million dollars. A million dollars, I would like that. I am nearing a million views. I am headed in that direction at this point. So, for me, the important point there is that I thought the message was important and then the way that people are responding to it seems to acknowledge that. So, I, yeah, I didn’t know how people would respond. And the same thing with the book, frankly. It is like it was the first time that somebody was going to bear witness to the extensiveness of what I had been thinking about for across these 25 years. And, again, so I was totally vulnerable to put myself out there. I had no idea how the book would land.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. And I know people that I have met who have done a little bit of work publicly, who have literally shut down, who have stopped their YouTube channel, stopped publishing articles, stopped publishing books because the negative emotional experience of the blow back is so intense, right? Literally stop. And they go do something else. I also have, my older brother who is a chiropractor, who is an amazing pain expert who is coming out with his own program on helping people with chronic pain problems. And he has got so many concerns. It is interesting to watch. He has got so many vulnerabilities or anxieties around, you know, people, you know, trying to attack him for some of his novel ideas that he has been developing for 10 years. And I am like, “Just focus on the people you are going to help. Don’t worry about, you know, the people who are going to try to attack you for this or that.” It is interesting to observe that.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Yeah, no, I know. And I remember what [inaudible] had said many years ago in this regard. She said, “If you start to experience the attack that just know that you have, if you will, you have kind of landed. You are on your way.”
Ari Whitten: You have made it. Yeah.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: So, I always try to keep that in mind that somebody is always going to be pushing back. That doesn’t mean that the idea is bad, but it, you know, that person is not being served for whatever reason. Just keep on going.
Ari Whitten: Now, you have got a term in your book or phrase that you have trademarked called “soulful depression.” Explain what that is.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Right. Now, this goes back to the 25 years. So, what I did is I drew a diagram, which actually does not show anywhere in the book. And I drew that roughly 25 years ago and it was, there were two paths to it. And one took people down a path of disconnection, if you will. And the other took people down the path of connection. So, you can think of one is the path to confidence, resilience and authenticity or self, you know, self-esteem, that kind of an idea. The other path led to what I would call “soulful depression.” So, the way I think about soulful depression is it is someone’s experience of being, they are depressed, if you will, because they are cut off from themselves. So what starts is that, it starts with disconnecting or distracting.
So, the things I mentioned early on, people might drink, they might use drugs, they might shop, they might use social media, they might, harsh self-criticism. And again, I could go down the list but there are countless different ways for us to stay disconnected from ourselves. And that is the starting point. So, when something happens, rather than being, doing what I call “knowing what we know,” which is staying present to the experience, we try not to “know what we know” and that starts us then, so then we could distract and disconnect. And that starts us down the path of soulful depression. If that continues, what ends up happening is I will notice people experience, describe experiencing more anxiety. They will feel like they have less control, or they are out of control. They will feel more vulnerable and they will often describe bodily symptoms. Because what is not getting them to, what Mary Morrissey loves to say, “What is not getting emotionalized is getting physicalized.”
So now they are complaining of neck aches or stomach aches or whatever it might be. Then the next part of it is that people are, one of the unique capacities of us as human beings is our ability to observe what we are thinking and to observe what we are feeling. So, the idea of metacognition. And so, at this point people are so cut off that they can’t really experience what they would normally experience. So, if they would normally feel sad in a situation, they know that they might be sad, but they can’t feel the sadness and then they start to describe feeling kind of dead or empty inside or numb or that sort of thing. And really that is the point of soulful depression. So now they are describing being depressed or empty. They can’t connect with others. They don’t feel connected to themselves.
And frankly, I think that a lot of what we experience broadly speaking, not just in the United States, what gets described as clinical depression, if I were a betting person, I would bet that most of it is actually soulful depression and not any kind of biological depression at all. So again, it is a kind of a big leap. I am not dismissing biological or clinical depression, but that I really think that most of what people come in describing as depression and describing as anxiety is actually more of this soulful disconnect.
How Dr. Rosenberg deals with Anxiety and Grief
Ari Whitten: Now you have also alluded to the idea that you think of anxiety differently than most people do. You deal with it; you treat it differently than most people do.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: I do. So, we talked about fear a few moments back. So, if we were to follow a sequence with this, rather than using fear, which is again, danger in the moment right now, the most logical next choice would probably be to say, “I am anxious,” which would be frankly much more accurate. And psychology tends to describe anxiety as diffuse apprehension of the future. And it is like, “Okay, I am looking at, I am anticipating some bad event to occur and then a bad result from that event.” So, okay. Fairly accurate except it is one sided and that is not such a good thing. That is faulty thinking. And the other part for me is that if I had 10 people in a room saying, “I am anxious,” I have 10 different answers to what that meant to them. So, what I have found is that I had to really break that down. And anxiety, then, is way too vague of a word. And more often than not what people meant is that they were vulnerable as opposed to anxious. And if it wasn’t vulnerability then it was one or more of the other seven feelings. And, so the two really key ways that I tend to look at anxiety, and there is more stuff there, too, but the simplest way to describe it is that anxiety is a cover, like an umbrella over the eight unpleasant feelings. Or another way to look at it is that it is, that anxiety is unexperienced and unexpressed feeling.
Ari Whitten: So, in this way of conceptualizing anxiety, how does that lead to a way of dealing with it that is different from how most people deal with it? And, what do you recommend for people that are sort of overwhelmed with anxiety on a regular basis?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: First thing I would do is have them ask themselves, “How well do I deal with unpleasant feelings? Do I really allow myself to lean into them, to embrace them, feel them, move through them, whatever it is? So be really honest. How well do you deal with unpleasant feelings?” The second thing I would do is to then have you ask yourself, “If all the words for anxiety were taken away from you, and fear, anything that smacked of fear or anxiety were taken away from you, what would you really be feeling? And if you are at a loss of what to consider, start with the eight feelings that I talk about.” And my hunch is that more often than not, it is going to come down to one or more of those eight. And then the next step is if someone else is involved, ask yourself whether you have expressed that feeling or those feelings to the people that are involved. And if you haven’t, usually by the time you get to taking the words away, people recognize it is like, “Oh, alright, I am sad, or I am disappointed, or I am angry, and I don’t want to express the anger.” But now it is no longer in the form of anxiety. Now it is in the form of anger. Then it becomes, “Alright, what do I want to do with this?” If they would just take those two to four steps, it can potentially change their experience dramatically.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. You also talk about the concept of “disguised grief.” What is that all about and how does this fit into this conceptual framework that you are building out here?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Well, for me, it is the, you know, so many people come into psychotherapy from a reactive place. And for me it was understanding, first of all, that if somebody stayed in psychotherapy for any length of time, meaning over months as opposed to four or five sessions, months or years, that really what psychotherapy was a grieving process. And, but it was hidden. It is like we don’t typically understand that. And so that there are two ways, if you will, that I listened for what I would call this disguised grief. And the first is to understand, so somebody comes in the room and disguised grief is really tied up into difficult life experiences that we have had or what somebody might describe as the trauma or the tragedies that people have experienced. So, we can go up to chaotic upbringings, to humiliations, to bullying, to any forms of abuse that someone has experienced.
It doesn’t matter what it is, but it has to do with dealing with those kinds of life challenges and life experiences. And so, what I understood initially was that people were, when they were coming in in that place and had that kind of, those tough life experiences to deal with, that people were grieving over what they got and didn’t deserve. So that is all the bad stuff. The abuse, the chaos, the inconsistency, all those different kinds of things. They were also grieving over what they deserved and didn’t get. So, in this case, it would be the good stuff. It would be praise, it would be acknowledgement for doing a kind of a job well done. It would be someone showing up to the ball games or the cheerleading practices or whatever it was, the sports events and that somebody was there to support and kind of love on you while you were doing what you were doing.
Then it was grieving over what never was, which would be the life circumstances and facts of one’s growing up. So it is, in this case, it is oftentimes missed opportunities. So, facts and circumstances of one’s early life. Then it is grieving over what is not now. So that might be the facts and circumstances of current life. And then grieving over what may never be. So that might be someone that has already passed or that you need to get some resolve with. Or it might be someone that is alive and available to talk to you, but they are never going to see something your way. Right? So that was kind of one set of disguised grief. And then the other way I listen for disguised grief is when I hear people talk about, that is what I call grief signal words. It is when I hear people talk about things like resentment or holding grudges or bitterness or cynicism or that kind of thing. Then immediately what I know is that there is grief underneath that and that that is actually really grief. It is just coming out as those words. But so that is why it is, if you will, kind of disguised grief.
Ari Whitten: Why is this concept important to understand? What can it do for people to understand this in this way?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: A great question. It is, Ari, it is so profound. What, and I wish I could share a moment on text that a friend of mine sent to me. What I did in that chapter was to walk people through a framework for how to make sense of those life experiences. And I actually think that lots of times people keep holding on to difficult life experiences because they have never had a way to make sense of it. So, the truth is we can’t make sense of the senseless. We can’t, some of the things that we have all been through, we cannot make sense of why we were treated that way. We can, however, make sense of the impact it had on us. How did it shape us? Who did we become because of it? What decisions did we make? How do we respond to authority? How do we make connections with other people? I mean we can go on and on about making sense of the impact. So that what I tried to do in that chapter is to walk people through helping them make sense of the meaning and the impact that those difficult life experiences had on them. And then the key part here is over time, not only when it happened, but as they aged and who they are now. Is it, you know, is it continuing to impact? Because then, I think, that people can move to kind of separating themselves from their old life story and to begin to understand that who they were then is not who they are now. And, in addition, it allows them to move to a place of forgiveness. And that is to me, when genuine forgiveness really happens. So it is, and that is described throughout the kind of the continuity throughout that chapter.
Ari Whitten: I think this is a really nice segue into the next question, which is speaking up and having hard conversations. Being assertive or having difficult, emotionally disturbing conversations with people that involve feeling some emotions that people generally want to run away from. Why is that so important and how can we become better at it?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Well, again it is, for me, it is understanding that we don’t want to speak up because of those same eight feelings. So the way I talk about it in the book is that it is, we don’t want to handle, if we don’t want to handle the discomfort of our own emotional discomfort, so think same eight unpleasant feelings, then we are not going to want to handle the discomfort of someone else’s emotional discomfort simultaneously which involves that conversation, and think the same eight unpleasant feelings.
So, what dawned on me here in terms of why people back away from difficult conversations is, again, it just comes down to not wanting to experience those unpleasant feeling states. But if I could get somebody to see that and understand it and they know that they already have the capacity to deal with that, then they could actually start to engage in those conversations. And, I want to make sure I pose this fairly, too, Ari, because you presented it as difficult, unpleasant conversations. But the places where we need to be vulnerable and choose into the positive ones that also connect us are also very hard for people. So, the going up and saying, “Hey, I really like you. I would love to spend more time with you,” is, or asking somebody out for a date is the same kind of thing. Right? So it is, I want to make sure that we actually do a balanced and fair approach on this one because those conversations are just as hard for people. Are often, I should say, just as hard for people. But why is speaking up so important? I think it is the, if I were… The foundational piece to me is being able to experience and move through those eight unpleasant feelings. If I didn’t have that there, I would say that speaking up is singularly the most important skill that any one of us develop.
Ari Whitten: Wow. That is a bold statement.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: What ends up happening is that we change our experience of ourselves dramatically once we realize we have the capacity to speak with ease.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. You know, I was thinking, you just made me think of some comedians that I really like to watch, some standup comedians. I feel like the best standup comedians are the ones that are able to be like shockingly honest about their internal process and vulnerabilities and anxieties and deficits and flaws and, I mean the ones who have this kind of self-deprecating humor, but who are able to acknowledge all the ways that they are screwed up and flawed and quirky and weird and all these kinds of things, and lacking in self-confidence and all these things while simultaneously actually being very confident. The sense that they can get up on stage in front of hundreds of thousands of people and publicly share all of their worst characteristics with other people. There is something that is like amazingly, charismatic and attractive and beautiful about a person who is able to do that.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Well, and you landed on another reason why it is so important. And I do think that when we are able to be vulnerable in those ways, it is charismatic. If you think about feelings as being the essence of our aliveness, then when we cut off from those feelings, we go to that place of soulful depression which is empty, feeling empty, lonely, and dead inside. Right? And, so for when somebody is able to do that, they are accessing the fullness of feeling or the fullness of their aliveness. And it is like, it just draws us in. It is very charismatic so that the more… You know, think about, even think about people who have won Olympic races and they are on the stand or they are wherever they are, and you see them just tears flowing with the joy and the excitement or whatever it is. It touches our hearts. Right? I mean, there is reasons for it from a mirror neuron standpoint, but which we don’t have to go to, but from a neuroscience, if you will, point of view. But we are drawn in and so I think that you nailed it in that regard. Feelings are charismatic when we experience that level of vulnerability and transparency from another human being.
How to tackle disappointment in children
Ari Whitten: I have a couple more questions. One is a request for some personal advice. So, I am going back to kind of what we talked about earlier as far as looking at how this plays out as far as the trajectory of a person’s life to develop this kind of emotional resilience. I have a son who is almost three years old and it is very important for me to build emotional resilience in him and I have kind of my own ways of going about that. And I spend a lot of time with him. I take him for a lot of outdoor adventures, and we get a lot of dad/son time together. But he is learning the process of handling his emotions right now. So, you know, for example, he watches some cartoons for about an hour a day. And I am trying, I am working with him now on being able to say, “Okay, 10 more minutes of cartoon and then we are going to turn it off. Do you understand?” And I am trying to get him to understand and prepare him psychologically for the fact that it will be turned off and for him to be able to accept that. What is happening now is he will say, “Yes, I understand.” And, and then I say, “Okay, it has been 10 minutes. Can you turn it off?” And I don’t go turn it off. I don’t just shut it down and say, “No more cartoons.” I say, “It has been 10 minutes, can you please turn it off now?” And he will go politely, calmly turn it off. And then he will press the button and turn it off and then he will fall down and start crying, “I want to watch more Super Wings,” or whatever the cartoon is. And then I will sit with him and I will say, “What’s going on buddy? But we just talked about it is only going to be 10 more minutes. It has been 10 minutes. We watched it for 10 minutes and now we got to go, you know, have your bath and prepare for bed.” Now it may be just the case that it is too young to really teach a kid this kind of emotional resilience. But I am just curious if you have any strategy or way that you think would be effective for me to start cultivating more of that with him.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: Oh my God. There is a ton of things that you can do. I mean, what you want is to teach children as they are growing up, frustration tolerance. So, it is the ability to handle the disappointments and the sadness’s and the things that make us angry or embarrassed in life. You want to help a child be able to handle that stuff. So, this is a disappointment, right? “No, I want more.” And, because if you don’t do that when they are in childhood, then those are the people I see in my office because now they have to learn frustration tolerance in their twenties, in their thirties, and it is a whole heck of a lot harder. Cognitively not, but emotionally it is often harder for people. So, one part of it is starting to provide language for the experience.
So, if he is, you know, start to use words like “sad” or “disappointed” so what the child begins to do is to associate, if you will, what they are going through. It is like the falling down and I am kicking my heels and whatever it is, that those are words that get, again, as accurately as you can, to what you think he is experiencing. Whether he is sad, or he is disappointed, or he is angry, he is frustrated, whatever it might be, to start to use language to help him associate the experience with the word. So that as he gets older, when he is in situations that create this or evoke the same kind of reaction, that he going to be able to go, “Well, that made me really frustrated.” Right? As opposed to him acting it out. So that is a developmental thing.
And so, for me, one of the foundational pieces of helping somebody develop resilience has to do with, again, being able to experience and move through those eight feelings. Another thing that has to do with resilience that is hugely important is attitude development. The beliefs that you inculcate in a child or help them grab onto. So, for instance, I think there is a checklist that has like 20 or 30 items on it in the book. But some elements of that include every life experience is a
Or, change is the constant and so I need to be, learn how to be flexible and adaptive in the face of change. And I mean, so it is like you can think of all those kinds of things that help us. When we have those beliefs, they carry us through. Or, I am going to even, it doesn’t matter how many times this thing doesn’t work out, I am going to persevere until I get it, or I am going to persist until I get it. And though, when we have that set of beliefs, then we can be resilient in the face of the things that aren’t turning out the way that we want. Because we, again, we have the capacity to experience the disappointment. We know we can handle it. And then we have the attitudes to hold us that can carry us forward into the future. And I think the other piece that I also talk about with regard to this is our capacity to turn to others and ask for help. To me, that is also a really important part of resilience.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, beautiful. So, you kind of just did it to some extent there, but my final question to you was going to be, can you basically talk about like kind of the high-level summary, what do you want to leave people with? After all this discussion of all these nuances of these negative emotional states and confidence and emotional resilience, what is sort of the key idea or few ideas that you want to leave people with?
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: I will do it as a premise and then I will highlight a couple points. Think of the premise of the book as being if you can experience and move through one or more, so the emphasis is on the more here, one or more, 90 second bodily sensation waves of one or more of eight unpleasant feelings you can go pursue anything you want in life. That is kind of a premise, if you will, that is hidden underneath the book. I talk about it in places, but I probably don’t talk about it quite in that way. So, what becomes super important here? Obviously, the foundational piece, your ability or your capacity, I don’t want to call it an ability, your capacity to experience and move through those eight unpleasant feelings. That is bottom line number one. Second, learn that, learn how to ask for help. Crucial. That is, to me it is a part of emotional strength and we don’t do life alone.
It is like where none of us succeeds alone. And if we can understand what we were talking about at the very beginning, that our success in life really and our wellbeing is entirely tied to connections with others. Learning how to ask for help and letting people be there for you is a crucial second piece. Third piece would be learn how to speak up. Again, it takes us back to the same eight unpleasant feelings. And that would be also crucial. We talked a little bit less about kind of the faulty thinking or how to get your thinking right. But, again, even if we go with a resilience piece, then it would be hold the kind of attitudes that allow you to take you forward into the future and help you. If confidence is the can-do-it-iveness, then think of resilience as the stick-to-itiveness. And, so then it would be holding those kinds of beliefs that allow people to move forward into the future.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. I love it. Dr. Rosenberg, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with my audience. I have really, really enjoyed this interview, especially the personal advice about my son there. In all seriousness it was all amazing content. I think my audience is going to love this and find it extremely useful. For everybody listening, again, I highly, highly, highly recommend, and you are probably sold on it already, so it is probably redundant for me to even say this, but I am going say it anyway. Go to Amazon, get yourself a copy of this book, “90 Seconds to a Life You Love: How to Master Your Difficult Feelings to Cultivate Lasting Confidence, Resilience and Authenticity.” Do it. Just go on Amazon and do yourself and everybody you are in a relationship with, you know, your partner, your friends, your family, your kids. Do them all a favor by learning this skill. Dr. Rosenberg, thank you again and I hope to have you on again and continue this conversation.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: I would love that. I am honored, Ari, and I am in line with you. It was great conversation. Thank you so much.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, thank you. Have a great night.
Dr. Joan Rosenberg: You, too.
Why Emotional Resilience, Confidence, and Managing Negative Emotions Are The Secret Keys To an Amazing Life with Dr. Joan Rosenberg – Show Notes
The root causes of psychological illnesses (1:33)
The importance of human connectedness in emotional health and resilience (05:46)
The importance of confidence (09:46)
The Rosenberg Reset 90 seconds process (17:30)
Why people end up in maladaptive coping styles when processing their emotions (29:58)
How Dr. Rosenberg deals with Anxiety and Grief (46:37)
How to tackle disappointment in children (1:00:56)