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Podcast Ep. 2: Embracing Our Pain, Our Sensitivities, and Our Inner Critic With Jenny Walters, LMFT

In this episode


Today on The Family Thrive Podcast, licensed marriage family therapist Jenny Walters joins Justin and Audra to discuss Highly Sensitive People, living with pain and trauma, expectations, and the inner critic. Jenny recounts her life-altering journey to become a psychotherapist after working as an artist, Justin shares a story on how a moment of parent impatience revealed room for exploring his innermost emotions, and Audra discusses what she can do as a parent to stand by her kids and help them process pain, discomfort, and negativity rather than try to block them from those experiences.


About our guest


Jenny Walters
is a licensed marriage family therapist who specializes in working with highly sensitive people, who make up about 20% of the population. She is a graduate of the Pacifica Graduate Institute and is the founder and director of Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy in Los Angeles, California.


Show notes


Justin: You ever have those inner voices that are telling you you're not doing it right as a parent, you're not good enough, have you ever thought about how your own childhood emotional wounds are affecting your parenting?

Well, these are things that we think a lot about. So we were so lucky to have this amazing conversation with Jenny Walters, a licensed marriage family therapist from Los Angeles, California. We got into it all, it got deep, it got challenging, but if you are in the mood to go there with us, then get a cup of tea, take a deep breath, find a comfy seat on the couch and join us for this amazing conversation.

Jenny: People come to therapy wanting us to get rid of their pain, and they are at first disappointed to learn that it isn't about getting rid of the pain, it's the power we [have] in relationship to it.

Justin: What can I even say about Jenny Walters? We've been friends with her since our oldest son Max was born. I remember Jenny taking baby photos of Max, and at that time she was an artist in Los Angeles. A couple of years after that though she found her true calling and true creative outlet, which was in psychotherapy, and it was so cool to watch that journey and then to watch her blossom professionally, and now to have her on our podcast and to help us kick this podcast off, it's just like the stars are aligning.

So today, Jenny is a depth therapist who specializes in working with highly sensitive people—and in this conversation, I found out that I was a highly sensitive person. She also works with adult children of narcissists and borderline disorders. Her background is in union psychotherapy, so she works with patients to heal deep, unconscious traumas. She's a graduate of the Pacifica Graduate Institute, she is a founder and director for the Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles. If you wanna see more about her and what she does, you can find her at jennywalters.com

Let's just get straight into it. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

So, Jenny, I have a memory that you met Audra before I met you, is that right?

Audra: I don't think that's correct.

Jenny: I think you were both at the same barbecue where we met.

Justin: Oh, that's right.

Audra: But we spend time together, I think you were off...

Jenny: Yeah, I don't have any memory of chit-chatting with Justin, but Audra was like a beacon of light in a very dark storm. I had just moved to Los Angeles...

Justin: Actually, always is.

Jenny: Yeah, no kidding. That's the truth. I was in a horrible relationship, but that relationship brought me to that barbecue, and then I met Audra.

I’ve had a lot of those in my life where the vehicle was kind of gnarly, but it got me to these really great people, and Audra was really one of the first friends I made in Los Angeles, and she just took me in and...yeah, we became fast friends that day

Audra: I think you were one of my first friends too, because we had to move to LA much... Didn't we move around the same time?

Jenny: I don't know, I got there in late 2007.

Justin: So we were in 2005?

Audra: Yeah, I guess we were a little bit earlier, it didn't seem like it. [LA’s a tough place] to meet people and make friends. Isn't it? At least for me, it was.

Jenny: I agree; I've moved a lot in my life, and especially back then. LA was the last big move for me, but it had been preceded by many years of big moves to different cities, and I would say that Los Angeles was the toughest landing and the toughest place to really build a life. And I think it took me a self three years before I really felt at home there and felt like I had a community and I belonged. And that's not uncommon. I get a lot of transplants in my practice—in my therapy practice—and it's tough. It's a tough one, so I try to normalize that for people, just like LA's kind of hard to land in.

Justin: Okay, so here's my question, what was the impetus for you wanting to become a therapist?

Jenny: Maybe, yeah! I think LA was the final frontier of me having to confront things. Prior to being a therapist, I was teaching photography and art as an adjunct professor, which is a racket that's very difficult to survive in. There's no money. You're constantly hustling for work. So I was doing the starving artist thing, but the truth is, I really wasn't making art anymore, I was just trying to make a living, so I was pretty unhappy.

And then I moved to Los Angeles, it was kind of a Hail Mary. People ask why, and I wish I had a reason—I just felt like I needed to go to Los Angeles, but really everything in my life said, “This is a terrible idea.”

It was really hard, but now looking back, I'm so glad I did, because all my dreams came true. But they weren't dreams that I knew I had, so I was very attached to an idea of the way I thought my life needed to look, which involved having a successful art career. Marrying a man, having a family. This is what I thought I needed to look like.

But my life was not going that way, I was very unhappy, I was miserable, I was broke, and I started to just—also my body, I started to get sick. So I developed an auto-immune condition, my body started to break down, and it was really just my life was trying to shake me awake into some other knowing about what my calling was.

So I started getting acupuncture every week to try and get relief from the physical pain of this—at that point, kind of...well, it was diagnosed, but I didn't know how to treat the thyroid disorder that I had—and my acupuncturist also did energy healing, and I actually was really fascinated by it, so I started to study energy healing with her just on the side and got really into that started… I've always been interested in self-development, self-help, I was always reading the self-help books, and so I was always interested in psychology, but I just started to reconnect to this part of myself that had this inkling that I was being called to the healing arts and, I mean, it's not a fancy story, but I started to Google. Our good friend Google took me to Pacifica Graduate Institute, where I saw that you could study psychology through the lens of the imaginal and through the lens of myth and metaphor and psyche.

And I get chills thinking about it because that's exactly why I wanted to make art: was to create meaning-making and try to understand these bigger questions, that's why I made art. And so I thought, “Oh well, if I can get the same itch scratched, but actually make a living as a therapist, wouldn't that be nice?”

So that was kind of what got me to enroll at Pacifica, but I wasn't really sure until I started working with clients, and then I was hooked. That was when I was like, “Oh my god, this is amazing.” And it was so much more satisfying than art-making because there was an instant connection and instant moments of understanding and just all that stuff you want your art to do, but...if no one looks at it, that doesn't happen. So that was really exciting, so that was this after I could start working with people, I was hooked and that was my journey.

Justin: So Jenny, you are not a parent yourself, but you are passionate about family mental health— parents’ mental and emotional health. What is your connection? How does that fire you up?

Jenny: Yeah, I'm not a parent to human children, and I do have two fur babies...

Justin: What are their names?

Jenny: June and Oh Hi, and they are very special snowflakes, very different animals, but anyway...

Well, so yeah, having a family wasn't in the cards for me. I met my wife late in my 30s, and I've always been a bit of a late bloomer, and so we wanted to spend...we were really wanting to spend time just the two of us, and then it was too late, so we decided not to have a family, but we are really dedicated to our chosen family, and our chosen family is filled with lots of children, and these kids are a really important part of our lives—like yours are part of that chosen family.

But my dedication to it and my interest in it is that I think if we can start to help children and families understand their internal experiences and help them make sense of it and start to value that as a culture, that we could change the world. So when parents are doing their own internal work, they are in turn helping children make sense of their lives in their worlds, which are not going to be free of suffering, as you two know, as much as we'd love that to be the case. It's just not how it goes for humans, and when we avoid it, when we pretend it's not there; we don't help, we are not helping anything, and we're actually really traumatizing and confusing kids.

And so when we can be courageous and brave and look at our own stuff and help our children understand and look at their own suffering, we're less likely to be acting it out unconsciously out in the world, and we're less likely to be jerks, and I think that we can...I don't know, I think we can change the world, so I think it starts young. So I feel very passionate about that.

Justin: I’ve found that personally for myself, that I, as a parent, for so many years, was just working out a lot of my own issues out on to my kids, and it was like over the past few years, realizing, “Wow, my own mental and emotional health and wellness is absolutely crucial in raising these kids, so they don't pass down. What was passed down to me.”

Audra: Yeah, yeah, can I add to that? Because it really strikes me as a powerful paradigm shift in parenting and our approach to being in family and being in community. So you are in family Jenny fully with your chosen family, or you're being in family in the space. And I think this would come naturally to think, “Yes, I potentially suffered from significant trauma, maybe I was abused, I will... The buck stops here. I will work hard to make sure I don't abuse my child…” Right?

I've heard of this line of thinking before, but to take that out into... Then instead of like, “Okay, maybe it's not completely abusive, my acting out of my stuff, or it’s my anxiety or whatever it might be, it may not be abusive, but am I setting up my child for success? Or my family for success? Am I creating an environment of flourishing?”

It's almost like you're in preventive health to some degree; helping people live their best lives and do that in family and therefore changing the world because we are changing the way we are doing this together and... Yeah, you're not damaging your—well we all have our damages, it hurts, I guess—but it does seem like a beautiful...it was a beautiful mission and a beautiful vision, and one that really excites me to hear you talking about it because it's so positive and proactive.

Jenny: Well, thanks. Yeah, I mean, I think we're becoming more evolved whereas, like you said, it may have been before so overt: “Well, I was abused, I won't abuse.”

I think we're getting into a much more nuanced understanding of mental health and wellness, which excites me because in my former life as a photographer to make ends meet, I had a photography business where I photographed babies and children, and so I worked with a lot of families in that way, and what I noticed was that there were a lot of parents who were trying to parent differently than they have been parented.

Where they had maybe been overly frustrated by their parents, maybe a lot of rules and not a lot of building up of self-esteem and a lot of affirmations, I noticed a lot of parents going this extreme other end where if the child was experiencing any discomfort at all, everything had to stop, we had to get the kid comfortable again. And now that generation is showing up in my room, in my therapy room, and they have a different confused relationship with suffering.

Justin: So what strikes me there is the wanting to protect your kids from any discomfort at all is just working out those issues, I mean, it seems to me it's a product of the parent oneself not being comfortable with distress, not being able to regulate one’s on emotions and deal with challenges, and so now you're gonna protect your kids from challenges and from stress and from different emotions.

Jenny: Exactly, I mean, the kind of therapy I do is sometimes called integrative therapy. Depth therapy, integrative therapy, and the ideas that we're integrating all parts of ourselves, and I like to think too, that we need to integrate all parts: we wanna get the insides and the outsides lined up, so we're in our integrity, but the outsides as well, and this says that all things can be here. So good and bad feelings can be here, not just good feelings, but good and bad feelings that we can grow tolerance and resilience around that, and we can learn how to help our kids know when they feel bad, it's okay that you feel bad... I'm here to be with you when you feel bad, I'm not gonna try and fix it, I'm just gonna…and we're gonna get to the other side of this. That is so empowering. I have so many young adults that have shown up that were...there is such an aversion to any kind of “negative feeling” or distress or this pressure to be the level of perfectionism that's showing up and…

And not to get political or anything, but it just speaks to me of this sort of narcissism in our culture: if something matters and something doesn't, it's good or it's bad, you're a winner or you're a loser, and it's like we just miss out on our humanity, and we miss out on each other and... It's a split...our psyche is split, which always is pain and suffering, and so if we can integrate all those parts and help our kids integrate them all, what a world we live in, you know?

Justin: This is something that's very real for me. When we... So we recently moved to Savannah, Georgia. We lived in Southern California for 15 years, and we made this big move, and it was, for the kids, it was a really big move and I was feeling a little—I don't know—guilty for pulling them out of their environment that they grew up in and moving all clear across the country because Audra and I thought it'd be cool and fun.

And so, when they would express distress around this, I was experiencing myself like, “Oh, let's just distract ourselves,” or “Let's bribe them,” or “Let's do...is there any way we can just make these challenging emotions stop?” And then, because of the work I've been doing over the past couple of years, I realize like, “Oh.” I... I need to do exactly what you're saying.

Like, “Let's make space for this. Let's make space for feeling sad, let's make space for being angry, let's just open up and just let it be here.” And it was amazing once I kind of let down my guard around that and just let the feelings be expressed. We could move them, they just kinda needed to be moved and just processed at expressed… And that was it!

Audra: Do you remember—was it at dinner just last night—we were talking about this, and Max said that he just doesn't like anything new. And one thing that came up that I asked him, it wasn't that he just doesn't like anything new; it's that everything new that's happened to him since he was four-and-a-half, has been kind of bad news, been really hard. [And] just for him to be able to let it out without judgment...

Justin: And for us to get curious about it...

Jenny: And to name that and acknowledge it, and so now we can have a more nuanced understanding of it so that, “Oh, maybe this is a different kind of new than the kind of new that you've known,” and then just acknowledging how hard transition and change is.

And you know, also, side note: I work with a lot of people who would identify as highly sensitive, which is actually a legit research classification, that some people are more sensitive and that they are receiving more kind of sensate information in lots of different ways all the time—and transition’s really hard for those folks, it's really...it feels really uncomfortable and instead of it being shamed, we can just acknowledge it and know that and [if] there's a transition coming, we need to take our time with it. We need to be tender. We need to be talking about it. And that, just like you said, Justin, when you came out of the block around, it's like coming out of the resistance, it just lessens the pain so much so what a great insight for you guys to have around him and as a family, his experience...

Justin: How does one know if one is a sensitive individual? 'Cause I might be one.

Audra: You've always self-identified as one.

Justin: Yeah.

Jenny: It's a great question. Okay, so have you been called over-sensitive your whole life?

Justin: Audra, what do you think?

Audra: You've called yourself sensitive your whole life, but I don't know that you have been called sensitive.

Justin: I think I've been able to hide it and find ways to cope.

Audra: I found you to be trigger-y, if you will, around me...

Jenny: Yeah, are you sensitive to lights and sounds? Do you... For example, I cannot tolerate—my wife makes fun of me—I cannot handle overhead lighting.

Justin: Oh my god, me too! Right now, I'm just dealing...

Audra: Jenny, he turns off all the lights, he prefers for us to live maybe by one candle that we carry around.

Justin: And I rationalize it by saying, “What about we're saving electricity? Or were saying global climate change,” but it's really that... Yes, overhead lighting.

Jenny: So that what you just named right there is that you have this heightened sensitivity to light and then there's this shame around it, so we have to rationalize it. So that is a great way of telling if you're a highly sensitive person, is that that’s a really unconscious experience for a lot of people who are HSP, because it's like, it's different.

It's only about 20% of the population has this sensitivity, and I don't think it's better or worse, it's just different. It's a different way of receiving and processing, we just tend to process... And what I say is, I feel like it sounds like it's... I mean, it's better, but we just process a little more intensely, a little more deeply.

Justin: It sounds better, yeah.

Jenny: But it's actually a real pain in the butt. And for a lot of us, I can say a trajectory for a lot of us is just a lot of anxiety, a lot of over-identifying, when we feel something, we assume it's ours, and so a lot of the work around being a highly sensitive person is learning how to identify what's yours and what is something that you're picking up on, and then a lot of processing needs to be a big part of your existence.

Justin: Oh wow. Yeah, okay, so we are gonna have to cut this part short because I totally wanna talk about this and make it all about me.

Audra: No, but it sounds like this...this is a bigger topic to talk about. One thing that really strikes me though is, not to get too granular here, is that you've never struck me as somebody who is completely empathetic when it comes to other peoples...

Justin: It’s just coping, where it's like I'll just shut myself off,

Audra: Oh, you just shut it down.

Justin: Yeah, that’s why I identified with “what’s mine” and “what’s others’.” There are some documentaries that I will watch that will make me just really feel like, “Oh my god, am I maybe?

Audra: Which one was the last one? Yeah.

Justin: It was this HBO documentary about this cult in Albany…

Jenny: The NXIVM... Oh my god, I did such a deep dive on that.

Justin: Oh my god, and it just messed me up. About 30 years ago [or] 20 years ago, there was this... It was a documentary about this guy in Wisconsin who made horror movies.

Jenny: Oh, the real low-grade budget ones. I remember this movie, yes. Didn’t he work in a cemetery cleaning up poop and stuff? Like people poop in cemeteries.

Justin: Yes, and the running joke throughout it is that he was pronouncing this word incorrectly... What was it?

Jenny: “Cove-in!”

Audra: “Cove-in!” That was it!

Justin: It was like coven, “No, cove-in.” And I remember at the time I was watching this, I think I had just graduated undergrad and I wasn't sure what I was gonna do with my life, and that movie messed me up for days. I was like, I'm gonna be him. Like that, and it was weird I just...

Jenny: Yeah, Justin, we need to do a separate convo. That was... Just constantly projecting yourself into other people's lives and [thinking that is] going to be your life—that was my favorite pastime for most of my twenties.

Justin: Oh my god. Oh, okay, so one more thing, what about showers? Is it harder to get it just right where hot and cold—like ah, that’s too hot, that’s too cold, that’s too hot, that’s too cold. Our right temperature is just so finally tuned?

Jenny: That could definitely be a sensor, a sensory thing. Like a touch thing can be something that is up for you in terms of how you have your sensate experience. Or sounds. Like certain sounds can really...

So there are lots of... It looks different for every person, and that's why it's really important to you.

I'm actually working on a course about this, it’s called “The Sensitive Uprising,” 'cause I'm just like...'cause if sensitive people can understand this part of themselves, it turns out—studies show—that highly sensitive folks are actually really incredibly resilient. They make good leaders because we're really good at listening for nuance and having this kind of more nuanced insights and stuff. But usually, we're so overwhelmed and we have no idea how to navigate the sensitivity that we're just rocking in a corner having little anxiety attacks.

Justin: Oh, I love this. I’m glad that we could take this little detour. Maybe there are parents out there who are recognizing this...

Jenny: And recognizing it in their kids. 'Cause I grew up in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, so I was always told I was over-sensitive, I mean, this was not in any way valued at all in my family.

Justin: So Jenny, I wanted to ask, in the therapeutic, psycho-emotional health world, it seems to me that pretty much every major issue is just childhood wounds, childhood emotions. In your experience, does everything just really go back to childhood or is there more to it?

Jenny: I think a lot does. I think there's more to it, and people will have different opinions about this. What's sad is that what you just named is what keeps people from going to therapy because they think that we're just going to sit and vilify their parents. And again, it's about having a more holistic understanding of your experiences, but I'll just go through the things that I think make up what shows up in my therapy room.

One is inter-generational trauma. So we know trauma gets handed down in your DNA, so you're gonna show up into your life with trauma you didn't actually experience firsthand, but it's actually in your body. That's a piece of it, and that of course can extend to the trauma, the collective trauma: racism, patriarchy, white supremacy, all that. I mean, so that's in your body.

Then there’s... Sure, there's the childhood experiences that you have, and sometimes those aren't actually what you would think of as trauma—and I have a great example. So when I was studying EMDR, which is a trauma therapy called it's Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, it has a very sexy title that no one can remember, but basically what we learned is that when we activate a certain part of your brain, while we're remembering traumatic experiences if we process it and it discharges it from your body and you no longer have that trauma response that fight, flight, freeze.

So it's a game-changer, and it's an amazing therapy, but when I was studying it, one of the stories they told was about this man who was deeply phobic of shoes, which is a strange—that's hard to be afraid of shoes. That's a tough one. And when they were doing EMDR—and he'd been to so many therapists and phobia therapist, and nothing helped—well, when they did EMDR and they started getting into his memories and he was just kind of free-associating to memories. He went back to when he was five years old his grandma died, and he asked Mom, “Where did Grandma go?” And she said, “The angels took her soul up to heaven.” And as a five-year-old, he thought a soul was the sole of the shoe. And he made an association with that and death. And that got stored in his memory network and in his body and carried forward into this deep phobia for 30 years, and then when they [concluded that] with the EMDR, he was no longer afraid of shoes.

That's not something you would—I mean the parent didn't do anything wrong there. I know that's a perfectly reasonable thing to tell a five-year-old. But in terms of letting parents off the hook, we are humans raising humans, and it is every human being’s, I think, job to work through your emotional difficulties, experiences, and sufferings, and there is no way to raise a child without them experiencing suffering, so just let yourself off that hook.

Certainly, we can take responsibility for our stuff and not be harming them in overt ways, but there are ways in which kids are gonna feel hurt and powerless that we couldn't predict, we couldn't control. So just let to people off the hook: that there is no way to raise a child without pain. And can we just breathe a sigh of relief there?

Justin: And... Yeah, that pain is a part of life and we're bringing kids into this world.

Audra: It's a part of humanity.

I think it's so important, Jenny, too. Because so often, parents are in so much pain seeing their child in pain. They want to relieve their own pain, not just their child’s pain, but they don't wanna have to go through seeing their kids go through the typical, normal things in life, the Mean Girl syndrome and not having any friends, whatever it might be—the normal things. And these are not things for us to manage in that way of preventing them, we're removing every obstacle, it's how do we process these obstacles together?

Jenny: Exactly, I mean, I once met with a therapist and he was kind of this older surfer-slash-psychoanalyst guy, like very California therapist. He was probably in like his 70s, and he said, “You know, people come to therapy wanting us to get rid of their pain and they are at first disappointed to learn we teach them how to suffer; that it isn't about getting rid of the pain, it's the power we [have] in relationship to it.”

When you try to eliminate the pain and suffering, you also eliminate your experience of joy because you can't cut off one end and not the other, and so what we end up doing is living on this little island of a very limited amount of emotionality. And what's astounding to watch with clients—and it was true for me too—that when I could allow these other harder feelings to be here, more joy showed up as well, and I started to have a more expansive experience.

Justin: I've experienced that as well. Oh my gosh, yeah. And I so identify with the patients who are coming in and have issues with their parents and bring a lot of energy around their own childhood, and I certainly—although I love my parents and they know that—I dealt with a lot of that.

And one therapist I worked with told me, and this was a game-changer for me, that there was nothing that my parents today could do or say to fix any of that. There's nothing, and that all I needed to do is grieve, just grieve that whatever that happened to that four-year-old, whatever happen to that eight-year-old, that 13-year-old, great. There's nothing they can do. There's no magic words, they can say there's no...because it's gone, it's done. But that was in the past, and you just need to grieve it. And I was like, oh my god, what a game-changer for me and my relationship with my parents and my childhood emotional wounds.

Jenny: Well, yeah, grieving is such an integrative process because it's an acceptance of death and a processing of it. And it's like the process I see is people come in and they—not for everyone—but a typical one can be: “I don't wanna talk about my parents. They were amazing. They did the best they could.” There's this fear that if we talk about what hurt that we’re making them all bad, so we gotta have them all good.

Okay, then we start to open up and then we go into...they may slip and we're in the all-bad place. How could they do that? “They're horrible.” And then we allow them to start to be humans and we start to know about their compassion. We start to compassion for them without disowning our experiences. And then it's like it can be this more integrative place of like, “Okay, they were humans. Yes, they screwed up, but they also... I can see their own trauma and I can hold it.”

And that's a lot to hold. That's complex, and I don't know, if you look around our culture right now, people don't like to hold complexity; they want it to be black and white, they want it to be right and wrong, and it's like, this work, this is just not the truth of...

Justin: It’s not the truth, that'll mess you up.

Jenny: Yeah, it keeps you in deep, deep pain when things have to be split apart and all or nothing like that.

Justin: And it keeps one from being the best parent that they can be. Like, this is not a game for black-and-white thinking.

Audra: Jenny, do you see that pain can be so painful that it leads to, potentially for many people, the desire to control it, numb it altogether, and that very often leads to the lawnmower-ing, the control of the entire environment?

Jenny: Yep.

Audra: Try to keep the pain that is inevitable in this way at bay, but it's always there.

Jenny: Absolutely. And I can say I have a lot of compassion for that response, you know? Alcoholism is up right now, drinking, and we are in a moment of something is out of our control, and a lot of people got no help knowing how to be in relationship with something like that. And so, yeah: numbing, disassociating. Like we were talking about sensitive people, like I'm the same way. I tend to just be like, “Bye. I’m outta here.”

My therapist calls it the “skis away skedaddle,” which—a little therapy lingo there. Yeah, absolutely, in the controlling, the anxiety of needing things to be perfect, needing things to be on a trajectory… That was a big piece of pain in my life: was that my life path has been very circuitous, and I had so much shame around that, that I should have known what I wanted to do.

I think we're coming out of this as people who have more complex career paths, but I was in the generation where I was like, “Yeah, you can be a barista in your twenties, but then you gotta pick something and go with it.” And I didn't... I was all over the place. A lot of pain in that. So yeah, and I think that's true.

Audra: Jenny, I wanted to talk about that actually. I think that we have some questions coming up more about emotional health and parenting. But going back to your story, I just find it to be so powerful, because when we're just talking to you just now like, this is you. Through and through, the you I've always known, but I've also known you in different places with different careers, and I feel like we've learned so much together and we've grown so much together. Yet, this is the you I've always known. This is like...the you that's always been there, always been my friend is like, you sort of unlocked the box and it's all there.

And one thing, I remember really vividly, was processing with you your art career, and the fact that the performance of artists and a fine artist, because you're a fine art photographer, in many ways. You have many things, right? And this is one of the things: you are an incredible photographer, not just of children and babies, but fine, fine art, and how challenging it was to have to perform this perfection-driven persona and life and all of the requirements that went with that never, ever sat with you as I remember—and correct me if I'm wrong.

And then I remember there being guilt around that because you're kind of supposed to want to lean into that as an artist, and then I remember getting in... You introduced me to Brené Brown, actually. I feel like she'd broke open for so many of us to say, “Wait, let...let's talk about perfection openly.” And so, is this a part of your Genesis? Because I feel like there is very much an intuitive, spiritual aspect when you talk about energy work with this. That this has always been there for you. I feel like I've so valued our time together, wrestling with all of this, and you in many ways followed your gut and intuition down this path and have used this experience to kind of open up this space moving forward. Or do you have any reflections on that?

Jenny: You’re totally right. First of all, that's...what you just described is why we're dear friends: is that there's a soul connection that I feel like we have, that you could see that in me when I couldn't see it in myself, and when I was in a really a bit of a hot mess there—I mean, let’s be honest—you've been very generous in how you described it.

Audra: You didn’t seem like a hot mess to me!

Jenny: I felt like it for sure.

Audra: But for us, the struggle was real.

Jenny: The struggle was real.

Audra: It was objectively real to me.

Jenny: Yeah, but I think the evolution for me has been, and I think this happens in therapy a lot, is... I was very attached to a concrete understanding of my life and that it needed to look a certain way. And it was a very limited imagining—it wasn't even that imaginative. But it was as a visual artist in the fine art world, which is, you're right, it never jived with me. It was never who I was. It just requires a certain persona just to really succeed in that world that I just wasn't... It just isn’t who I am.

And as things shifted, I started to trust the unseen world a bit more, you know? The intuition, the knowing, the spiritual has been a big part of that for me. And that's what I noticed with clients is they come in and they are like, “Okay, I just need to find the right partner and the right job, and I will be happy.” And then I have to give them the bad news of like, it just doesn't work that way. Because I sit with people who have the right job and the right partner, and they're miserable. And when you're trying to force those concrete pieces around, it's very hard to push concrete, but when you start to get these interior pieces understood and in connection with souls’ calling, and that's what I meant when I was saying like doing the therapeutic work is the same feel as what I was trying to get in art-making. And if I'm in the feeling of my soul's calling, who cares what it looks like? If it's being an artist or being a therapist, it’s like, if I'm happy, who cares?

Audra: Oh, and it's incredible that you tapped into that. Like one thing, I'm in awe of it, because one thing that seems to be potentially a really big challenge for people is that when you are good at that thing that doesn't feel right, you can get by. You can get by doing it, but it doesn't feel right. And you just know on your intuitive level it's not the right way, it's not the way, the right way to manifest this, or to live this part of yourself, right?

Jenny: Yeah.

Audra: So how do you trust that? And therefore, as parents, I think one thing that gets really challenging—that's hard enough with us, right? But then as a parent, you end up in the space of like: “What do you wanna do with your life? I don't care who you are, right? What do you wanna do with your life? What are your interests?”

You wanna cultivate these things and tie them into jobs, and there is a challenge in that because you don't want to pigeon-hole, you wanna teach that intuitive knowing. How do you do that when you don't know that for yourself or you're just trying to uncover that?

Jenny: Great question. It's rhetorical, right? I don't have to answer that do I?

I think you start by posing the question, you start by noticing your own experience so that you aren't projecting it onto your kids. And also letting your kids be different. My wife and I've been talking a lot lately about the concept of fruit smoothie and fruit salad, and this comes from a friend of mine, Annette Leonard, who... She actually has a podcast called “Chronic Wellness,” and it's about helping people with chronic illness live in a state of health. But anyway, she can't remember who said this, so if anyone knows, I’m all for giving credit where credit is due. But it's about this idea of when we all need to be exactly alike, and I think parents can do this with kids where we want our kids to be how we think they should be, and it’s usually...it’s something to do with us.

And so we're in this... We're insisting on this fruit smoothie experience, and we really wanna be a fruit salad where we're all in the same bowl, but you’re pineapple and I’m mango and sometimes I don't like pineapple, but you still get to be here. So can your kids have a different experience than you, and also can we not put pressure on kids to live a corrective experience for us?

Audra: Oh! Beautiful point too.

Jenny: Like, “Oh, I made this mistake, I don't want you to make that mistake.”  You know what? They’re gonna make the mistakes they're gonna make.

Audra: And kids know that very often. I mean, I remember saying to my parents, my kids have said to me, “Well, I need to make the mistake so I can learn.”

Jenny: Yeah! Wow. Wisdom. It's true, right? It's like, can we trust in our okayness; even in the midst of mistakes, even in the midst of bad or hard feelings, even in the midst of suffering, can we know about some level of okayness and connectedness—and this is really the spiritual part comes in for me—I'm here living this life as a human on this planet, and I also feel like I am you and you are me. It's like we are connected. So can I hold both of those? And in that there is an okayness that for me was very helpful with my anxiety in terms of feeling more at peace with myself.

Audra: It's powerful, so powerful, Jenny, 'cause it makes me really think about… There's a major transition in parenting that I don't feel like I recall reading about or hearing about or anything like that. 'Cause if you are in the position to start out with a baby in some way, and then parent that baby into childhood and beyond—not every parent has this experience, but I think many, many do.

And you start out caretaking, and you start out knowing this baby, knowing when they need this and not the other. And there is that parenting where it's like, I get to think I know you, and have seen this from the beginning, and this sort of sense of you kind of being a part of me, but also that you know I know who you are. And then there's this transition where these human beings are their own people, and there's a breaking point where I think it really is super, super important to learn how to notice it within yourself to start to honor that they are their own people.

They are not mini you’s, they're not... You don't know them better than they do. There might be some ways in which you do, but we can just jump to that so fast and be like, “No, I know what you actually mean” and not let them represent themselves. You know things like that and how to help parents start to notice the space of transition and start to move along through it.

I don't think we really are...we're not raised with these tools, and most of us, in experience, I haven't seen that many books. I feel like we need help.

Jenny: Well, I think what your naming is—I think it's right on. And I think what we need to notice is when that opportunity is presenting itself and then noticing what about it causes us to be anxious or causes us to wanna double-down on regressing them back into this place where we're a fruit smoothie, where we're all the same, and “I know you.”

And it's like the parents have to deal with their own anxiety, and I think that's the work: is owning like, “Oh, it makes me anxious to let you go.” It's really...to wear your heart outside of you at all times in the form of a child, and then to start to have to let it live its life and still have that level of connection. I mean, that is... Talk about needing some resilience around that, but if you can't acknowledge that, it kicks up a new fear or anxiety and then we can’t do anything with it.

Justin: That has been a game-changer for me to just [ask] the simple question of, “What am I feeling right now?” And then just to go further of like, “No, no, no. Try to get more detail with that. What are you feeling?”

And I remember a revelation working in therapy about a year ago, where I was talking about this time when I had kind of blown up at Max... It was early in the morning, and I like to have my quiet mornings, and he was asking to play video games before school. This is right before the Covid thing hit, and I was like, “No, you can't play video games before school. That's not what we do.” And he kept nagging. And then I just blew up at him and I was really angry. And he kind of was like, “That was mean” and then went off.

And I talked about this 'cause it's stuck with me for a couple of days, and it was really just doing the work of “No, what were you feeling?” And like, “What was that?” And just get into the emotions, not why. “Let's not create a story, just try to get deeper about what you were feeling.”

And finally, I got this part, I was like, “Oh my god, I was feeling helpless.” That's why I lashed out at him. It was not him, it was not all the other things, it was this emotional feeling of helplessness.

Audra: And you actually talked to Max about it after, which I thought was really amazing. And something that I wish I had known earlier in my parenting is like, you don't have to have all of the answers in a split second. Who invented this idea that parents have to have immediate comebacks for everything and I know what to do? You can pause. You can also come back later and apologize later and have conversations about it, not like it's all over in a second, you know?

Justin: This was literally the week before everything closed down for Covid, and so I was like… I was teaching at the time, I had a couple of classes and I didn't know what was gonna happen with those and...the whole world felt like something bad was just about to happen.

Jenny: So there was an underlying feeling of helplessness.

Justin: Yeah, so then it was like, I've no idea what's going on and I can't stop it, and so I was like... Okay.

Audra: Plus the narrative of being a bad parent if I let you play video games before school, there’s a lot of things like that.

Justin: And I have emotions around that. Like if you play video games before school, I am a bad parent. I will be judged harshly by someone somewhere...

Jenny: Yeah, no pressure.

Audra: Yeah, I know, right?

Jenny: Yeah, and so the Max just kind of unknowingly stepped in that. He kind of unknowingly stepped into that helpless feeling and for you to process that with them is just... I mean, that's the game-changer right there. Because now he understands. That's just great.

And in terms of what you're saying, Audra, about their repair after, and this idea we have to know exactly what we're doing. I train therapists now, and there's this pressure they put on themselves to have these perfect sessions where we know exactly how to respond to someone. And I'm like, “No, that is not how life goes, and that is...not how therapy is going to go. What's great is they come back next week to talk about it.” Then it's just all grist for the mill; we get to talk about it, that's the beauty of doing this work every week.

Audra: Jenny, that's amazing. That’s like the slowing down that it seems like we need to be bringing into our society and culture in these ways that feel completely unexpected to me, I had no idea that therapists have that...feel that sense of pressure.

Justin: I can imagine, though, that they would... And what comes up for me is my most impactful therapy encounters have been just another human being bearing witness, just bearing witness like pain or discomfort... Just see me.

Jenny: Me too. Me too. I was just sharing that with one of my associates, who was kind of stressing out about not having had the exact experience that her client had had, and her client was super upset and dysregulated, and just feeling like, feeling like she needed to fix it. And I was remembering a time in my own therapy where I had recently lost my sister-in-law to a horrific disease and it was a total trauma and tragedy, and I just sat on that couch and wept for 50 minutes, and we just sat together and I wept. And he said one thing at the very end. And to just have that space to be held and to be seen, I will never forget that session: it was profound and it really helped me grieve. So, yeah… Fixing it isn't where it's at, that's not gonna work and we can't fix it.

Justin: Jenny, I’ve had a... I don't know if this is a full-blown realization yet, but that for guys, and if any dads are listening to this, when we're confronted with the emotional distress in our family, we wanna fix it. Like, “What is the problem? Can we just fix it?” And the realization that I had was “oh my god, fixing is a way of avoiding.” It's a way of avoiding the emotional pain that is happening and allowing it to be processed and expressed. Like, if you want to avoid the emotional pain... Can I make this go away?

Jenny: Would you say that it's also a way to avoid a particular feeling of powerlessness?

Justin: Oh my god. Yeah, right? Yeah, I didn't go that far and I can appreciate that insight. Yeah, yeah.

Jenny: And I think for the cultural identity of men and this pressure... I think the patriarchy hurts men as much as it hurts women in many ways. And this pressure that you guys have to be in power, that you have to be in a state of feeling in-power at all times—and that's just not true of our human experience. There are going to be times where we just simply are powerless, or we are helpless, or we are not in control, but if that's not okay, that means something bad about you.

Justin: That whole thing has changed for me, where I feel like the real strength and power is in being able to acknowledge the helplessness and express it and name it. That takes a real man. Like, come on, you're being a baby if you just wanna just shove it down, repress it, avoid it, ignore it. Like, come on, man, let's go out. Let's do this.

Audra: I agree that this has been really life-changing for you, and in terms of also your view on masculinity and fatherhood and all of that, it's been really life-changing. But wouldn't you say that these things still pop up and you still need to process them?

Justin: Oh my god, all the time. All the time. It’s just that when I'm emotionally activated, I now have tools and I've now practiced it, practiced enough to be able to identify, observe what's happening. Give it some words, dig a little deeper, give us some even better words, and then express it, cry it out if I have tears, just move the energy. And now it goes through so fast and it's like, “Oh, that’s it. Now I've identified it. Now I've expressed it and now we can start to move on.”

Audra: I just want to be clear, for any fathers who might be listening at some point, that it doesn't mean that you're just over it or as you’re immune to these things, that everything has changed, it's just that you have the tools to process.

And it makes me think, Jenny, that this is probably a really powerful conversation to be had, maybe at more length at some time for parents, because we're talking about our inter-relational worlds together as a family, and we've been talking about our relationships with kids. But as partners and as life partners, it really struck me talking about this power and the control and how that's sort of built into how you are raised as a man, and how that can present.

And so I know in our relationship at times there's been things that, for example, Justin has not liked various things like in my lifestyle or things that you have had questions or concerns about; I know that I'm probably not alone in this as a partner and as a woman. And so I think, even going both ways, but I think that it has the tie in the control part and the helplessness part actually helps me on the other side of it as well, having an understanding that it's also not necessarily just about me.

Jenny: It’s that you don't have to take it personally. Yeah, I think that's a big thing that you just named Audra. I've known that in my own marriage that just by understanding where my partner is coming from…not in a defensive way, but in a vulnerable way. Then I can access—I don't have to take it personally—I can access some compassion. I can still be upset, I can still have my feelings, you know? It's not one or the other, but I can kind of hold both of like, “Well, I don't have to vilify her or make it all bad or…”

And I think what you said too, Justin, is right on. It’s that we're going to have emotional reactions, we’re going to be activated and triggered. Things happen, but it's how you move through it, how you're in relationship with it and it sounds like you've gotten these tools. And sometimes people think that therapists have it all figured out and it's like, no I get in arguments with my partner. I can sometimes slip into road rage and I just like... But I have an awareness that I didn't have.

Audra: Along these lines, Jenny, I'd love to know with our partners, with our family, the family unit, I think there's a fine line between—'cause we all want the best for our loved ones, be it our parents, our children, our Life Partners, extended family, we all want the best—what's that line and how do you grapple with wanting the best for these folks or loved ones and then stepping into control, wanting to see that outcome, wanting to have control of the outcome that we see? Like how do you manage that?

Jenny: I think whenever we’re in a controlling mindset or place inside, it's a moment to stop and check ourselves because the truth is you cannot control your partner. Like you just can't.

Now, with kids, it's different and...there is some level of control that you need to be having in terms of boundaries and things—and then you have boundaries with your partner—but it's different in that you cannot make them be who you want them to be. And that's true with kids: you can't make them be who you want them to be, and if we're in that headspace, I think that's the moment to pause and see what's going on.

Usually, it means some of my needs aren't getting met in my partnership. I just try to bring it back to what I do have some say over, which is myself. So what am I needing that I'm not getting? Where is connection getting forwarded? What is it to me if my partner does this or doesn't do it? Like you're doing that drilling down... So my partner makes this choice, what impact is it having? Okay, there is this outside impact, but what's the internal impact?

Justin: What is the emotional... What are the feelings that come up when your partner does X or when your child does? That for me has been really big. I've been able to see that, oh, I get emotionally triggered—I'll just say around Max's video game time—and to really just start to dig into that feeling. Like what is coming up emotionally around that? And it's a lot of feelings around being a bad parent; that if he’s playing video games then I'm bad.

Jenny: So that’s about you.

Justin: Yes, exactly, exactly, 100%. So then I get to get that little bit of insight that it’s not about his video game playing. Now, the video game playing can be excessive and there are problems with it, but video game playing as such... That's mine. That's my stuff.

Jenny: It sounds like you're figuring out where those two exist, so there's a place where there's a boundary with the video games, which is a choice for Max's well-being, and then there's a place where it starts to tip into stuff that's about you that is not Max's job to fix with whether or not he’s playing video games.

I think another piece of this, too, is just plain old frustration tolerance. Just like me in my marriage, and I'm sure my wife would say about me, it's like: what are the things that are deal-breakers? And what are the things that I just need to tolerate that she's different and I'm different from her, and that we're not gonna do it exactly the same way?

Audra: Such a good point.

Jenny: It is frustrating, but there's still all this good here that keeps me in this relationship, and so what do I choose to kind of focus on? And what then needs to be a conversation or sometimes a fight? Sometimes we need to fight it out, but...boy, I don't know about you guys but my marriage asks so much of me in terms of growing and...

Justin: Yes, it does.

Jenny: But there's a richness in it, like right when you're in the hard part of it, it blows. But when you get on the other side, doesn’t it feel like you climbed a mountain together or something?

Justin: Oh my gosh, I am more in love today than I've ever been. It is the work, and it's not...I don't mean it's the work between us, I feel like it's doing my work that has opened up, just a lot of avenues for just a deeper connection.

Audra: And I feel the same way with the kids. And it does bring me to... There's something that I want, I wanna get out and understand a little bit better, Jenny. When it comes to the burgeoning personhood and one's responsibility for oneself, and when we are in these close relationships, we can often overstep these bounds when we’re taking responsibility for each other. And so how do I help my kids honor who they are? Know that person, honor who they are: they want to take care of themselves, they want to live their best lives. And then how do I respect and trust that?

So how do I step out of paternalism? We need to have boundaries and we need to teach them, so that's a hard part because it's like it's incumbent on us to show them the ropes, but then that we can kind of often...I feel like over-step that into a “you just need to follow what I say.” But I do think that we need to honor and respect each other as autonomous, individual human beings as well, who are self-interested and want to live good lives.

Jenny: What's it like to invite them into that question? Like that's something you guys could figure out together.  Kids need that container. We all need the container. We all need boundaries because they feel good, actually. It feels good to know where our edges are and where you end and I begin, and what is expected.

And when that's communicated directly, it feels really good, but I mean, as the kids are getting older, I don't know. What would it be like to invite them into that conversation of like, you know, “We need to have some rules here,” and “I'm really interested in what you're wanting to get out of this,” “What do you think you would like to have happen here?”

Audra: I like that.

Jenny: I mean, obviously you can't do that at every age, but I think there is a certain age where it's like you can start to invite their voice into the conversation...

Audra: No, I think that you're completely right… I think that just bringing that out, even having the sentence stems and examples, I think is really helpful for parents. What are the questions...that I can ask myself? I think having those questions of “How can I invite in this conversation with my kids?” I have seen just some beautiful things happen as my kids take responsibility for themselves. Maesie has done the most amazing—it has been an amazing shift for her as a child with dyslexia, taking ownership of her school and her progress, and it was like a flip of a switch. It was amazing when she took ownership and wasn't just told what to do, but took it on herself.

Justin: And her particular learning strategies.

Audra: It's the coolest thing. So I've learned from just experiencing that with her, and I know that this is something that parents experience because it is a fine line between setting up boundaries and then over-stepping them sometimes into control, 'cause we don't know what else to do and...we weren't raised with having these conversations. Most of—a lot of us—were raised with “because I say so,” “'cause this is what's best.”

Jenny: Yeah, and I think a lot of those moments happen sometimes quickly, and we feel that pressure. You're talking about having to do it right in the minute, I mean, can we time out? If a kid asks you a question about a boundary and you really don't know, it's...okay to be like, “Let me get back to you on that.” Or like, “This is part of it I can tell you now and this part, we need to talk about more.”

Not having to have it all figured out, letting it evolve like with Maesie’s relationship to her dyslexia and things like that. “Let's try this” and “Let's check in around it, 'cause we might wanna try something else, that we can be more creative together about it.” And not having to have some pressure being a good parent or a bad parent...

Audra: Oh my gosh. What I'm hearing, Jenny, is stepping out of this reactionary, reactive way of living into a thoughtful, kind of like slowing down, and also a bit more proactive way of living with each other.

Jenny: Yeah, I mean, it's kind of the running joke in my house of like, I'm just being like “I don't know, I'm feeling feelings. I'm feeling feeling. I don’t know.”

Audra: I like that.

Jenny: But we know it's a funny and cheesy, or if the dogs are ever act acting up, it's like “And you're feeling feelings.”

Audra: I love it.

Justin: Feelings are meant to be felt. Alright, so I do want to segue now into something very cool that Jenny has done for The Daily Thrive, which is our subscriber-only platform for The Family Thrive. And so it is a self-paced course that we also do as group-based courses later on, and it's called “Loving Your Inner Critic.”

So, Jenny, this is an amazing course. I was so—really, I am so grateful that I got the chance to work on it with you, 'cause I learned so much as I put it together on to the platform… so, I just wanna be clear. Why do we want to love our inner critic? It seems like we...don't like this voice, this chattering voice in our head that tells us we're not good enough: why don't we just fight it and tell it to shut up?

Jenny: 'cause it doesn't work. It doesn't work. I don't know about you, I tried doing that for years, but it just doesn't work. I like to do what works. Well, first of all, the inner critic is something that we all have…we're all kind of wired to have it, and it's individual and that it looks different and sounds different for each of us, but to have a voice that's there trying to manage us is a very human experience, and it's really there to try to keep us safe.

It's just that it's often a very immature voice; it's very...it can be kind of primitive in its understanding of things.

Justin: It is not particularly sophisticated.

Jenny: It's not particularly sophisticated, no. And it's really hooked into old beliefs and fears that have probably been there for quite a long time and have been getting reinforced, and so it's often trying to protect you from rejection, big overarching fears like rejection, humiliation, failure, things that feel like it could be annihilating. But if we can be in our more adult brain, especially if we're doing internal work on ourselves, we start to learn that it's not annihilating… We can fail and be okay. And failure is actually something we might come to have some gratitude towards, but...

So anyway, why do you wanna love it? We wanna just try to be in a different relationship with it. I know I've said that a lot today, but it is just a game-changer when you can start to understand something you've always had with you in a different way. And it's like The Matrix: it's like you take the...other pill. And it's just like, oh...

And so that would be kind of the basic of why we wanna try to... Because it's not going anywhere. Oh, that's the other thing I would say. We love to try to kill off parts of ourselves, like I hate when I feel messy, I'm just gonna try and get rid of it. I hate anger, I'm just never gonna be angry... I'm gonna kill the anger. And what happens is, we can't... It just doesn't work that way, and that part tends to fester and then it starts coming outside you. For example, Justin, I don't mean to make you the identified patient here.

Justin: No, let’s do it.

Jenny: This helpless feeling. “If I hate that helpless feeling, I'm gonna try and kill it off,” and meanwhile it's sort of silently festering and then it starts to come out sideways when Max wants to play video games. And it feels like totally unrelated, but somehow in there—so try as you might get rid of that helpless feeling, it's there, 'cause you're human, and sometimes we feel helpless. So the critic is not going anywhere, so we might as well stop resisting it and turn toward it and see about being in a different relationship with it.

Justin: The way the course is laid out, it's so fantastic where we start out with understanding what an inner critic is, and then you take us through step by step, and by the end of it, it's like the inner critic has then turned into this child who was criticized and just wants love and compassion, and by the end of it, you’re like “I love this little guy!”

Jenny: I know.

Audra: Holding that child, I think, is beautiful. And the thought of being in a different relationship is really profound to me. I think we grow up often not realizing that that's even an option, and what you're opening up here is that this is totally an option in so many different facets of our lives.

Jenny: Yeah, it's powerful to allow these voices to be parts. And there's different therapies... This is thought of conceptually in lots of different kinds of therapies. Internal Family Systems is all about parts work, object relations, but anyway, but it's just... When you can start to think of it as a part of you instead of you, it's so much more empowering, and there's just so much more we can kind of play with and do with it.

Justin: Yeah, awesome. I have no doubt that this course is gonna be really powerful for a lot of parents, 'cause I think even if maybe in other parts of one's life, the inner critic isn't super loud. Well, it’s sure gonna get loud when you're a parent, like, “You're doing it wrong. You're not enough. You're a terrible parent.” So it seems like such a real part of parenting, so I'm excited to launch this course.

So our last question before we move into our regular podcast are the final three quick hits. So the last topic real quick—I wanted to get personal. But we've already gotten really personal, so I'm gonna get even more personal. What is really at your edge right now in your own mental and emotional wellness journey?

Jenny: That's a great question. I don't know about you guys, but I have noticed in quarantine like whatever your issue is, it is right up in your face, and requiring being looked at and known about. Pema Chodron talks about being pinned to the spot when life pins you to the spot, and there is no wriggling away, and I feel like that's been true for quarantine.

Justin: You can't go on vacation, you can't go see a show, you can't go to a bar...

Jenny: Yeah, and I feel like in terms of psyche, it's the same thing, so whatever I was working with clients around, it's heightened right now. And so for me, this is around allowing myself to be, to take up space and to have boundaries. My inner critic—it's funny that this is coming up right now because of this course, I kind of went into that course like “I'm good. Inner critic? I dealt with that.”

I don't really... I used to beat myself up really intensely—I mean, a yelling, cursing voice—and...I don't do that anymore. I'm really a lot more tender with myself. What I have noticed though, is that my inner critic has gotten very, very sophisticated, and it does it in this tricky way where it's like, there are places where I wanna step into who I am and it tells me, “Oh, that's... You're being a narcissist.” Like it pathologizes me.

Audra: Oh my goodness. Yeah.

Justin: So your inner critic basically went to school with you and learned all the tricks that you did.

Jenny: Yeah, and true story. I'm just gonna put it out there. I mean, Audra knows, I like to be a part-time witch over here. I’m a little... I'm quite woowoo. I recently got a tarot reading that was pretty... It was right. It was so affirming and right on.

And the first thing that she named out of the gate was this years-long, pretty toxic relationship that I came out of with someone who's quite narcissistic, and there's been a big healing around it and a big...all this stuff. And she's like, “Basically what you did is you learned how to say no to those people on the outside and you've internalized it and put it in your head. And that voice is now inside of you judging you.” And I was like, “Oh god, busted.” I was like, “Oh!”

But it's so subtle and it's not overt, and so I'm doing the work right along with you guys with this course. Just like trying to understand it, turn toward it, make friends with it and see the ways it wants me to stay small and quiet and does that serve anyone or me? And that's definitely a growing edge for me.

Justin: I think a lot of us can relate.

Audra: It's really powerful to hear that and to hear about how that inner critic can transform with you.

Jenny: It gets more sophisticated.

Audra: You need to keep doing the work, it's like, now that you have become nicer to yourself, it doesn't mean the work is done.

Jenny: No, not at all. And I think it's like, the growth I'm trying to do now or I wanna do now, or I am doing now, is really different than the growth. I mean like, in my twenties it was survival. It was like... We didn't talk about this, but another part of becoming a therapist was I went through very severe suicidality and depression and anxiety for a big part of my twenties and early thirties, and it was just survival.

It was just trying to get tools to get out of a life-or-death feeling inside. And then being in that for a period of time in your life and career growing, and then realizing like, I'm not in a survival mode, but there's still more growth to be done, and then hitting that wall and noticing like “Oh, interesting. It's way more sophisticated and it's trickier.”

Justin: Yeah, the game has evolved... Okay, let's go into our regular three questions for our podcast guests. Audra, we'll just switch off on this. I'll let you go first.

Audra: Alright, if you could post a big Post-It Note on every parent’s fridge for tomorrow morning, what would it say?

Jenny: I'm just gonna go with the first thing that came to mind when I heard the question which is: I am enough.

Audra: Thank you, thank you. I can use that.

Justin: I think every parent... Every parent needs that. In fact, yeah, if you're listening right now, just take a deep breath and repeat that.

Jenny: But I will say—can I add on, which is I am enough, and then the therapist in me is like, “But go and figure out what Post-it Note works for you.”

Justin: It is a big enough Post-It Note to put the whole thing on there.

Jenny: Take the time to figure out what you need and then allow yourself to have it.

Justin: I love it. Alright, so what is the last quote that changed the way you think or feel?

Jenny: Okay, so these questions, I felt this high pressure to pick the best quote.

Justin: Absolutely…nothing less than the best.

Jenny: Yeah, so full disclosure, you guys kinda gave me a heads up you're gonna ask me this, which I appreciate. And I was like, “Oh lord…” And I was looking, I was thinking, and I had this quote and that quote, and I was like, “You know what, universe? Just send me a quote...just give me a quote, 'cause I just can't pick the best one or whatever.” So I was getting out of the shower and I heard my wife clear as day say, “You're gonna go where you're looking, so you better look where you wanna be going.”

Justin: Kinda like eyes on the prize.

Audra: Absolutely.

Jenny: So I was like, “Oh my god, is she talking about life?” It turns out she was talking about riding a motorcycle, but that's okay.

Audra: Life lesson, yeah.

Jenny: So what it got me thinking about was what we were talking about earlier… If I'm looking about being a bad...having to avoid being a bad parent or a good parent, that's where I'm going, right? I'm going into this place of good or bad, if I'm looking toward trying to...you know…

When I'm upset with someone and I'm looking at what it is about them that's upsetting me, that is what I'm gonna get. That is what I'm gonna see and that is the feedback I'm gonna get in terms of if I'm going in with this question of like, “What is there to learn here? What's my part here?” So I was kind of just taking it into a more like, that could be applied in so many ways.

Justin: If I follow on Twitter, just like smart, kind people who are nice to each other and have really great ideas then I have a good time and I feel lightened, airy, when I'm done with it rather than... You know.

Audra: But, there is this concept, is what it relates to for me, is this concept that if you keep yourself kind of mired in the rabbit hole of the fear of the path forward, you will go there.

Jenny: Exactly.

Audra: If you look towards the vision that you're creating, the very real vision that you're creating, you will go there, right?

Jenny: Yes. Exactly.

Justin: That’s way deeper than my Twitter feed. Yeah.

Audra: And that's that concept of you manifest that.

Jenny: Yeah, agreed. And I guess, what it came up for me is that that can be applied to small and big things. I think when we think of manifesting we think of like, “I wanna have this amount of money and this…” In your relationship, in this conversation that I'm heading into with my child: Where am I looking? Am I looking toward connecting and repair? Am I looking toward blame and control?

Audra: Totally. I feel that.

Jenny: Like, you’re gonna go where you're... I had a recent experience with someone who texted me and they were upset about something, and I just... I got so triggered. I got so upset, and I was like... I slowed it down, I was like, “I don't wanna text. Let's have a conversation.”

And I went into that conversation of like, I wanna remember this is my friend, we care about each other, there's a way we can both be happy and we can find a way through. And that's exactly what we did. And I could have gone in that conversation very differently, and I have a feeling...of where it would have gone if I had drawn my sword.

Audra: Had you drawn your sword, gone in defensively, gone in with the list of assumptions and stories, like how we normally do it, right?

Jenny: Yeah.

Justin: Okay, 'cause I wanna just explore this idea just one second, because what has worked for me is to learn—especially with this past year—to go into conversations, go into any sort of interaction with as few expectations as possible and really as few assumptions as possible, and to just come in with kind of a jazz-improv mood.

Jenny: Jazz hands.

Justin: Yeah, let's just see what happens here. And so what I'm hearing though is that, I don't know. This quote of yours makes me think, “Oh, I should have some sort of expectation” or “I should be going in with an expectation.”

Jenny: Ohhh… Interesting. Maybe more of an intention than an expectation?

Justin: Yeah. Okay.

Audra: Especially in conversations like that. It depends on what it is. So for example, previously on a Saturday morning or a Friday night, you would have a complete plan in your head of how everything should run, and if things didn't go that way, it would cause difficulty.

Justin: I would have assumptions, and a lot of expectations...

Audra: And now you’ve been very open, just like let's see what the night presents. Let’s just see, I'm gonna do me, but let's see what happens. Look at this morning: so I’m gonna run to Target, but I'm gonna see what happens.

But having that tough conversation with your daughter... To walk into that with an intention that isn’t based on these stories and assumptions and defensiveness and guardedness and all of the...I think which relates to the inner critic, the self-protective ego, all of that stuff. But [just] walk in with the intention, as you like to say: what is going to serve in connection? What, how am I going to learn more about my child? It's a different intentionality.

Justin: Nice.


Audra: So I still think you can be open.


Justin: Yeah, yeah. This last question, so we are going to be asking everybody this question. Because as parents, we can sometimes get to a point where we say, ‘Ahhh, kids,’ where just like this exhaustion, and it's just chore and obligation and spilt milk and all this stuff. So we wanna just end on this note of like, what's your favorite thing about kids? Let's focus on something rad about kids.


Jenny: Okay, this is a two-parter. Well, I think I love kids’ honesty. I just love how they are so honest and from telling you that you look fat to... I just think there's a beautiful integrity in that. Where they just tell a certain kind of...they just tell their truth.


Audra: Tell it like it is.


Jenny: They tell like it is.

And the other part is, I love—I mean, this sounds cliche, but it's true—I really, really love their imaginations. I remember having a conversation with Max, years ago, when he was... I think he was doing something around narrative work...I feel like ninjas were a part of it, and his understanding of the bad guys and the tumor, and I just was like... I just loved sitting there, listening to him tell me his story and the way he was making sense of it and understanding it and living it… And I was just like, “It's ingenious.” It's just ingenius. And so there's that creativity and that imagination is just... It's inspiring and...I think it's ingenious. There’s something we can all learn from it, so that's my favorite.

I just love being around kids, just like... One of my favorite jokes is by this four-year-old little girl I met once, and she was like, “What's purple and sits on the bottom of the ocean and goes click, click, click?” And I'm like, “What?” She's like, “A four-door grape.” Brilliant. Of course. It’s a four-door grape. I’m like, “I have no idea what that is.” So totally amazing.


Audra: Jenny, do you...speaking of that: I couldn't agree more, and it makes me think of Sir Ken Robinson, who passed away I think just last year—not too long ago—and his work on creativity and how our educational systems often just squish it. We're not fostering it.


Jenny: Not valued.


Audra: Do you remember when... I'll just say this: I remember when my imagination started to wane. And I remember feeling grief around it. I was, like, probably and 11, 12-year-old, being like, I used to see whole worlds with my Legos and would be fascinated with it, and now I want a sweater for Christmas like, this is a little sad, it's going away.

Do you, I mean, you're an artist, but I'm wondering if you have any feelings around your childhood imagination with something that you appreciate in kids. What about for you personally? Someone who was once a kid.


Jenny: I spent so much time by myself and I created worlds. And, I do love that part of myself, I think it was... When I look back to her, I think like, “What a cool little kid in a lot of ways.”


Justin: I do love that.


Jenny: But in terms of when it started to wane? When you said that the first thing came to mind, for me, I remember in high school, making these ridiculous videos. So video cameras were not common, and we happened to have one. And so turning in videos, you could get it—and now, it would just be like, consider phoning it in—but at the time, I could get out of writing papers by making videos.

And I remember doing a video about “The Scarlet Letter,” and it was stupid and not hilarious—but hilarious to me. And I roped my friends in, and my friends got scared they weren't gonna get an A, because the teachers weren't impressed or something, and everyone just abandoned ship. I remember that moment of just feeling like I was the only one standing behind this creative idea and feeling like everyone was mad at me and hated it. And I do think that that was a time where I started to start to tuck that that part of me away, that part of me that was a little bit more daring and a little more out-there and a little more risk-taking in terms of my creativity. That's a moment I won't forget that. I think it kind of was like, “Oh, This maybe doesn't work.”


Audra:  My gosh, that feels really monumental. It feels really big, to me, to hear that and it makes me think of how many of us have these moments where we are standing strong and tall in this space, and we... It's like the inner critic, as you mention, is there—it makes us smaller to make us safer in some way. Right? And so that's one of those first experiences of just feeling like I've gotta go smaller, I can't stay this big.


Jenny: I think I will add that the choice for me, and this is a choice that I think has been a theme in my life and true for most people, we’ll always choose attachment. The child within us will always choose attachment. And for me, it was like I would rather be an attachment with my friends and my teachers. If I have to choose between myself and my creativity, my vision and the attachment, I'm gonna pick attachment, and that's what we as humans do every single time. And this is where we can—in certain situations—we can abandon ourselves.


Audra: Also give ourselves grace when we do abandon ourselves, to know that it wasn't because we weren't…whatever, principled or whatever the thing may come up for you.


Justin: Millions of years of evolution, of the lone gazelles a dead gazelle, type of thing.  


Jenny: I was a dead gazelle, Justin. I was looking at a B+ and...social ostracization. Yeah, I was a dead gazelle.


Justin: Jenny, thank you so much for this talk. I just wanna state the intention to have you as a recurring guest. I think there's so much to talk about.


Jenny: I would love that. I could talk with you guys all day. Are you kidding me? I love this.


Audra: I have so many questions, Jenny, and so many different things I want to explore. So many different things.


Justin: Thanks for listening to The Family Thrive Podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell it to your friends and head on over to Apple Podcast—or anywhere you listen to podcasts—and give us a review.

We’re so grateful you’ve chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

Podcast Ep. 2: Embracing Our Pain, Our Sensitivities, and Our Inner Critic With Jenny Walters, LMFT

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Podcast Ep. 2: Embracing Our Pain, Our Sensitivities, and Our Inner Critic With Jenny Walters, LMFT

Today on The Family Thrive Podcast, licensed marriage family therapist Jenny Walters joins Justin and Audra to discuss Highly Sensitive People, living with pain and trauma, expectations, and the inner critic.

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In this episode


Today on The Family Thrive Podcast, licensed marriage family therapist Jenny Walters joins Justin and Audra to discuss Highly Sensitive People, living with pain and trauma, expectations, and the inner critic. Jenny recounts her life-altering journey to become a psychotherapist after working as an artist, Justin shares a story on how a moment of parent impatience revealed room for exploring his innermost emotions, and Audra discusses what she can do as a parent to stand by her kids and help them process pain, discomfort, and negativity rather than try to block them from those experiences.


About our guest


Jenny Walters
is a licensed marriage family therapist who specializes in working with highly sensitive people, who make up about 20% of the population. She is a graduate of the Pacifica Graduate Institute and is the founder and director of Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy in Los Angeles, California.


Show notes

In this episode


Today on The Family Thrive Podcast, licensed marriage family therapist Jenny Walters joins Justin and Audra to discuss Highly Sensitive People, living with pain and trauma, expectations, and the inner critic. Jenny recounts her life-altering journey to become a psychotherapist after working as an artist, Justin shares a story on how a moment of parent impatience revealed room for exploring his innermost emotions, and Audra discusses what she can do as a parent to stand by her kids and help them process pain, discomfort, and negativity rather than try to block them from those experiences.


About our guest


Jenny Walters
is a licensed marriage family therapist who specializes in working with highly sensitive people, who make up about 20% of the population. She is a graduate of the Pacifica Graduate Institute and is the founder and director of Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy in Los Angeles, California.


Show notes

In this episode


Today on The Family Thrive Podcast, licensed marriage family therapist Jenny Walters joins Justin and Audra to discuss Highly Sensitive People, living with pain and trauma, expectations, and the inner critic. Jenny recounts her life-altering journey to become a psychotherapist after working as an artist, Justin shares a story on how a moment of parent impatience revealed room for exploring his innermost emotions, and Audra discusses what she can do as a parent to stand by her kids and help them process pain, discomfort, and negativity rather than try to block them from those experiences.


About our guest


Jenny Walters
is a licensed marriage family therapist who specializes in working with highly sensitive people, who make up about 20% of the population. She is a graduate of the Pacifica Graduate Institute and is the founder and director of Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy in Los Angeles, California.


Show notes

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Justin: You ever have those inner voices that are telling you you're not doing it right as a parent, you're not good enough, have you ever thought about how your own childhood emotional wounds are affecting your parenting?

Well, these are things that we think a lot about. So we were so lucky to have this amazing conversation with Jenny Walters, a licensed marriage family therapist from Los Angeles, California. We got into it all, it got deep, it got challenging, but if you are in the mood to go there with us, then get a cup of tea, take a deep breath, find a comfy seat on the couch and join us for this amazing conversation.

Jenny: People come to therapy wanting us to get rid of their pain, and they are at first disappointed to learn that it isn't about getting rid of the pain, it's the power we [have] in relationship to it.

Justin: What can I even say about Jenny Walters? We've been friends with her since our oldest son Max was born. I remember Jenny taking baby photos of Max, and at that time she was an artist in Los Angeles. A couple of years after that though she found her true calling and true creative outlet, which was in psychotherapy, and it was so cool to watch that journey and then to watch her blossom professionally, and now to have her on our podcast and to help us kick this podcast off, it's just like the stars are aligning.

So today, Jenny is a depth therapist who specializes in working with highly sensitive people—and in this conversation, I found out that I was a highly sensitive person. She also works with adult children of narcissists and borderline disorders. Her background is in union psychotherapy, so she works with patients to heal deep, unconscious traumas. She's a graduate of the Pacifica Graduate Institute, she is a founder and director for the Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles. If you wanna see more about her and what she does, you can find her at jennywalters.com

Let's just get straight into it. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

So, Jenny, I have a memory that you met Audra before I met you, is that right?

Audra: I don't think that's correct.

Jenny: I think you were both at the same barbecue where we met.

Justin: Oh, that's right.

Audra: But we spend time together, I think you were off...

Jenny: Yeah, I don't have any memory of chit-chatting with Justin, but Audra was like a beacon of light in a very dark storm. I had just moved to Los Angeles...

Justin: Actually, always is.

Jenny: Yeah, no kidding. That's the truth. I was in a horrible relationship, but that relationship brought me to that barbecue, and then I met Audra.

I’ve had a lot of those in my life where the vehicle was kind of gnarly, but it got me to these really great people, and Audra was really one of the first friends I made in Los Angeles, and she just took me in and...yeah, we became fast friends that day

Audra: I think you were one of my first friends too, because we had to move to LA much... Didn't we move around the same time?

Jenny: I don't know, I got there in late 2007.

Justin: So we were in 2005?

Audra: Yeah, I guess we were a little bit earlier, it didn't seem like it. [LA’s a tough place] to meet people and make friends. Isn't it? At least for me, it was.

Jenny: I agree; I've moved a lot in my life, and especially back then. LA was the last big move for me, but it had been preceded by many years of big moves to different cities, and I would say that Los Angeles was the toughest landing and the toughest place to really build a life. And I think it took me a self three years before I really felt at home there and felt like I had a community and I belonged. And that's not uncommon. I get a lot of transplants in my practice—in my therapy practice—and it's tough. It's a tough one, so I try to normalize that for people, just like LA's kind of hard to land in.

Justin: Okay, so here's my question, what was the impetus for you wanting to become a therapist?

Jenny: Maybe, yeah! I think LA was the final frontier of me having to confront things. Prior to being a therapist, I was teaching photography and art as an adjunct professor, which is a racket that's very difficult to survive in. There's no money. You're constantly hustling for work. So I was doing the starving artist thing, but the truth is, I really wasn't making art anymore, I was just trying to make a living, so I was pretty unhappy.

And then I moved to Los Angeles, it was kind of a Hail Mary. People ask why, and I wish I had a reason—I just felt like I needed to go to Los Angeles, but really everything in my life said, “This is a terrible idea.”

It was really hard, but now looking back, I'm so glad I did, because all my dreams came true. But they weren't dreams that I knew I had, so I was very attached to an idea of the way I thought my life needed to look, which involved having a successful art career. Marrying a man, having a family. This is what I thought I needed to look like.

But my life was not going that way, I was very unhappy, I was miserable, I was broke, and I started to just—also my body, I started to get sick. So I developed an auto-immune condition, my body started to break down, and it was really just my life was trying to shake me awake into some other knowing about what my calling was.

So I started getting acupuncture every week to try and get relief from the physical pain of this—at that point, kind of...well, it was diagnosed, but I didn't know how to treat the thyroid disorder that I had—and my acupuncturist also did energy healing, and I actually was really fascinated by it, so I started to study energy healing with her just on the side and got really into that started… I've always been interested in self-development, self-help, I was always reading the self-help books, and so I was always interested in psychology, but I just started to reconnect to this part of myself that had this inkling that I was being called to the healing arts and, I mean, it's not a fancy story, but I started to Google. Our good friend Google took me to Pacifica Graduate Institute, where I saw that you could study psychology through the lens of the imaginal and through the lens of myth and metaphor and psyche.

And I get chills thinking about it because that's exactly why I wanted to make art: was to create meaning-making and try to understand these bigger questions, that's why I made art. And so I thought, “Oh well, if I can get the same itch scratched, but actually make a living as a therapist, wouldn't that be nice?”

So that was kind of what got me to enroll at Pacifica, but I wasn't really sure until I started working with clients, and then I was hooked. That was when I was like, “Oh my god, this is amazing.” And it was so much more satisfying than art-making because there was an instant connection and instant moments of understanding and just all that stuff you want your art to do, but...if no one looks at it, that doesn't happen. So that was really exciting, so that was this after I could start working with people, I was hooked and that was my journey.

Justin: So Jenny, you are not a parent yourself, but you are passionate about family mental health— parents’ mental and emotional health. What is your connection? How does that fire you up?

Jenny: Yeah, I'm not a parent to human children, and I do have two fur babies...

Justin: What are their names?

Jenny: June and Oh Hi, and they are very special snowflakes, very different animals, but anyway...

Well, so yeah, having a family wasn't in the cards for me. I met my wife late in my 30s, and I've always been a bit of a late bloomer, and so we wanted to spend...we were really wanting to spend time just the two of us, and then it was too late, so we decided not to have a family, but we are really dedicated to our chosen family, and our chosen family is filled with lots of children, and these kids are a really important part of our lives—like yours are part of that chosen family.

But my dedication to it and my interest in it is that I think if we can start to help children and families understand their internal experiences and help them make sense of it and start to value that as a culture, that we could change the world. So when parents are doing their own internal work, they are in turn helping children make sense of their lives in their worlds, which are not going to be free of suffering, as you two know, as much as we'd love that to be the case. It's just not how it goes for humans, and when we avoid it, when we pretend it's not there; we don't help, we are not helping anything, and we're actually really traumatizing and confusing kids.

And so when we can be courageous and brave and look at our own stuff and help our children understand and look at their own suffering, we're less likely to be acting it out unconsciously out in the world, and we're less likely to be jerks, and I think that we can...I don't know, I think we can change the world, so I think it starts young. So I feel very passionate about that.

Justin: I’ve found that personally for myself, that I, as a parent, for so many years, was just working out a lot of my own issues out on to my kids, and it was like over the past few years, realizing, “Wow, my own mental and emotional health and wellness is absolutely crucial in raising these kids, so they don't pass down. What was passed down to me.”

Audra: Yeah, yeah, can I add to that? Because it really strikes me as a powerful paradigm shift in parenting and our approach to being in family and being in community. So you are in family Jenny fully with your chosen family, or you're being in family in the space. And I think this would come naturally to think, “Yes, I potentially suffered from significant trauma, maybe I was abused, I will... The buck stops here. I will work hard to make sure I don't abuse my child…” Right?

I've heard of this line of thinking before, but to take that out into... Then instead of like, “Okay, maybe it's not completely abusive, my acting out of my stuff, or it’s my anxiety or whatever it might be, it may not be abusive, but am I setting up my child for success? Or my family for success? Am I creating an environment of flourishing?”

It's almost like you're in preventive health to some degree; helping people live their best lives and do that in family and therefore changing the world because we are changing the way we are doing this together and... Yeah, you're not damaging your—well we all have our damages, it hurts, I guess—but it does seem like a beautiful...it was a beautiful mission and a beautiful vision, and one that really excites me to hear you talking about it because it's so positive and proactive.

Jenny: Well, thanks. Yeah, I mean, I think we're becoming more evolved whereas, like you said, it may have been before so overt: “Well, I was abused, I won't abuse.”

I think we're getting into a much more nuanced understanding of mental health and wellness, which excites me because in my former life as a photographer to make ends meet, I had a photography business where I photographed babies and children, and so I worked with a lot of families in that way, and what I noticed was that there were a lot of parents who were trying to parent differently than they have been parented.

Where they had maybe been overly frustrated by their parents, maybe a lot of rules and not a lot of building up of self-esteem and a lot of affirmations, I noticed a lot of parents going this extreme other end where if the child was experiencing any discomfort at all, everything had to stop, we had to get the kid comfortable again. And now that generation is showing up in my room, in my therapy room, and they have a different confused relationship with suffering.

Justin: So what strikes me there is the wanting to protect your kids from any discomfort at all is just working out those issues, I mean, it seems to me it's a product of the parent oneself not being comfortable with distress, not being able to regulate one’s on emotions and deal with challenges, and so now you're gonna protect your kids from challenges and from stress and from different emotions.

Jenny: Exactly, I mean, the kind of therapy I do is sometimes called integrative therapy. Depth therapy, integrative therapy, and the ideas that we're integrating all parts of ourselves, and I like to think too, that we need to integrate all parts: we wanna get the insides and the outsides lined up, so we're in our integrity, but the outsides as well, and this says that all things can be here. So good and bad feelings can be here, not just good feelings, but good and bad feelings that we can grow tolerance and resilience around that, and we can learn how to help our kids know when they feel bad, it's okay that you feel bad... I'm here to be with you when you feel bad, I'm not gonna try and fix it, I'm just gonna…and we're gonna get to the other side of this. That is so empowering. I have so many young adults that have shown up that were...there is such an aversion to any kind of “negative feeling” or distress or this pressure to be the level of perfectionism that's showing up and…

And not to get political or anything, but it just speaks to me of this sort of narcissism in our culture: if something matters and something doesn't, it's good or it's bad, you're a winner or you're a loser, and it's like we just miss out on our humanity, and we miss out on each other and... It's a split...our psyche is split, which always is pain and suffering, and so if we can integrate all those parts and help our kids integrate them all, what a world we live in, you know?

Justin: This is something that's very real for me. When we... So we recently moved to Savannah, Georgia. We lived in Southern California for 15 years, and we made this big move, and it was, for the kids, it was a really big move and I was feeling a little—I don't know—guilty for pulling them out of their environment that they grew up in and moving all clear across the country because Audra and I thought it'd be cool and fun.

And so, when they would express distress around this, I was experiencing myself like, “Oh, let's just distract ourselves,” or “Let's bribe them,” or “Let's do...is there any way we can just make these challenging emotions stop?” And then, because of the work I've been doing over the past couple of years, I realize like, “Oh.” I... I need to do exactly what you're saying.

Like, “Let's make space for this. Let's make space for feeling sad, let's make space for being angry, let's just open up and just let it be here.” And it was amazing once I kind of let down my guard around that and just let the feelings be expressed. We could move them, they just kinda needed to be moved and just processed at expressed… And that was it!

Audra: Do you remember—was it at dinner just last night—we were talking about this, and Max said that he just doesn't like anything new. And one thing that came up that I asked him, it wasn't that he just doesn't like anything new; it's that everything new that's happened to him since he was four-and-a-half, has been kind of bad news, been really hard. [And] just for him to be able to let it out without judgment...

Justin: And for us to get curious about it...

Jenny: And to name that and acknowledge it, and so now we can have a more nuanced understanding of it so that, “Oh, maybe this is a different kind of new than the kind of new that you've known,” and then just acknowledging how hard transition and change is.

And you know, also, side note: I work with a lot of people who would identify as highly sensitive, which is actually a legit research classification, that some people are more sensitive and that they are receiving more kind of sensate information in lots of different ways all the time—and transition’s really hard for those folks, it's really...it feels really uncomfortable and instead of it being shamed, we can just acknowledge it and know that and [if] there's a transition coming, we need to take our time with it. We need to be tender. We need to be talking about it. And that, just like you said, Justin, when you came out of the block around, it's like coming out of the resistance, it just lessens the pain so much so what a great insight for you guys to have around him and as a family, his experience...

Justin: How does one know if one is a sensitive individual? 'Cause I might be one.

Audra: You've always self-identified as one.

Justin: Yeah.

Jenny: It's a great question. Okay, so have you been called over-sensitive your whole life?

Justin: Audra, what do you think?

Audra: You've called yourself sensitive your whole life, but I don't know that you have been called sensitive.

Justin: I think I've been able to hide it and find ways to cope.

Audra: I found you to be trigger-y, if you will, around me...

Jenny: Yeah, are you sensitive to lights and sounds? Do you... For example, I cannot tolerate—my wife makes fun of me—I cannot handle overhead lighting.

Justin: Oh my god, me too! Right now, I'm just dealing...

Audra: Jenny, he turns off all the lights, he prefers for us to live maybe by one candle that we carry around.

Justin: And I rationalize it by saying, “What about we're saving electricity? Or were saying global climate change,” but it's really that... Yes, overhead lighting.

Jenny: So that what you just named right there is that you have this heightened sensitivity to light and then there's this shame around it, so we have to rationalize it. So that is a great way of telling if you're a highly sensitive person, is that that’s a really unconscious experience for a lot of people who are HSP, because it's like, it's different.

It's only about 20% of the population has this sensitivity, and I don't think it's better or worse, it's just different. It's a different way of receiving and processing, we just tend to process... And what I say is, I feel like it sounds like it's... I mean, it's better, but we just process a little more intensely, a little more deeply.

Justin: It sounds better, yeah.

Jenny: But it's actually a real pain in the butt. And for a lot of us, I can say a trajectory for a lot of us is just a lot of anxiety, a lot of over-identifying, when we feel something, we assume it's ours, and so a lot of the work around being a highly sensitive person is learning how to identify what's yours and what is something that you're picking up on, and then a lot of processing needs to be a big part of your existence.

Justin: Oh wow. Yeah, okay, so we are gonna have to cut this part short because I totally wanna talk about this and make it all about me.

Audra: No, but it sounds like this...this is a bigger topic to talk about. One thing that really strikes me though is, not to get too granular here, is that you've never struck me as somebody who is completely empathetic when it comes to other peoples...

Justin: It’s just coping, where it's like I'll just shut myself off,

Audra: Oh, you just shut it down.

Justin: Yeah, that’s why I identified with “what’s mine” and “what’s others’.” There are some documentaries that I will watch that will make me just really feel like, “Oh my god, am I maybe?

Audra: Which one was the last one? Yeah.

Justin: It was this HBO documentary about this cult in Albany…

Jenny: The NXIVM... Oh my god, I did such a deep dive on that.

Justin: Oh my god, and it just messed me up. About 30 years ago [or] 20 years ago, there was this... It was a documentary about this guy in Wisconsin who made horror movies.

Jenny: Oh, the real low-grade budget ones. I remember this movie, yes. Didn’t he work in a cemetery cleaning up poop and stuff? Like people poop in cemeteries.

Justin: Yes, and the running joke throughout it is that he was pronouncing this word incorrectly... What was it?

Jenny: “Cove-in!”

Audra: “Cove-in!” That was it!

Justin: It was like coven, “No, cove-in.” And I remember at the time I was watching this, I think I had just graduated undergrad and I wasn't sure what I was gonna do with my life, and that movie messed me up for days. I was like, I'm gonna be him. Like that, and it was weird I just...

Jenny: Yeah, Justin, we need to do a separate convo. That was... Just constantly projecting yourself into other people's lives and [thinking that is] going to be your life—that was my favorite pastime for most of my twenties.

Justin: Oh my god. Oh, okay, so one more thing, what about showers? Is it harder to get it just right where hot and cold—like ah, that’s too hot, that’s too cold, that’s too hot, that’s too cold. Our right temperature is just so finally tuned?

Jenny: That could definitely be a sensor, a sensory thing. Like a touch thing can be something that is up for you in terms of how you have your sensate experience. Or sounds. Like certain sounds can really...

So there are lots of... It looks different for every person, and that's why it's really important to you.

I'm actually working on a course about this, it’s called “The Sensitive Uprising,” 'cause I'm just like...'cause if sensitive people can understand this part of themselves, it turns out—studies show—that highly sensitive folks are actually really incredibly resilient. They make good leaders because we're really good at listening for nuance and having this kind of more nuanced insights and stuff. But usually, we're so overwhelmed and we have no idea how to navigate the sensitivity that we're just rocking in a corner having little anxiety attacks.

Justin: Oh, I love this. I’m glad that we could take this little detour. Maybe there are parents out there who are recognizing this...

Jenny: And recognizing it in their kids. 'Cause I grew up in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, so I was always told I was over-sensitive, I mean, this was not in any way valued at all in my family.

Justin: So Jenny, I wanted to ask, in the therapeutic, psycho-emotional health world, it seems to me that pretty much every major issue is just childhood wounds, childhood emotions. In your experience, does everything just really go back to childhood or is there more to it?

Jenny: I think a lot does. I think there's more to it, and people will have different opinions about this. What's sad is that what you just named is what keeps people from going to therapy because they think that we're just going to sit and vilify their parents. And again, it's about having a more holistic understanding of your experiences, but I'll just go through the things that I think make up what shows up in my therapy room.

One is inter-generational trauma. So we know trauma gets handed down in your DNA, so you're gonna show up into your life with trauma you didn't actually experience firsthand, but it's actually in your body. That's a piece of it, and that of course can extend to the trauma, the collective trauma: racism, patriarchy, white supremacy, all that. I mean, so that's in your body.

Then there’s... Sure, there's the childhood experiences that you have, and sometimes those aren't actually what you would think of as trauma—and I have a great example. So when I was studying EMDR, which is a trauma therapy called it's Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, it has a very sexy title that no one can remember, but basically what we learned is that when we activate a certain part of your brain, while we're remembering traumatic experiences if we process it and it discharges it from your body and you no longer have that trauma response that fight, flight, freeze.

So it's a game-changer, and it's an amazing therapy, but when I was studying it, one of the stories they told was about this man who was deeply phobic of shoes, which is a strange—that's hard to be afraid of shoes. That's a tough one. And when they were doing EMDR—and he'd been to so many therapists and phobia therapist, and nothing helped—well, when they did EMDR and they started getting into his memories and he was just kind of free-associating to memories. He went back to when he was five years old his grandma died, and he asked Mom, “Where did Grandma go?” And she said, “The angels took her soul up to heaven.” And as a five-year-old, he thought a soul was the sole of the shoe. And he made an association with that and death. And that got stored in his memory network and in his body and carried forward into this deep phobia for 30 years, and then when they [concluded that] with the EMDR, he was no longer afraid of shoes.

That's not something you would—I mean the parent didn't do anything wrong there. I know that's a perfectly reasonable thing to tell a five-year-old. But in terms of letting parents off the hook, we are humans raising humans, and it is every human being’s, I think, job to work through your emotional difficulties, experiences, and sufferings, and there is no way to raise a child without them experiencing suffering, so just let yourself off that hook.

Certainly, we can take responsibility for our stuff and not be harming them in overt ways, but there are ways in which kids are gonna feel hurt and powerless that we couldn't predict, we couldn't control. So just let to people off the hook: that there is no way to raise a child without pain. And can we just breathe a sigh of relief there?

Justin: And... Yeah, that pain is a part of life and we're bringing kids into this world.

Audra: It's a part of humanity.

I think it's so important, Jenny, too. Because so often, parents are in so much pain seeing their child in pain. They want to relieve their own pain, not just their child’s pain, but they don't wanna have to go through seeing their kids go through the typical, normal things in life, the Mean Girl syndrome and not having any friends, whatever it might be—the normal things. And these are not things for us to manage in that way of preventing them, we're removing every obstacle, it's how do we process these obstacles together?

Jenny: Exactly, I mean, I once met with a therapist and he was kind of this older surfer-slash-psychoanalyst guy, like very California therapist. He was probably in like his 70s, and he said, “You know, people come to therapy wanting us to get rid of their pain and they are at first disappointed to learn we teach them how to suffer; that it isn't about getting rid of the pain, it's the power we [have] in relationship to it.”

When you try to eliminate the pain and suffering, you also eliminate your experience of joy because you can't cut off one end and not the other, and so what we end up doing is living on this little island of a very limited amount of emotionality. And what's astounding to watch with clients—and it was true for me too—that when I could allow these other harder feelings to be here, more joy showed up as well, and I started to have a more expansive experience.

Justin: I've experienced that as well. Oh my gosh, yeah. And I so identify with the patients who are coming in and have issues with their parents and bring a lot of energy around their own childhood, and I certainly—although I love my parents and they know that—I dealt with a lot of that.

And one therapist I worked with told me, and this was a game-changer for me, that there was nothing that my parents today could do or say to fix any of that. There's nothing, and that all I needed to do is grieve, just grieve that whatever that happened to that four-year-old, whatever happen to that eight-year-old, that 13-year-old, great. There's nothing they can do. There's no magic words, they can say there's no...because it's gone, it's done. But that was in the past, and you just need to grieve it. And I was like, oh my god, what a game-changer for me and my relationship with my parents and my childhood emotional wounds.

Jenny: Well, yeah, grieving is such an integrative process because it's an acceptance of death and a processing of it. And it's like the process I see is people come in and they—not for everyone—but a typical one can be: “I don't wanna talk about my parents. They were amazing. They did the best they could.” There's this fear that if we talk about what hurt that we’re making them all bad, so we gotta have them all good.

Okay, then we start to open up and then we go into...they may slip and we're in the all-bad place. How could they do that? “They're horrible.” And then we allow them to start to be humans and we start to know about their compassion. We start to compassion for them without disowning our experiences. And then it's like it can be this more integrative place of like, “Okay, they were humans. Yes, they screwed up, but they also... I can see their own trauma and I can hold it.”

And that's a lot to hold. That's complex, and I don't know, if you look around our culture right now, people don't like to hold complexity; they want it to be black and white, they want it to be right and wrong, and it's like, this work, this is just not the truth of...

Justin: It’s not the truth, that'll mess you up.

Jenny: Yeah, it keeps you in deep, deep pain when things have to be split apart and all or nothing like that.

Justin: And it keeps one from being the best parent that they can be. Like, this is not a game for black-and-white thinking.

Audra: Jenny, do you see that pain can be so painful that it leads to, potentially for many people, the desire to control it, numb it altogether, and that very often leads to the lawnmower-ing, the control of the entire environment?

Jenny: Yep.

Audra: Try to keep the pain that is inevitable in this way at bay, but it's always there.

Jenny: Absolutely. And I can say I have a lot of compassion for that response, you know? Alcoholism is up right now, drinking, and we are in a moment of something is out of our control, and a lot of people got no help knowing how to be in relationship with something like that. And so, yeah: numbing, disassociating. Like we were talking about sensitive people, like I'm the same way. I tend to just be like, “Bye. I’m outta here.”

My therapist calls it the “skis away skedaddle,” which—a little therapy lingo there. Yeah, absolutely, in the controlling, the anxiety of needing things to be perfect, needing things to be on a trajectory… That was a big piece of pain in my life: was that my life path has been very circuitous, and I had so much shame around that, that I should have known what I wanted to do.

I think we're coming out of this as people who have more complex career paths, but I was in the generation where I was like, “Yeah, you can be a barista in your twenties, but then you gotta pick something and go with it.” And I didn't... I was all over the place. A lot of pain in that. So yeah, and I think that's true.

Audra: Jenny, I wanted to talk about that actually. I think that we have some questions coming up more about emotional health and parenting. But going back to your story, I just find it to be so powerful, because when we're just talking to you just now like, this is you. Through and through, the you I've always known, but I've also known you in different places with different careers, and I feel like we've learned so much together and we've grown so much together. Yet, this is the you I've always known. This is like...the you that's always been there, always been my friend is like, you sort of unlocked the box and it's all there.

And one thing, I remember really vividly, was processing with you your art career, and the fact that the performance of artists and a fine artist, because you're a fine art photographer, in many ways. You have many things, right? And this is one of the things: you are an incredible photographer, not just of children and babies, but fine, fine art, and how challenging it was to have to perform this perfection-driven persona and life and all of the requirements that went with that never, ever sat with you as I remember—and correct me if I'm wrong.

And then I remember there being guilt around that because you're kind of supposed to want to lean into that as an artist, and then I remember getting in... You introduced me to Brené Brown, actually. I feel like she'd broke open for so many of us to say, “Wait, let...let's talk about perfection openly.” And so, is this a part of your Genesis? Because I feel like there is very much an intuitive, spiritual aspect when you talk about energy work with this. That this has always been there for you. I feel like I've so valued our time together, wrestling with all of this, and you in many ways followed your gut and intuition down this path and have used this experience to kind of open up this space moving forward. Or do you have any reflections on that?

Jenny: You’re totally right. First of all, that's...what you just described is why we're dear friends: is that there's a soul connection that I feel like we have, that you could see that in me when I couldn't see it in myself, and when I was in a really a bit of a hot mess there—I mean, let’s be honest—you've been very generous in how you described it.

Audra: You didn’t seem like a hot mess to me!

Jenny: I felt like it for sure.

Audra: But for us, the struggle was real.

Jenny: The struggle was real.

Audra: It was objectively real to me.

Jenny: Yeah, but I think the evolution for me has been, and I think this happens in therapy a lot, is... I was very attached to a concrete understanding of my life and that it needed to look a certain way. And it was a very limited imagining—it wasn't even that imaginative. But it was as a visual artist in the fine art world, which is, you're right, it never jived with me. It was never who I was. It just requires a certain persona just to really succeed in that world that I just wasn't... It just isn’t who I am.

And as things shifted, I started to trust the unseen world a bit more, you know? The intuition, the knowing, the spiritual has been a big part of that for me. And that's what I noticed with clients is they come in and they are like, “Okay, I just need to find the right partner and the right job, and I will be happy.” And then I have to give them the bad news of like, it just doesn't work that way. Because I sit with people who have the right job and the right partner, and they're miserable. And when you're trying to force those concrete pieces around, it's very hard to push concrete, but when you start to get these interior pieces understood and in connection with souls’ calling, and that's what I meant when I was saying like doing the therapeutic work is the same feel as what I was trying to get in art-making. And if I'm in the feeling of my soul's calling, who cares what it looks like? If it's being an artist or being a therapist, it’s like, if I'm happy, who cares?

Audra: Oh, and it's incredible that you tapped into that. Like one thing, I'm in awe of it, because one thing that seems to be potentially a really big challenge for people is that when you are good at that thing that doesn't feel right, you can get by. You can get by doing it, but it doesn't feel right. And you just know on your intuitive level it's not the right way, it's not the way, the right way to manifest this, or to live this part of yourself, right?

Jenny: Yeah.

Audra: So how do you trust that? And therefore, as parents, I think one thing that gets really challenging—that's hard enough with us, right? But then as a parent, you end up in the space of like: “What do you wanna do with your life? I don't care who you are, right? What do you wanna do with your life? What are your interests?”

You wanna cultivate these things and tie them into jobs, and there is a challenge in that because you don't want to pigeon-hole, you wanna teach that intuitive knowing. How do you do that when you don't know that for yourself or you're just trying to uncover that?

Jenny: Great question. It's rhetorical, right? I don't have to answer that do I?

I think you start by posing the question, you start by noticing your own experience so that you aren't projecting it onto your kids. And also letting your kids be different. My wife and I've been talking a lot lately about the concept of fruit smoothie and fruit salad, and this comes from a friend of mine, Annette Leonard, who... She actually has a podcast called “Chronic Wellness,” and it's about helping people with chronic illness live in a state of health. But anyway, she can't remember who said this, so if anyone knows, I’m all for giving credit where credit is due. But it's about this idea of when we all need to be exactly alike, and I think parents can do this with kids where we want our kids to be how we think they should be, and it’s usually...it’s something to do with us.

And so we're in this... We're insisting on this fruit smoothie experience, and we really wanna be a fruit salad where we're all in the same bowl, but you’re pineapple and I’m mango and sometimes I don't like pineapple, but you still get to be here. So can your kids have a different experience than you, and also can we not put pressure on kids to live a corrective experience for us?

Audra: Oh! Beautiful point too.

Jenny: Like, “Oh, I made this mistake, I don't want you to make that mistake.”  You know what? They’re gonna make the mistakes they're gonna make.

Audra: And kids know that very often. I mean, I remember saying to my parents, my kids have said to me, “Well, I need to make the mistake so I can learn.”

Jenny: Yeah! Wow. Wisdom. It's true, right? It's like, can we trust in our okayness; even in the midst of mistakes, even in the midst of bad or hard feelings, even in the midst of suffering, can we know about some level of okayness and connectedness—and this is really the spiritual part comes in for me—I'm here living this life as a human on this planet, and I also feel like I am you and you are me. It's like we are connected. So can I hold both of those? And in that there is an okayness that for me was very helpful with my anxiety in terms of feeling more at peace with myself.

Audra: It's powerful, so powerful, Jenny, 'cause it makes me really think about… There's a major transition in parenting that I don't feel like I recall reading about or hearing about or anything like that. 'Cause if you are in the position to start out with a baby in some way, and then parent that baby into childhood and beyond—not every parent has this experience, but I think many, many do.

And you start out caretaking, and you start out knowing this baby, knowing when they need this and not the other. And there is that parenting where it's like, I get to think I know you, and have seen this from the beginning, and this sort of sense of you kind of being a part of me, but also that you know I know who you are. And then there's this transition where these human beings are their own people, and there's a breaking point where I think it really is super, super important to learn how to notice it within yourself to start to honor that they are their own people.

They are not mini you’s, they're not... You don't know them better than they do. There might be some ways in which you do, but we can just jump to that so fast and be like, “No, I know what you actually mean” and not let them represent themselves. You know things like that and how to help parents start to notice the space of transition and start to move along through it.

I don't think we really are...we're not raised with these tools, and most of us, in experience, I haven't seen that many books. I feel like we need help.

Jenny: Well, I think what your naming is—I think it's right on. And I think what we need to notice is when that opportunity is presenting itself and then noticing what about it causes us to be anxious or causes us to wanna double-down on regressing them back into this place where we're a fruit smoothie, where we're all the same, and “I know you.”

And it's like the parents have to deal with their own anxiety, and I think that's the work: is owning like, “Oh, it makes me anxious to let you go.” It's really...to wear your heart outside of you at all times in the form of a child, and then to start to have to let it live its life and still have that level of connection. I mean, that is... Talk about needing some resilience around that, but if you can't acknowledge that, it kicks up a new fear or anxiety and then we can’t do anything with it.

Justin: That has been a game-changer for me to just [ask] the simple question of, “What am I feeling right now?” And then just to go further of like, “No, no, no. Try to get more detail with that. What are you feeling?”

And I remember a revelation working in therapy about a year ago, where I was talking about this time when I had kind of blown up at Max... It was early in the morning, and I like to have my quiet mornings, and he was asking to play video games before school. This is right before the Covid thing hit, and I was like, “No, you can't play video games before school. That's not what we do.” And he kept nagging. And then I just blew up at him and I was really angry. And he kind of was like, “That was mean” and then went off.

And I talked about this 'cause it's stuck with me for a couple of days, and it was really just doing the work of “No, what were you feeling?” And like, “What was that?” And just get into the emotions, not why. “Let's not create a story, just try to get deeper about what you were feeling.”

And finally, I got this part, I was like, “Oh my god, I was feeling helpless.” That's why I lashed out at him. It was not him, it was not all the other things, it was this emotional feeling of helplessness.

Audra: And you actually talked to Max about it after, which I thought was really amazing. And something that I wish I had known earlier in my parenting is like, you don't have to have all of the answers in a split second. Who invented this idea that parents have to have immediate comebacks for everything and I know what to do? You can pause. You can also come back later and apologize later and have conversations about it, not like it's all over in a second, you know?

Justin: This was literally the week before everything closed down for Covid, and so I was like… I was teaching at the time, I had a couple of classes and I didn't know what was gonna happen with those and...the whole world felt like something bad was just about to happen.

Jenny: So there was an underlying feeling of helplessness.

Justin: Yeah, so then it was like, I've no idea what's going on and I can't stop it, and so I was like... Okay.

Audra: Plus the narrative of being a bad parent if I let you play video games before school, there’s a lot of things like that.

Justin: And I have emotions around that. Like if you play video games before school, I am a bad parent. I will be judged harshly by someone somewhere...

Jenny: Yeah, no pressure.

Audra: Yeah, I know, right?

Jenny: Yeah, and so the Max just kind of unknowingly stepped in that. He kind of unknowingly stepped into that helpless feeling and for you to process that with them is just... I mean, that's the game-changer right there. Because now he understands. That's just great.

And in terms of what you're saying, Audra, about their repair after, and this idea we have to know exactly what we're doing. I train therapists now, and there's this pressure they put on themselves to have these perfect sessions where we know exactly how to respond to someone. And I'm like, “No, that is not how life goes, and that is...not how therapy is going to go. What's great is they come back next week to talk about it.” Then it's just all grist for the mill; we get to talk about it, that's the beauty of doing this work every week.

Audra: Jenny, that's amazing. That’s like the slowing down that it seems like we need to be bringing into our society and culture in these ways that feel completely unexpected to me, I had no idea that therapists have that...feel that sense of pressure.

Justin: I can imagine, though, that they would... And what comes up for me is my most impactful therapy encounters have been just another human being bearing witness, just bearing witness like pain or discomfort... Just see me.

Jenny: Me too. Me too. I was just sharing that with one of my associates, who was kind of stressing out about not having had the exact experience that her client had had, and her client was super upset and dysregulated, and just feeling like, feeling like she needed to fix it. And I was remembering a time in my own therapy where I had recently lost my sister-in-law to a horrific disease and it was a total trauma and tragedy, and I just sat on that couch and wept for 50 minutes, and we just sat together and I wept. And he said one thing at the very end. And to just have that space to be held and to be seen, I will never forget that session: it was profound and it really helped me grieve. So, yeah… Fixing it isn't where it's at, that's not gonna work and we can't fix it.

Justin: Jenny, I’ve had a... I don't know if this is a full-blown realization yet, but that for guys, and if any dads are listening to this, when we're confronted with the emotional distress in our family, we wanna fix it. Like, “What is the problem? Can we just fix it?” And the realization that I had was “oh my god, fixing is a way of avoiding.” It's a way of avoiding the emotional pain that is happening and allowing it to be processed and expressed. Like, if you want to avoid the emotional pain... Can I make this go away?

Jenny: Would you say that it's also a way to avoid a particular feeling of powerlessness?

Justin: Oh my god. Yeah, right? Yeah, I didn't go that far and I can appreciate that insight. Yeah, yeah.

Jenny: And I think for the cultural identity of men and this pressure... I think the patriarchy hurts men as much as it hurts women in many ways. And this pressure that you guys have to be in power, that you have to be in a state of feeling in-power at all times—and that's just not true of our human experience. There are going to be times where we just simply are powerless, or we are helpless, or we are not in control, but if that's not okay, that means something bad about you.

Justin: That whole thing has changed for me, where I feel like the real strength and power is in being able to acknowledge the helplessness and express it and name it. That takes a real man. Like, come on, you're being a baby if you just wanna just shove it down, repress it, avoid it, ignore it. Like, come on, man, let's go out. Let's do this.

Audra: I agree that this has been really life-changing for you, and in terms of also your view on masculinity and fatherhood and all of that, it's been really life-changing. But wouldn't you say that these things still pop up and you still need to process them?

Justin: Oh my god, all the time. All the time. It’s just that when I'm emotionally activated, I now have tools and I've now practiced it, practiced enough to be able to identify, observe what's happening. Give it some words, dig a little deeper, give us some even better words, and then express it, cry it out if I have tears, just move the energy. And now it goes through so fast and it's like, “Oh, that’s it. Now I've identified it. Now I've expressed it and now we can start to move on.”

Audra: I just want to be clear, for any fathers who might be listening at some point, that it doesn't mean that you're just over it or as you’re immune to these things, that everything has changed, it's just that you have the tools to process.

And it makes me think, Jenny, that this is probably a really powerful conversation to be had, maybe at more length at some time for parents, because we're talking about our inter-relational worlds together as a family, and we've been talking about our relationships with kids. But as partners and as life partners, it really struck me talking about this power and the control and how that's sort of built into how you are raised as a man, and how that can present.

And so I know in our relationship at times there's been things that, for example, Justin has not liked various things like in my lifestyle or things that you have had questions or concerns about; I know that I'm probably not alone in this as a partner and as a woman. And so I think, even going both ways, but I think that it has the tie in the control part and the helplessness part actually helps me on the other side of it as well, having an understanding that it's also not necessarily just about me.

Jenny: It’s that you don't have to take it personally. Yeah, I think that's a big thing that you just named Audra. I've known that in my own marriage that just by understanding where my partner is coming from…not in a defensive way, but in a vulnerable way. Then I can access—I don't have to take it personally—I can access some compassion. I can still be upset, I can still have my feelings, you know? It's not one or the other, but I can kind of hold both of like, “Well, I don't have to vilify her or make it all bad or…”

And I think what you said too, Justin, is right on. It’s that we're going to have emotional reactions, we’re going to be activated and triggered. Things happen, but it's how you move through it, how you're in relationship with it and it sounds like you've gotten these tools. And sometimes people think that therapists have it all figured out and it's like, no I get in arguments with my partner. I can sometimes slip into road rage and I just like... But I have an awareness that I didn't have.

Audra: Along these lines, Jenny, I'd love to know with our partners, with our family, the family unit, I think there's a fine line between—'cause we all want the best for our loved ones, be it our parents, our children, our Life Partners, extended family, we all want the best—what's that line and how do you grapple with wanting the best for these folks or loved ones and then stepping into control, wanting to see that outcome, wanting to have control of the outcome that we see? Like how do you manage that?

Jenny: I think whenever we’re in a controlling mindset or place inside, it's a moment to stop and check ourselves because the truth is you cannot control your partner. Like you just can't.

Now, with kids, it's different and...there is some level of control that you need to be having in terms of boundaries and things—and then you have boundaries with your partner—but it's different in that you cannot make them be who you want them to be. And that's true with kids: you can't make them be who you want them to be, and if we're in that headspace, I think that's the moment to pause and see what's going on.

Usually, it means some of my needs aren't getting met in my partnership. I just try to bring it back to what I do have some say over, which is myself. So what am I needing that I'm not getting? Where is connection getting forwarded? What is it to me if my partner does this or doesn't do it? Like you're doing that drilling down... So my partner makes this choice, what impact is it having? Okay, there is this outside impact, but what's the internal impact?

Justin: What is the emotional... What are the feelings that come up when your partner does X or when your child does? That for me has been really big. I've been able to see that, oh, I get emotionally triggered—I'll just say around Max's video game time—and to really just start to dig into that feeling. Like what is coming up emotionally around that? And it's a lot of feelings around being a bad parent; that if he’s playing video games then I'm bad.

Jenny: So that’s about you.

Justin: Yes, exactly, exactly, 100%. So then I get to get that little bit of insight that it’s not about his video game playing. Now, the video game playing can be excessive and there are problems with it, but video game playing as such... That's mine. That's my stuff.

Jenny: It sounds like you're figuring out where those two exist, so there's a place where there's a boundary with the video games, which is a choice for Max's well-being, and then there's a place where it starts to tip into stuff that's about you that is not Max's job to fix with whether or not he’s playing video games.

I think another piece of this, too, is just plain old frustration tolerance. Just like me in my marriage, and I'm sure my wife would say about me, it's like: what are the things that are deal-breakers? And what are the things that I just need to tolerate that she's different and I'm different from her, and that we're not gonna do it exactly the same way?

Audra: Such a good point.

Jenny: It is frustrating, but there's still all this good here that keeps me in this relationship, and so what do I choose to kind of focus on? And what then needs to be a conversation or sometimes a fight? Sometimes we need to fight it out, but...boy, I don't know about you guys but my marriage asks so much of me in terms of growing and...

Justin: Yes, it does.

Jenny: But there's a richness in it, like right when you're in the hard part of it, it blows. But when you get on the other side, doesn’t it feel like you climbed a mountain together or something?

Justin: Oh my gosh, I am more in love today than I've ever been. It is the work, and it's not...I don't mean it's the work between us, I feel like it's doing my work that has opened up, just a lot of avenues for just a deeper connection.

Audra: And I feel the same way with the kids. And it does bring me to... There's something that I want, I wanna get out and understand a little bit better, Jenny. When it comes to the burgeoning personhood and one's responsibility for oneself, and when we are in these close relationships, we can often overstep these bounds when we’re taking responsibility for each other. And so how do I help my kids honor who they are? Know that person, honor who they are: they want to take care of themselves, they want to live their best lives. And then how do I respect and trust that?

So how do I step out of paternalism? We need to have boundaries and we need to teach them, so that's a hard part because it's like it's incumbent on us to show them the ropes, but then that we can kind of often...I feel like over-step that into a “you just need to follow what I say.” But I do think that we need to honor and respect each other as autonomous, individual human beings as well, who are self-interested and want to live good lives.

Jenny: What's it like to invite them into that question? Like that's something you guys could figure out together.  Kids need that container. We all need the container. We all need boundaries because they feel good, actually. It feels good to know where our edges are and where you end and I begin, and what is expected.

And when that's communicated directly, it feels really good, but I mean, as the kids are getting older, I don't know. What would it be like to invite them into that conversation of like, you know, “We need to have some rules here,” and “I'm really interested in what you're wanting to get out of this,” “What do you think you would like to have happen here?”

Audra: I like that.

Jenny: I mean, obviously you can't do that at every age, but I think there is a certain age where it's like you can start to invite their voice into the conversation...

Audra: No, I think that you're completely right… I think that just bringing that out, even having the sentence stems and examples, I think is really helpful for parents. What are the questions...that I can ask myself? I think having those questions of “How can I invite in this conversation with my kids?” I have seen just some beautiful things happen as my kids take responsibility for themselves. Maesie has done the most amazing—it has been an amazing shift for her as a child with dyslexia, taking ownership of her school and her progress, and it was like a flip of a switch. It was amazing when she took ownership and wasn't just told what to do, but took it on herself.

Justin: And her particular learning strategies.

Audra: It's the coolest thing. So I've learned from just experiencing that with her, and I know that this is something that parents experience because it is a fine line between setting up boundaries and then over-stepping them sometimes into control, 'cause we don't know what else to do and...we weren't raised with having these conversations. Most of—a lot of us—were raised with “because I say so,” “'cause this is what's best.”

Jenny: Yeah, and I think a lot of those moments happen sometimes quickly, and we feel that pressure. You're talking about having to do it right in the minute, I mean, can we time out? If a kid asks you a question about a boundary and you really don't know, it's...okay to be like, “Let me get back to you on that.” Or like, “This is part of it I can tell you now and this part, we need to talk about more.”

Not having to have it all figured out, letting it evolve like with Maesie’s relationship to her dyslexia and things like that. “Let's try this” and “Let's check in around it, 'cause we might wanna try something else, that we can be more creative together about it.” And not having to have some pressure being a good parent or a bad parent...

Audra: Oh my gosh. What I'm hearing, Jenny, is stepping out of this reactionary, reactive way of living into a thoughtful, kind of like slowing down, and also a bit more proactive way of living with each other.

Jenny: Yeah, I mean, it's kind of the running joke in my house of like, I'm just being like “I don't know, I'm feeling feelings. I'm feeling feeling. I don’t know.”

Audra: I like that.

Jenny: But we know it's a funny and cheesy, or if the dogs are ever act acting up, it's like “And you're feeling feelings.”

Audra: I love it.

Justin: Feelings are meant to be felt. Alright, so I do want to segue now into something very cool that Jenny has done for The Daily Thrive, which is our subscriber-only platform for The Family Thrive. And so it is a self-paced course that we also do as group-based courses later on, and it's called “Loving Your Inner Critic.”

So, Jenny, this is an amazing course. I was so—really, I am so grateful that I got the chance to work on it with you, 'cause I learned so much as I put it together on to the platform… so, I just wanna be clear. Why do we want to love our inner critic? It seems like we...don't like this voice, this chattering voice in our head that tells us we're not good enough: why don't we just fight it and tell it to shut up?

Jenny: 'cause it doesn't work. It doesn't work. I don't know about you, I tried doing that for years, but it just doesn't work. I like to do what works. Well, first of all, the inner critic is something that we all have…we're all kind of wired to have it, and it's individual and that it looks different and sounds different for each of us, but to have a voice that's there trying to manage us is a very human experience, and it's really there to try to keep us safe.

It's just that it's often a very immature voice; it's very...it can be kind of primitive in its understanding of things.

Justin: It is not particularly sophisticated.

Jenny: It's not particularly sophisticated, no. And it's really hooked into old beliefs and fears that have probably been there for quite a long time and have been getting reinforced, and so it's often trying to protect you from rejection, big overarching fears like rejection, humiliation, failure, things that feel like it could be annihilating. But if we can be in our more adult brain, especially if we're doing internal work on ourselves, we start to learn that it's not annihilating… We can fail and be okay. And failure is actually something we might come to have some gratitude towards, but...

So anyway, why do you wanna love it? We wanna just try to be in a different relationship with it. I know I've said that a lot today, but it is just a game-changer when you can start to understand something you've always had with you in a different way. And it's like The Matrix: it's like you take the...other pill. And it's just like, oh...

And so that would be kind of the basic of why we wanna try to... Because it's not going anywhere. Oh, that's the other thing I would say. We love to try to kill off parts of ourselves, like I hate when I feel messy, I'm just gonna try and get rid of it. I hate anger, I'm just never gonna be angry... I'm gonna kill the anger. And what happens is, we can't... It just doesn't work that way, and that part tends to fester and then it starts coming outside you. For example, Justin, I don't mean to make you the identified patient here.

Justin: No, let’s do it.

Jenny: This helpless feeling. “If I hate that helpless feeling, I'm gonna try and kill it off,” and meanwhile it's sort of silently festering and then it starts to come out sideways when Max wants to play video games. And it feels like totally unrelated, but somehow in there—so try as you might get rid of that helpless feeling, it's there, 'cause you're human, and sometimes we feel helpless. So the critic is not going anywhere, so we might as well stop resisting it and turn toward it and see about being in a different relationship with it.

Justin: The way the course is laid out, it's so fantastic where we start out with understanding what an inner critic is, and then you take us through step by step, and by the end of it, it's like the inner critic has then turned into this child who was criticized and just wants love and compassion, and by the end of it, you’re like “I love this little guy!”

Jenny: I know.

Audra: Holding that child, I think, is beautiful. And the thought of being in a different relationship is really profound to me. I think we grow up often not realizing that that's even an option, and what you're opening up here is that this is totally an option in so many different facets of our lives.

Jenny: Yeah, it's powerful to allow these voices to be parts. And there's different therapies... This is thought of conceptually in lots of different kinds of therapies. Internal Family Systems is all about parts work, object relations, but anyway, but it's just... When you can start to think of it as a part of you instead of you, it's so much more empowering, and there's just so much more we can kind of play with and do with it.

Justin: Yeah, awesome. I have no doubt that this course is gonna be really powerful for a lot of parents, 'cause I think even if maybe in other parts of one's life, the inner critic isn't super loud. Well, it’s sure gonna get loud when you're a parent, like, “You're doing it wrong. You're not enough. You're a terrible parent.” So it seems like such a real part of parenting, so I'm excited to launch this course.

So our last question before we move into our regular podcast are the final three quick hits. So the last topic real quick—I wanted to get personal. But we've already gotten really personal, so I'm gonna get even more personal. What is really at your edge right now in your own mental and emotional wellness journey?

Jenny: That's a great question. I don't know about you guys, but I have noticed in quarantine like whatever your issue is, it is right up in your face, and requiring being looked at and known about. Pema Chodron talks about being pinned to the spot when life pins you to the spot, and there is no wriggling away, and I feel like that's been true for quarantine.

Justin: You can't go on vacation, you can't go see a show, you can't go to a bar...

Jenny: Yeah, and I feel like in terms of psyche, it's the same thing, so whatever I was working with clients around, it's heightened right now. And so for me, this is around allowing myself to be, to take up space and to have boundaries. My inner critic—it's funny that this is coming up right now because of this course, I kind of went into that course like “I'm good. Inner critic? I dealt with that.”

I don't really... I used to beat myself up really intensely—I mean, a yelling, cursing voice—and...I don't do that anymore. I'm really a lot more tender with myself. What I have noticed though, is that my inner critic has gotten very, very sophisticated, and it does it in this tricky way where it's like, there are places where I wanna step into who I am and it tells me, “Oh, that's... You're being a narcissist.” Like it pathologizes me.

Audra: Oh my goodness. Yeah.

Justin: So your inner critic basically went to school with you and learned all the tricks that you did.

Jenny: Yeah, and true story. I'm just gonna put it out there. I mean, Audra knows, I like to be a part-time witch over here. I’m a little... I'm quite woowoo. I recently got a tarot reading that was pretty... It was right. It was so affirming and right on.

And the first thing that she named out of the gate was this years-long, pretty toxic relationship that I came out of with someone who's quite narcissistic, and there's been a big healing around it and a big...all this stuff. And she's like, “Basically what you did is you learned how to say no to those people on the outside and you've internalized it and put it in your head. And that voice is now inside of you judging you.” And I was like, “Oh god, busted.” I was like, “Oh!”

But it's so subtle and it's not overt, and so I'm doing the work right along with you guys with this course. Just like trying to understand it, turn toward it, make friends with it and see the ways it wants me to stay small and quiet and does that serve anyone or me? And that's definitely a growing edge for me.

Justin: I think a lot of us can relate.

Audra: It's really powerful to hear that and to hear about how that inner critic can transform with you.

Jenny: It gets more sophisticated.

Audra: You need to keep doing the work, it's like, now that you have become nicer to yourself, it doesn't mean the work is done.

Jenny: No, not at all. And I think it's like, the growth I'm trying to do now or I wanna do now, or I am doing now, is really different than the growth. I mean like, in my twenties it was survival. It was like... We didn't talk about this, but another part of becoming a therapist was I went through very severe suicidality and depression and anxiety for a big part of my twenties and early thirties, and it was just survival.

It was just trying to get tools to get out of a life-or-death feeling inside. And then being in that for a period of time in your life and career growing, and then realizing like, I'm not in a survival mode, but there's still more growth to be done, and then hitting that wall and noticing like “Oh, interesting. It's way more sophisticated and it's trickier.”

Justin: Yeah, the game has evolved... Okay, let's go into our regular three questions for our podcast guests. Audra, we'll just switch off on this. I'll let you go first.

Audra: Alright, if you could post a big Post-It Note on every parent’s fridge for tomorrow morning, what would it say?

Jenny: I'm just gonna go with the first thing that came to mind when I heard the question which is: I am enough.

Audra: Thank you, thank you. I can use that.

Justin: I think every parent... Every parent needs that. In fact, yeah, if you're listening right now, just take a deep breath and repeat that.

Jenny: But I will say—can I add on, which is I am enough, and then the therapist in me is like, “But go and figure out what Post-it Note works for you.”

Justin: It is a big enough Post-It Note to put the whole thing on there.

Jenny: Take the time to figure out what you need and then allow yourself to have it.

Justin: I love it. Alright, so what is the last quote that changed the way you think or feel?

Jenny: Okay, so these questions, I felt this high pressure to pick the best quote.

Justin: Absolutely…nothing less than the best.

Jenny: Yeah, so full disclosure, you guys kinda gave me a heads up you're gonna ask me this, which I appreciate. And I was like, “Oh lord…” And I was looking, I was thinking, and I had this quote and that quote, and I was like, “You know what, universe? Just send me a quote...just give me a quote, 'cause I just can't pick the best one or whatever.” So I was getting out of the shower and I heard my wife clear as day say, “You're gonna go where you're looking, so you better look where you wanna be going.”

Justin: Kinda like eyes on the prize.

Audra: Absolutely.

Jenny: So I was like, “Oh my god, is she talking about life?” It turns out she was talking about riding a motorcycle, but that's okay.

Audra: Life lesson, yeah.

Jenny: So what it got me thinking about was what we were talking about earlier… If I'm looking about being a bad...having to avoid being a bad parent or a good parent, that's where I'm going, right? I'm going into this place of good or bad, if I'm looking toward trying to...you know…

When I'm upset with someone and I'm looking at what it is about them that's upsetting me, that is what I'm gonna get. That is what I'm gonna see and that is the feedback I'm gonna get in terms of if I'm going in with this question of like, “What is there to learn here? What's my part here?” So I was kind of just taking it into a more like, that could be applied in so many ways.

Justin: If I follow on Twitter, just like smart, kind people who are nice to each other and have really great ideas then I have a good time and I feel lightened, airy, when I'm done with it rather than... You know.

Audra: But, there is this concept, is what it relates to for me, is this concept that if you keep yourself kind of mired in the rabbit hole of the fear of the path forward, you will go there.

Jenny: Exactly.

Audra: If you look towards the vision that you're creating, the very real vision that you're creating, you will go there, right?

Jenny: Yes. Exactly.

Justin: That’s way deeper than my Twitter feed. Yeah.

Audra: And that's that concept of you manifest that.

Jenny: Yeah, agreed. And I guess, what it came up for me is that that can be applied to small and big things. I think when we think of manifesting we think of like, “I wanna have this amount of money and this…” In your relationship, in this conversation that I'm heading into with my child: Where am I looking? Am I looking toward connecting and repair? Am I looking toward blame and control?

Audra: Totally. I feel that.

Jenny: Like, you’re gonna go where you're... I had a recent experience with someone who texted me and they were upset about something, and I just... I got so triggered. I got so upset, and I was like... I slowed it down, I was like, “I don't wanna text. Let's have a conversation.”

And I went into that conversation of like, I wanna remember this is my friend, we care about each other, there's a way we can both be happy and we can find a way through. And that's exactly what we did. And I could have gone in that conversation very differently, and I have a feeling...of where it would have gone if I had drawn my sword.

Audra: Had you drawn your sword, gone in defensively, gone in with the list of assumptions and stories, like how we normally do it, right?

Jenny: Yeah.

Justin: Okay, 'cause I wanna just explore this idea just one second, because what has worked for me is to learn—especially with this past year—to go into conversations, go into any sort of interaction with as few expectations as possible and really as few assumptions as possible, and to just come in with kind of a jazz-improv mood.

Jenny: Jazz hands.

Justin: Yeah, let's just see what happens here. And so what I'm hearing though is that, I don't know. This quote of yours makes me think, “Oh, I should have some sort of expectation” or “I should be going in with an expectation.”

Jenny: Ohhh… Interesting. Maybe more of an intention than an expectation?

Justin: Yeah. Okay.

Audra: Especially in conversations like that. It depends on what it is. So for example, previously on a Saturday morning or a Friday night, you would have a complete plan in your head of how everything should run, and if things didn't go that way, it would cause difficulty.

Justin: I would have assumptions, and a lot of expectations...

Audra: And now you’ve been very open, just like let's see what the night presents. Let’s just see, I'm gonna do me, but let's see what happens. Look at this morning: so I’m gonna run to Target, but I'm gonna see what happens.

But having that tough conversation with your daughter... To walk into that with an intention that isn’t based on these stories and assumptions and defensiveness and guardedness and all of the...I think which relates to the inner critic, the self-protective ego, all of that stuff. But [just] walk in with the intention, as you like to say: what is going to serve in connection? What, how am I going to learn more about my child? It's a different intentionality.

Justin: Nice.


Audra: So I still think you can be open.


Justin: Yeah, yeah. This last question, so we are going to be asking everybody this question. Because as parents, we can sometimes get to a point where we say, ‘Ahhh, kids,’ where just like this exhaustion, and it's just chore and obligation and spilt milk and all this stuff. So we wanna just end on this note of like, what's your favorite thing about kids? Let's focus on something rad about kids.


Jenny: Okay, this is a two-parter. Well, I think I love kids’ honesty. I just love how they are so honest and from telling you that you look fat to... I just think there's a beautiful integrity in that. Where they just tell a certain kind of...they just tell their truth.


Audra: Tell it like it is.


Jenny: They tell like it is.

And the other part is, I love—I mean, this sounds cliche, but it's true—I really, really love their imaginations. I remember having a conversation with Max, years ago, when he was... I think he was doing something around narrative work...I feel like ninjas were a part of it, and his understanding of the bad guys and the tumor, and I just was like... I just loved sitting there, listening to him tell me his story and the way he was making sense of it and understanding it and living it… And I was just like, “It's ingenious.” It's just ingenius. And so there's that creativity and that imagination is just... It's inspiring and...I think it's ingenious. There’s something we can all learn from it, so that's my favorite.

I just love being around kids, just like... One of my favorite jokes is by this four-year-old little girl I met once, and she was like, “What's purple and sits on the bottom of the ocean and goes click, click, click?” And I'm like, “What?” She's like, “A four-door grape.” Brilliant. Of course. It’s a four-door grape. I’m like, “I have no idea what that is.” So totally amazing.


Audra: Jenny, do you...speaking of that: I couldn't agree more, and it makes me think of Sir Ken Robinson, who passed away I think just last year—not too long ago—and his work on creativity and how our educational systems often just squish it. We're not fostering it.


Jenny: Not valued.


Audra: Do you remember when... I'll just say this: I remember when my imagination started to wane. And I remember feeling grief around it. I was, like, probably and 11, 12-year-old, being like, I used to see whole worlds with my Legos and would be fascinated with it, and now I want a sweater for Christmas like, this is a little sad, it's going away.

Do you, I mean, you're an artist, but I'm wondering if you have any feelings around your childhood imagination with something that you appreciate in kids. What about for you personally? Someone who was once a kid.


Jenny: I spent so much time by myself and I created worlds. And, I do love that part of myself, I think it was... When I look back to her, I think like, “What a cool little kid in a lot of ways.”


Justin: I do love that.


Jenny: But in terms of when it started to wane? When you said that the first thing came to mind, for me, I remember in high school, making these ridiculous videos. So video cameras were not common, and we happened to have one. And so turning in videos, you could get it—and now, it would just be like, consider phoning it in—but at the time, I could get out of writing papers by making videos.

And I remember doing a video about “The Scarlet Letter,” and it was stupid and not hilarious—but hilarious to me. And I roped my friends in, and my friends got scared they weren't gonna get an A, because the teachers weren't impressed or something, and everyone just abandoned ship. I remember that moment of just feeling like I was the only one standing behind this creative idea and feeling like everyone was mad at me and hated it. And I do think that that was a time where I started to start to tuck that that part of me away, that part of me that was a little bit more daring and a little more out-there and a little more risk-taking in terms of my creativity. That's a moment I won't forget that. I think it kind of was like, “Oh, This maybe doesn't work.”


Audra:  My gosh, that feels really monumental. It feels really big, to me, to hear that and it makes me think of how many of us have these moments where we are standing strong and tall in this space, and we... It's like the inner critic, as you mention, is there—it makes us smaller to make us safer in some way. Right? And so that's one of those first experiences of just feeling like I've gotta go smaller, I can't stay this big.


Jenny: I think I will add that the choice for me, and this is a choice that I think has been a theme in my life and true for most people, we’ll always choose attachment. The child within us will always choose attachment. And for me, it was like I would rather be an attachment with my friends and my teachers. If I have to choose between myself and my creativity, my vision and the attachment, I'm gonna pick attachment, and that's what we as humans do every single time. And this is where we can—in certain situations—we can abandon ourselves.


Audra: Also give ourselves grace when we do abandon ourselves, to know that it wasn't because we weren't…whatever, principled or whatever the thing may come up for you.


Justin: Millions of years of evolution, of the lone gazelles a dead gazelle, type of thing.  


Jenny: I was a dead gazelle, Justin. I was looking at a B+ and...social ostracization. Yeah, I was a dead gazelle.


Justin: Jenny, thank you so much for this talk. I just wanna state the intention to have you as a recurring guest. I think there's so much to talk about.


Jenny: I would love that. I could talk with you guys all day. Are you kidding me? I love this.


Audra: I have so many questions, Jenny, and so many different things I want to explore. So many different things.


Justin: Thanks for listening to The Family Thrive Podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell it to your friends and head on over to Apple Podcast—or anywhere you listen to podcasts—and give us a review.

We’re so grateful you’ve chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.


Justin: You ever have those inner voices that are telling you you're not doing it right as a parent, you're not good enough, have you ever thought about how your own childhood emotional wounds are affecting your parenting?

Well, these are things that we think a lot about. So we were so lucky to have this amazing conversation with Jenny Walters, a licensed marriage family therapist from Los Angeles, California. We got into it all, it got deep, it got challenging, but if you are in the mood to go there with us, then get a cup of tea, take a deep breath, find a comfy seat on the couch and join us for this amazing conversation.

Jenny: People come to therapy wanting us to get rid of their pain, and they are at first disappointed to learn that it isn't about getting rid of the pain, it's the power we [have] in relationship to it.

Justin: What can I even say about Jenny Walters? We've been friends with her since our oldest son Max was born. I remember Jenny taking baby photos of Max, and at that time she was an artist in Los Angeles. A couple of years after that though she found her true calling and true creative outlet, which was in psychotherapy, and it was so cool to watch that journey and then to watch her blossom professionally, and now to have her on our podcast and to help us kick this podcast off, it's just like the stars are aligning.

So today, Jenny is a depth therapist who specializes in working with highly sensitive people—and in this conversation, I found out that I was a highly sensitive person. She also works with adult children of narcissists and borderline disorders. Her background is in union psychotherapy, so she works with patients to heal deep, unconscious traumas. She's a graduate of the Pacifica Graduate Institute, she is a founder and director for the Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles. If you wanna see more about her and what she does, you can find her at jennywalters.com

Let's just get straight into it. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

So, Jenny, I have a memory that you met Audra before I met you, is that right?

Audra: I don't think that's correct.

Jenny: I think you were both at the same barbecue where we met.

Justin: Oh, that's right.

Audra: But we spend time together, I think you were off...

Jenny: Yeah, I don't have any memory of chit-chatting with Justin, but Audra was like a beacon of light in a very dark storm. I had just moved to Los Angeles...

Justin: Actually, always is.

Jenny: Yeah, no kidding. That's the truth. I was in a horrible relationship, but that relationship brought me to that barbecue, and then I met Audra.

I’ve had a lot of those in my life where the vehicle was kind of gnarly, but it got me to these really great people, and Audra was really one of the first friends I made in Los Angeles, and she just took me in and...yeah, we became fast friends that day

Audra: I think you were one of my first friends too, because we had to move to LA much... Didn't we move around the same time?

Jenny: I don't know, I got there in late 2007.

Justin: So we were in 2005?

Audra: Yeah, I guess we were a little bit earlier, it didn't seem like it. [LA’s a tough place] to meet people and make friends. Isn't it? At least for me, it was.

Jenny: I agree; I've moved a lot in my life, and especially back then. LA was the last big move for me, but it had been preceded by many years of big moves to different cities, and I would say that Los Angeles was the toughest landing and the toughest place to really build a life. And I think it took me a self three years before I really felt at home there and felt like I had a community and I belonged. And that's not uncommon. I get a lot of transplants in my practice—in my therapy practice—and it's tough. It's a tough one, so I try to normalize that for people, just like LA's kind of hard to land in.

Justin: Okay, so here's my question, what was the impetus for you wanting to become a therapist?

Jenny: Maybe, yeah! I think LA was the final frontier of me having to confront things. Prior to being a therapist, I was teaching photography and art as an adjunct professor, which is a racket that's very difficult to survive in. There's no money. You're constantly hustling for work. So I was doing the starving artist thing, but the truth is, I really wasn't making art anymore, I was just trying to make a living, so I was pretty unhappy.

And then I moved to Los Angeles, it was kind of a Hail Mary. People ask why, and I wish I had a reason—I just felt like I needed to go to Los Angeles, but really everything in my life said, “This is a terrible idea.”

It was really hard, but now looking back, I'm so glad I did, because all my dreams came true. But they weren't dreams that I knew I had, so I was very attached to an idea of the way I thought my life needed to look, which involved having a successful art career. Marrying a man, having a family. This is what I thought I needed to look like.

But my life was not going that way, I was very unhappy, I was miserable, I was broke, and I started to just—also my body, I started to get sick. So I developed an auto-immune condition, my body started to break down, and it was really just my life was trying to shake me awake into some other knowing about what my calling was.

So I started getting acupuncture every week to try and get relief from the physical pain of this—at that point, kind of...well, it was diagnosed, but I didn't know how to treat the thyroid disorder that I had—and my acupuncturist also did energy healing, and I actually was really fascinated by it, so I started to study energy healing with her just on the side and got really into that started… I've always been interested in self-development, self-help, I was always reading the self-help books, and so I was always interested in psychology, but I just started to reconnect to this part of myself that had this inkling that I was being called to the healing arts and, I mean, it's not a fancy story, but I started to Google. Our good friend Google took me to Pacifica Graduate Institute, where I saw that you could study psychology through the lens of the imaginal and through the lens of myth and metaphor and psyche.

And I get chills thinking about it because that's exactly why I wanted to make art: was to create meaning-making and try to understand these bigger questions, that's why I made art. And so I thought, “Oh well, if I can get the same itch scratched, but actually make a living as a therapist, wouldn't that be nice?”

So that was kind of what got me to enroll at Pacifica, but I wasn't really sure until I started working with clients, and then I was hooked. That was when I was like, “Oh my god, this is amazing.” And it was so much more satisfying than art-making because there was an instant connection and instant moments of understanding and just all that stuff you want your art to do, but...if no one looks at it, that doesn't happen. So that was really exciting, so that was this after I could start working with people, I was hooked and that was my journey.

Justin: So Jenny, you are not a parent yourself, but you are passionate about family mental health— parents’ mental and emotional health. What is your connection? How does that fire you up?

Jenny: Yeah, I'm not a parent to human children, and I do have two fur babies...

Justin: What are their names?

Jenny: June and Oh Hi, and they are very special snowflakes, very different animals, but anyway...

Well, so yeah, having a family wasn't in the cards for me. I met my wife late in my 30s, and I've always been a bit of a late bloomer, and so we wanted to spend...we were really wanting to spend time just the two of us, and then it was too late, so we decided not to have a family, but we are really dedicated to our chosen family, and our chosen family is filled with lots of children, and these kids are a really important part of our lives—like yours are part of that chosen family.

But my dedication to it and my interest in it is that I think if we can start to help children and families understand their internal experiences and help them make sense of it and start to value that as a culture, that we could change the world. So when parents are doing their own internal work, they are in turn helping children make sense of their lives in their worlds, which are not going to be free of suffering, as you two know, as much as we'd love that to be the case. It's just not how it goes for humans, and when we avoid it, when we pretend it's not there; we don't help, we are not helping anything, and we're actually really traumatizing and confusing kids.

And so when we can be courageous and brave and look at our own stuff and help our children understand and look at their own suffering, we're less likely to be acting it out unconsciously out in the world, and we're less likely to be jerks, and I think that we can...I don't know, I think we can change the world, so I think it starts young. So I feel very passionate about that.

Justin: I’ve found that personally for myself, that I, as a parent, for so many years, was just working out a lot of my own issues out on to my kids, and it was like over the past few years, realizing, “Wow, my own mental and emotional health and wellness is absolutely crucial in raising these kids, so they don't pass down. What was passed down to me.”

Audra: Yeah, yeah, can I add to that? Because it really strikes me as a powerful paradigm shift in parenting and our approach to being in family and being in community. So you are in family Jenny fully with your chosen family, or you're being in family in the space. And I think this would come naturally to think, “Yes, I potentially suffered from significant trauma, maybe I was abused, I will... The buck stops here. I will work hard to make sure I don't abuse my child…” Right?

I've heard of this line of thinking before, but to take that out into... Then instead of like, “Okay, maybe it's not completely abusive, my acting out of my stuff, or it’s my anxiety or whatever it might be, it may not be abusive, but am I setting up my child for success? Or my family for success? Am I creating an environment of flourishing?”

It's almost like you're in preventive health to some degree; helping people live their best lives and do that in family and therefore changing the world because we are changing the way we are doing this together and... Yeah, you're not damaging your—well we all have our damages, it hurts, I guess—but it does seem like a beautiful...it was a beautiful mission and a beautiful vision, and one that really excites me to hear you talking about it because it's so positive and proactive.

Jenny: Well, thanks. Yeah, I mean, I think we're becoming more evolved whereas, like you said, it may have been before so overt: “Well, I was abused, I won't abuse.”

I think we're getting into a much more nuanced understanding of mental health and wellness, which excites me because in my former life as a photographer to make ends meet, I had a photography business where I photographed babies and children, and so I worked with a lot of families in that way, and what I noticed was that there were a lot of parents who were trying to parent differently than they have been parented.

Where they had maybe been overly frustrated by their parents, maybe a lot of rules and not a lot of building up of self-esteem and a lot of affirmations, I noticed a lot of parents going this extreme other end where if the child was experiencing any discomfort at all, everything had to stop, we had to get the kid comfortable again. And now that generation is showing up in my room, in my therapy room, and they have a different confused relationship with suffering.

Justin: So what strikes me there is the wanting to protect your kids from any discomfort at all is just working out those issues, I mean, it seems to me it's a product of the parent oneself not being comfortable with distress, not being able to regulate one’s on emotions and deal with challenges, and so now you're gonna protect your kids from challenges and from stress and from different emotions.

Jenny: Exactly, I mean, the kind of therapy I do is sometimes called integrative therapy. Depth therapy, integrative therapy, and the ideas that we're integrating all parts of ourselves, and I like to think too, that we need to integrate all parts: we wanna get the insides and the outsides lined up, so we're in our integrity, but the outsides as well, and this says that all things can be here. So good and bad feelings can be here, not just good feelings, but good and bad feelings that we can grow tolerance and resilience around that, and we can learn how to help our kids know when they feel bad, it's okay that you feel bad... I'm here to be with you when you feel bad, I'm not gonna try and fix it, I'm just gonna…and we're gonna get to the other side of this. That is so empowering. I have so many young adults that have shown up that were...there is such an aversion to any kind of “negative feeling” or distress or this pressure to be the level of perfectionism that's showing up and…

And not to get political or anything, but it just speaks to me of this sort of narcissism in our culture: if something matters and something doesn't, it's good or it's bad, you're a winner or you're a loser, and it's like we just miss out on our humanity, and we miss out on each other and... It's a split...our psyche is split, which always is pain and suffering, and so if we can integrate all those parts and help our kids integrate them all, what a world we live in, you know?

Justin: This is something that's very real for me. When we... So we recently moved to Savannah, Georgia. We lived in Southern California for 15 years, and we made this big move, and it was, for the kids, it was a really big move and I was feeling a little—I don't know—guilty for pulling them out of their environment that they grew up in and moving all clear across the country because Audra and I thought it'd be cool and fun.

And so, when they would express distress around this, I was experiencing myself like, “Oh, let's just distract ourselves,” or “Let's bribe them,” or “Let's do...is there any way we can just make these challenging emotions stop?” And then, because of the work I've been doing over the past couple of years, I realize like, “Oh.” I... I need to do exactly what you're saying.

Like, “Let's make space for this. Let's make space for feeling sad, let's make space for being angry, let's just open up and just let it be here.” And it was amazing once I kind of let down my guard around that and just let the feelings be expressed. We could move them, they just kinda needed to be moved and just processed at expressed… And that was it!

Audra: Do you remember—was it at dinner just last night—we were talking about this, and Max said that he just doesn't like anything new. And one thing that came up that I asked him, it wasn't that he just doesn't like anything new; it's that everything new that's happened to him since he was four-and-a-half, has been kind of bad news, been really hard. [And] just for him to be able to let it out without judgment...

Justin: And for us to get curious about it...

Jenny: And to name that and acknowledge it, and so now we can have a more nuanced understanding of it so that, “Oh, maybe this is a different kind of new than the kind of new that you've known,” and then just acknowledging how hard transition and change is.

And you know, also, side note: I work with a lot of people who would identify as highly sensitive, which is actually a legit research classification, that some people are more sensitive and that they are receiving more kind of sensate information in lots of different ways all the time—and transition’s really hard for those folks, it's really...it feels really uncomfortable and instead of it being shamed, we can just acknowledge it and know that and [if] there's a transition coming, we need to take our time with it. We need to be tender. We need to be talking about it. And that, just like you said, Justin, when you came out of the block around, it's like coming out of the resistance, it just lessens the pain so much so what a great insight for you guys to have around him and as a family, his experience...

Justin: How does one know if one is a sensitive individual? 'Cause I might be one.

Audra: You've always self-identified as one.

Justin: Yeah.

Jenny: It's a great question. Okay, so have you been called over-sensitive your whole life?

Justin: Audra, what do you think?

Audra: You've called yourself sensitive your whole life, but I don't know that you have been called sensitive.

Justin: I think I've been able to hide it and find ways to cope.

Audra: I found you to be trigger-y, if you will, around me...

Jenny: Yeah, are you sensitive to lights and sounds? Do you... For example, I cannot tolerate—my wife makes fun of me—I cannot handle overhead lighting.

Justin: Oh my god, me too! Right now, I'm just dealing...

Audra: Jenny, he turns off all the lights, he prefers for us to live maybe by one candle that we carry around.

Justin: And I rationalize it by saying, “What about we're saving electricity? Or were saying global climate change,” but it's really that... Yes, overhead lighting.

Jenny: So that what you just named right there is that you have this heightened sensitivity to light and then there's this shame around it, so we have to rationalize it. So that is a great way of telling if you're a highly sensitive person, is that that’s a really unconscious experience for a lot of people who are HSP, because it's like, it's different.

It's only about 20% of the population has this sensitivity, and I don't think it's better or worse, it's just different. It's a different way of receiving and processing, we just tend to process... And what I say is, I feel like it sounds like it's... I mean, it's better, but we just process a little more intensely, a little more deeply.

Justin: It sounds better, yeah.

Jenny: But it's actually a real pain in the butt. And for a lot of us, I can say a trajectory for a lot of us is just a lot of anxiety, a lot of over-identifying, when we feel something, we assume it's ours, and so a lot of the work around being a highly sensitive person is learning how to identify what's yours and what is something that you're picking up on, and then a lot of processing needs to be a big part of your existence.

Justin: Oh wow. Yeah, okay, so we are gonna have to cut this part short because I totally wanna talk about this and make it all about me.

Audra: No, but it sounds like this...this is a bigger topic to talk about. One thing that really strikes me though is, not to get too granular here, is that you've never struck me as somebody who is completely empathetic when it comes to other peoples...

Justin: It’s just coping, where it's like I'll just shut myself off,

Audra: Oh, you just shut it down.

Justin: Yeah, that’s why I identified with “what’s mine” and “what’s others’.” There are some documentaries that I will watch that will make me just really feel like, “Oh my god, am I maybe?

Audra: Which one was the last one? Yeah.

Justin: It was this HBO documentary about this cult in Albany…

Jenny: The NXIVM... Oh my god, I did such a deep dive on that.

Justin: Oh my god, and it just messed me up. About 30 years ago [or] 20 years ago, there was this... It was a documentary about this guy in Wisconsin who made horror movies.

Jenny: Oh, the real low-grade budget ones. I remember this movie, yes. Didn’t he work in a cemetery cleaning up poop and stuff? Like people poop in cemeteries.

Justin: Yes, and the running joke throughout it is that he was pronouncing this word incorrectly... What was it?

Jenny: “Cove-in!”

Audra: “Cove-in!” That was it!

Justin: It was like coven, “No, cove-in.” And I remember at the time I was watching this, I think I had just graduated undergrad and I wasn't sure what I was gonna do with my life, and that movie messed me up for days. I was like, I'm gonna be him. Like that, and it was weird I just...

Jenny: Yeah, Justin, we need to do a separate convo. That was... Just constantly projecting yourself into other people's lives and [thinking that is] going to be your life—that was my favorite pastime for most of my twenties.

Justin: Oh my god. Oh, okay, so one more thing, what about showers? Is it harder to get it just right where hot and cold—like ah, that’s too hot, that’s too cold, that’s too hot, that’s too cold. Our right temperature is just so finally tuned?

Jenny: That could definitely be a sensor, a sensory thing. Like a touch thing can be something that is up for you in terms of how you have your sensate experience. Or sounds. Like certain sounds can really...

So there are lots of... It looks different for every person, and that's why it's really important to you.

I'm actually working on a course about this, it’s called “The Sensitive Uprising,” 'cause I'm just like...'cause if sensitive people can understand this part of themselves, it turns out—studies show—that highly sensitive folks are actually really incredibly resilient. They make good leaders because we're really good at listening for nuance and having this kind of more nuanced insights and stuff. But usually, we're so overwhelmed and we have no idea how to navigate the sensitivity that we're just rocking in a corner having little anxiety attacks.

Justin: Oh, I love this. I’m glad that we could take this little detour. Maybe there are parents out there who are recognizing this...

Jenny: And recognizing it in their kids. 'Cause I grew up in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, so I was always told I was over-sensitive, I mean, this was not in any way valued at all in my family.

Justin: So Jenny, I wanted to ask, in the therapeutic, psycho-emotional health world, it seems to me that pretty much every major issue is just childhood wounds, childhood emotions. In your experience, does everything just really go back to childhood or is there more to it?

Jenny: I think a lot does. I think there's more to it, and people will have different opinions about this. What's sad is that what you just named is what keeps people from going to therapy because they think that we're just going to sit and vilify their parents. And again, it's about having a more holistic understanding of your experiences, but I'll just go through the things that I think make up what shows up in my therapy room.

One is inter-generational trauma. So we know trauma gets handed down in your DNA, so you're gonna show up into your life with trauma you didn't actually experience firsthand, but it's actually in your body. That's a piece of it, and that of course can extend to the trauma, the collective trauma: racism, patriarchy, white supremacy, all that. I mean, so that's in your body.

Then there’s... Sure, there's the childhood experiences that you have, and sometimes those aren't actually what you would think of as trauma—and I have a great example. So when I was studying EMDR, which is a trauma therapy called it's Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, it has a very sexy title that no one can remember, but basically what we learned is that when we activate a certain part of your brain, while we're remembering traumatic experiences if we process it and it discharges it from your body and you no longer have that trauma response that fight, flight, freeze.

So it's a game-changer, and it's an amazing therapy, but when I was studying it, one of the stories they told was about this man who was deeply phobic of shoes, which is a strange—that's hard to be afraid of shoes. That's a tough one. And when they were doing EMDR—and he'd been to so many therapists and phobia therapist, and nothing helped—well, when they did EMDR and they started getting into his memories and he was just kind of free-associating to memories. He went back to when he was five years old his grandma died, and he asked Mom, “Where did Grandma go?” And she said, “The angels took her soul up to heaven.” And as a five-year-old, he thought a soul was the sole of the shoe. And he made an association with that and death. And that got stored in his memory network and in his body and carried forward into this deep phobia for 30 years, and then when they [concluded that] with the EMDR, he was no longer afraid of shoes.

That's not something you would—I mean the parent didn't do anything wrong there. I know that's a perfectly reasonable thing to tell a five-year-old. But in terms of letting parents off the hook, we are humans raising humans, and it is every human being’s, I think, job to work through your emotional difficulties, experiences, and sufferings, and there is no way to raise a child without them experiencing suffering, so just let yourself off that hook.

Certainly, we can take responsibility for our stuff and not be harming them in overt ways, but there are ways in which kids are gonna feel hurt and powerless that we couldn't predict, we couldn't control. So just let to people off the hook: that there is no way to raise a child without pain. And can we just breathe a sigh of relief there?

Justin: And... Yeah, that pain is a part of life and we're bringing kids into this world.

Audra: It's a part of humanity.

I think it's so important, Jenny, too. Because so often, parents are in so much pain seeing their child in pain. They want to relieve their own pain, not just their child’s pain, but they don't wanna have to go through seeing their kids go through the typical, normal things in life, the Mean Girl syndrome and not having any friends, whatever it might be—the normal things. And these are not things for us to manage in that way of preventing them, we're removing every obstacle, it's how do we process these obstacles together?

Jenny: Exactly, I mean, I once met with a therapist and he was kind of this older surfer-slash-psychoanalyst guy, like very California therapist. He was probably in like his 70s, and he said, “You know, people come to therapy wanting us to get rid of their pain and they are at first disappointed to learn we teach them how to suffer; that it isn't about getting rid of the pain, it's the power we [have] in relationship to it.”

When you try to eliminate the pain and suffering, you also eliminate your experience of joy because you can't cut off one end and not the other, and so what we end up doing is living on this little island of a very limited amount of emotionality. And what's astounding to watch with clients—and it was true for me too—that when I could allow these other harder feelings to be here, more joy showed up as well, and I started to have a more expansive experience.

Justin: I've experienced that as well. Oh my gosh, yeah. And I so identify with the patients who are coming in and have issues with their parents and bring a lot of energy around their own childhood, and I certainly—although I love my parents and they know that—I dealt with a lot of that.

And one therapist I worked with told me, and this was a game-changer for me, that there was nothing that my parents today could do or say to fix any of that. There's nothing, and that all I needed to do is grieve, just grieve that whatever that happened to that four-year-old, whatever happen to that eight-year-old, that 13-year-old, great. There's nothing they can do. There's no magic words, they can say there's no...because it's gone, it's done. But that was in the past, and you just need to grieve it. And I was like, oh my god, what a game-changer for me and my relationship with my parents and my childhood emotional wounds.

Jenny: Well, yeah, grieving is such an integrative process because it's an acceptance of death and a processing of it. And it's like the process I see is people come in and they—not for everyone—but a typical one can be: “I don't wanna talk about my parents. They were amazing. They did the best they could.” There's this fear that if we talk about what hurt that we’re making them all bad, so we gotta have them all good.

Okay, then we start to open up and then we go into...they may slip and we're in the all-bad place. How could they do that? “They're horrible.” And then we allow them to start to be humans and we start to know about their compassion. We start to compassion for them without disowning our experiences. And then it's like it can be this more integrative place of like, “Okay, they were humans. Yes, they screwed up, but they also... I can see their own trauma and I can hold it.”

And that's a lot to hold. That's complex, and I don't know, if you look around our culture right now, people don't like to hold complexity; they want it to be black and white, they want it to be right and wrong, and it's like, this work, this is just not the truth of...

Justin: It’s not the truth, that'll mess you up.

Jenny: Yeah, it keeps you in deep, deep pain when things have to be split apart and all or nothing like that.

Justin: And it keeps one from being the best parent that they can be. Like, this is not a game for black-and-white thinking.

Audra: Jenny, do you see that pain can be so painful that it leads to, potentially for many people, the desire to control it, numb it altogether, and that very often leads to the lawnmower-ing, the control of the entire environment?

Jenny: Yep.

Audra: Try to keep the pain that is inevitable in this way at bay, but it's always there.

Jenny: Absolutely. And I can say I have a lot of compassion for that response, you know? Alcoholism is up right now, drinking, and we are in a moment of something is out of our control, and a lot of people got no help knowing how to be in relationship with something like that. And so, yeah: numbing, disassociating. Like we were talking about sensitive people, like I'm the same way. I tend to just be like, “Bye. I’m outta here.”

My therapist calls it the “skis away skedaddle,” which—a little therapy lingo there. Yeah, absolutely, in the controlling, the anxiety of needing things to be perfect, needing things to be on a trajectory… That was a big piece of pain in my life: was that my life path has been very circuitous, and I had so much shame around that, that I should have known what I wanted to do.

I think we're coming out of this as people who have more complex career paths, but I was in the generation where I was like, “Yeah, you can be a barista in your twenties, but then you gotta pick something and go with it.” And I didn't... I was all over the place. A lot of pain in that. So yeah, and I think that's true.

Audra: Jenny, I wanted to talk about that actually. I think that we have some questions coming up more about emotional health and parenting. But going back to your story, I just find it to be so powerful, because when we're just talking to you just now like, this is you. Through and through, the you I've always known, but I've also known you in different places with different careers, and I feel like we've learned so much together and we've grown so much together. Yet, this is the you I've always known. This is like...the you that's always been there, always been my friend is like, you sort of unlocked the box and it's all there.

And one thing, I remember really vividly, was processing with you your art career, and the fact that the performance of artists and a fine artist, because you're a fine art photographer, in many ways. You have many things, right? And this is one of the things: you are an incredible photographer, not just of children and babies, but fine, fine art, and how challenging it was to have to perform this perfection-driven persona and life and all of the requirements that went with that never, ever sat with you as I remember—and correct me if I'm wrong.

And then I remember there being guilt around that because you're kind of supposed to want to lean into that as an artist, and then I remember getting in... You introduced me to Brené Brown, actually. I feel like she'd broke open for so many of us to say, “Wait, let...let's talk about perfection openly.” And so, is this a part of your Genesis? Because I feel like there is very much an intuitive, spiritual aspect when you talk about energy work with this. That this has always been there for you. I feel like I've so valued our time together, wrestling with all of this, and you in many ways followed your gut and intuition down this path and have used this experience to kind of open up this space moving forward. Or do you have any reflections on that?

Jenny: You’re totally right. First of all, that's...what you just described is why we're dear friends: is that there's a soul connection that I feel like we have, that you could see that in me when I couldn't see it in myself, and when I was in a really a bit of a hot mess there—I mean, let’s be honest—you've been very generous in how you described it.

Audra: You didn’t seem like a hot mess to me!

Jenny: I felt like it for sure.

Audra: But for us, the struggle was real.

Jenny: The struggle was real.

Audra: It was objectively real to me.

Jenny: Yeah, but I think the evolution for me has been, and I think this happens in therapy a lot, is... I was very attached to a concrete understanding of my life and that it needed to look a certain way. And it was a very limited imagining—it wasn't even that imaginative. But it was as a visual artist in the fine art world, which is, you're right, it never jived with me. It was never who I was. It just requires a certain persona just to really succeed in that world that I just wasn't... It just isn’t who I am.

And as things shifted, I started to trust the unseen world a bit more, you know? The intuition, the knowing, the spiritual has been a big part of that for me. And that's what I noticed with clients is they come in and they are like, “Okay, I just need to find the right partner and the right job, and I will be happy.” And then I have to give them the bad news of like, it just doesn't work that way. Because I sit with people who have the right job and the right partner, and they're miserable. And when you're trying to force those concrete pieces around, it's very hard to push concrete, but when you start to get these interior pieces understood and in connection with souls’ calling, and that's what I meant when I was saying like doing the therapeutic work is the same feel as what I was trying to get in art-making. And if I'm in the feeling of my soul's calling, who cares what it looks like? If it's being an artist or being a therapist, it’s like, if I'm happy, who cares?

Audra: Oh, and it's incredible that you tapped into that. Like one thing, I'm in awe of it, because one thing that seems to be potentially a really big challenge for people is that when you are good at that thing that doesn't feel right, you can get by. You can get by doing it, but it doesn't feel right. And you just know on your intuitive level it's not the right way, it's not the way, the right way to manifest this, or to live this part of yourself, right?

Jenny: Yeah.

Audra: So how do you trust that? And therefore, as parents, I think one thing that gets really challenging—that's hard enough with us, right? But then as a parent, you end up in the space of like: “What do you wanna do with your life? I don't care who you are, right? What do you wanna do with your life? What are your interests?”

You wanna cultivate these things and tie them into jobs, and there is a challenge in that because you don't want to pigeon-hole, you wanna teach that intuitive knowing. How do you do that when you don't know that for yourself or you're just trying to uncover that?

Jenny: Great question. It's rhetorical, right? I don't have to answer that do I?

I think you start by posing the question, you start by noticing your own experience so that you aren't projecting it onto your kids. And also letting your kids be different. My wife and I've been talking a lot lately about the concept of fruit smoothie and fruit salad, and this comes from a friend of mine, Annette Leonard, who... She actually has a podcast called “Chronic Wellness,” and it's about helping people with chronic illness live in a state of health. But anyway, she can't remember who said this, so if anyone knows, I’m all for giving credit where credit is due. But it's about this idea of when we all need to be exactly alike, and I think parents can do this with kids where we want our kids to be how we think they should be, and it’s usually...it’s something to do with us.

And so we're in this... We're insisting on this fruit smoothie experience, and we really wanna be a fruit salad where we're all in the same bowl, but you’re pineapple and I’m mango and sometimes I don't like pineapple, but you still get to be here. So can your kids have a different experience than you, and also can we not put pressure on kids to live a corrective experience for us?

Audra: Oh! Beautiful point too.

Jenny: Like, “Oh, I made this mistake, I don't want you to make that mistake.”  You know what? They’re gonna make the mistakes they're gonna make.

Audra: And kids know that very often. I mean, I remember saying to my parents, my kids have said to me, “Well, I need to make the mistake so I can learn.”

Jenny: Yeah! Wow. Wisdom. It's true, right? It's like, can we trust in our okayness; even in the midst of mistakes, even in the midst of bad or hard feelings, even in the midst of suffering, can we know about some level of okayness and connectedness—and this is really the spiritual part comes in for me—I'm here living this life as a human on this planet, and I also feel like I am you and you are me. It's like we are connected. So can I hold both of those? And in that there is an okayness that for me was very helpful with my anxiety in terms of feeling more at peace with myself.

Audra: It's powerful, so powerful, Jenny, 'cause it makes me really think about… There's a major transition in parenting that I don't feel like I recall reading about or hearing about or anything like that. 'Cause if you are in the position to start out with a baby in some way, and then parent that baby into childhood and beyond—not every parent has this experience, but I think many, many do.

And you start out caretaking, and you start out knowing this baby, knowing when they need this and not the other. And there is that parenting where it's like, I get to think I know you, and have seen this from the beginning, and this sort of sense of you kind of being a part of me, but also that you know I know who you are. And then there's this transition where these human beings are their own people, and there's a breaking point where I think it really is super, super important to learn how to notice it within yourself to start to honor that they are their own people.

They are not mini you’s, they're not... You don't know them better than they do. There might be some ways in which you do, but we can just jump to that so fast and be like, “No, I know what you actually mean” and not let them represent themselves. You know things like that and how to help parents start to notice the space of transition and start to move along through it.

I don't think we really are...we're not raised with these tools, and most of us, in experience, I haven't seen that many books. I feel like we need help.

Jenny: Well, I think what your naming is—I think it's right on. And I think what we need to notice is when that opportunity is presenting itself and then noticing what about it causes us to be anxious or causes us to wanna double-down on regressing them back into this place where we're a fruit smoothie, where we're all the same, and “I know you.”

And it's like the parents have to deal with their own anxiety, and I think that's the work: is owning like, “Oh, it makes me anxious to let you go.” It's really...to wear your heart outside of you at all times in the form of a child, and then to start to have to let it live its life and still have that level of connection. I mean, that is... Talk about needing some resilience around that, but if you can't acknowledge that, it kicks up a new fear or anxiety and then we can’t do anything with it.

Justin: That has been a game-changer for me to just [ask] the simple question of, “What am I feeling right now?” And then just to go further of like, “No, no, no. Try to get more detail with that. What are you feeling?”

And I remember a revelation working in therapy about a year ago, where I was talking about this time when I had kind of blown up at Max... It was early in the morning, and I like to have my quiet mornings, and he was asking to play video games before school. This is right before the Covid thing hit, and I was like, “No, you can't play video games before school. That's not what we do.” And he kept nagging. And then I just blew up at him and I was really angry. And he kind of was like, “That was mean” and then went off.

And I talked about this 'cause it's stuck with me for a couple of days, and it was really just doing the work of “No, what were you feeling?” And like, “What was that?” And just get into the emotions, not why. “Let's not create a story, just try to get deeper about what you were feeling.”

And finally, I got this part, I was like, “Oh my god, I was feeling helpless.” That's why I lashed out at him. It was not him, it was not all the other things, it was this emotional feeling of helplessness.

Audra: And you actually talked to Max about it after, which I thought was really amazing. And something that I wish I had known earlier in my parenting is like, you don't have to have all of the answers in a split second. Who invented this idea that parents have to have immediate comebacks for everything and I know what to do? You can pause. You can also come back later and apologize later and have conversations about it, not like it's all over in a second, you know?

Justin: This was literally the week before everything closed down for Covid, and so I was like… I was teaching at the time, I had a couple of classes and I didn't know what was gonna happen with those and...the whole world felt like something bad was just about to happen.

Jenny: So there was an underlying feeling of helplessness.

Justin: Yeah, so then it was like, I've no idea what's going on and I can't stop it, and so I was like... Okay.

Audra: Plus the narrative of being a bad parent if I let you play video games before school, there’s a lot of things like that.

Justin: And I have emotions around that. Like if you play video games before school, I am a bad parent. I will be judged harshly by someone somewhere...

Jenny: Yeah, no pressure.

Audra: Yeah, I know, right?

Jenny: Yeah, and so the Max just kind of unknowingly stepped in that. He kind of unknowingly stepped into that helpless feeling and for you to process that with them is just... I mean, that's the game-changer right there. Because now he understands. That's just great.

And in terms of what you're saying, Audra, about their repair after, and this idea we have to know exactly what we're doing. I train therapists now, and there's this pressure they put on themselves to have these perfect sessions where we know exactly how to respond to someone. And I'm like, “No, that is not how life goes, and that is...not how therapy is going to go. What's great is they come back next week to talk about it.” Then it's just all grist for the mill; we get to talk about it, that's the beauty of doing this work every week.

Audra: Jenny, that's amazing. That’s like the slowing down that it seems like we need to be bringing into our society and culture in these ways that feel completely unexpected to me, I had no idea that therapists have that...feel that sense of pressure.

Justin: I can imagine, though, that they would... And what comes up for me is my most impactful therapy encounters have been just another human being bearing witness, just bearing witness like pain or discomfort... Just see me.

Jenny: Me too. Me too. I was just sharing that with one of my associates, who was kind of stressing out about not having had the exact experience that her client had had, and her client was super upset and dysregulated, and just feeling like, feeling like she needed to fix it. And I was remembering a time in my own therapy where I had recently lost my sister-in-law to a horrific disease and it was a total trauma and tragedy, and I just sat on that couch and wept for 50 minutes, and we just sat together and I wept. And he said one thing at the very end. And to just have that space to be held and to be seen, I will never forget that session: it was profound and it really helped me grieve. So, yeah… Fixing it isn't where it's at, that's not gonna work and we can't fix it.

Justin: Jenny, I’ve had a... I don't know if this is a full-blown realization yet, but that for guys, and if any dads are listening to this, when we're confronted with the emotional distress in our family, we wanna fix it. Like, “What is the problem? Can we just fix it?” And the realization that I had was “oh my god, fixing is a way of avoiding.” It's a way of avoiding the emotional pain that is happening and allowing it to be processed and expressed. Like, if you want to avoid the emotional pain... Can I make this go away?

Jenny: Would you say that it's also a way to avoid a particular feeling of powerlessness?

Justin: Oh my god. Yeah, right? Yeah, I didn't go that far and I can appreciate that insight. Yeah, yeah.

Jenny: And I think for the cultural identity of men and this pressure... I think the patriarchy hurts men as much as it hurts women in many ways. And this pressure that you guys have to be in power, that you have to be in a state of feeling in-power at all times—and that's just not true of our human experience. There are going to be times where we just simply are powerless, or we are helpless, or we are not in control, but if that's not okay, that means something bad about you.

Justin: That whole thing has changed for me, where I feel like the real strength and power is in being able to acknowledge the helplessness and express it and name it. That takes a real man. Like, come on, you're being a baby if you just wanna just shove it down, repress it, avoid it, ignore it. Like, come on, man, let's go out. Let's do this.

Audra: I agree that this has been really life-changing for you, and in terms of also your view on masculinity and fatherhood and all of that, it's been really life-changing. But wouldn't you say that these things still pop up and you still need to process them?

Justin: Oh my god, all the time. All the time. It’s just that when I'm emotionally activated, I now have tools and I've now practiced it, practiced enough to be able to identify, observe what's happening. Give it some words, dig a little deeper, give us some even better words, and then express it, cry it out if I have tears, just move the energy. And now it goes through so fast and it's like, “Oh, that’s it. Now I've identified it. Now I've expressed it and now we can start to move on.”

Audra: I just want to be clear, for any fathers who might be listening at some point, that it doesn't mean that you're just over it or as you’re immune to these things, that everything has changed, it's just that you have the tools to process.

And it makes me think, Jenny, that this is probably a really powerful conversation to be had, maybe at more length at some time for parents, because we're talking about our inter-relational worlds together as a family, and we've been talking about our relationships with kids. But as partners and as life partners, it really struck me talking about this power and the control and how that's sort of built into how you are raised as a man, and how that can present.

And so I know in our relationship at times there's been things that, for example, Justin has not liked various things like in my lifestyle or things that you have had questions or concerns about; I know that I'm probably not alone in this as a partner and as a woman. And so I think, even going both ways, but I think that it has the tie in the control part and the helplessness part actually helps me on the other side of it as well, having an understanding that it's also not necessarily just about me.

Jenny: It’s that you don't have to take it personally. Yeah, I think that's a big thing that you just named Audra. I've known that in my own marriage that just by understanding where my partner is coming from…not in a defensive way, but in a vulnerable way. Then I can access—I don't have to take it personally—I can access some compassion. I can still be upset, I can still have my feelings, you know? It's not one or the other, but I can kind of hold both of like, “Well, I don't have to vilify her or make it all bad or…”

And I think what you said too, Justin, is right on. It’s that we're going to have emotional reactions, we’re going to be activated and triggered. Things happen, but it's how you move through it, how you're in relationship with it and it sounds like you've gotten these tools. And sometimes people think that therapists have it all figured out and it's like, no I get in arguments with my partner. I can sometimes slip into road rage and I just like... But I have an awareness that I didn't have.

Audra: Along these lines, Jenny, I'd love to know with our partners, with our family, the family unit, I think there's a fine line between—'cause we all want the best for our loved ones, be it our parents, our children, our Life Partners, extended family, we all want the best—what's that line and how do you grapple with wanting the best for these folks or loved ones and then stepping into control, wanting to see that outcome, wanting to have control of the outcome that we see? Like how do you manage that?

Jenny: I think whenever we’re in a controlling mindset or place inside, it's a moment to stop and check ourselves because the truth is you cannot control your partner. Like you just can't.

Now, with kids, it's different and...there is some level of control that you need to be having in terms of boundaries and things—and then you have boundaries with your partner—but it's different in that you cannot make them be who you want them to be. And that's true with kids: you can't make them be who you want them to be, and if we're in that headspace, I think that's the moment to pause and see what's going on.

Usually, it means some of my needs aren't getting met in my partnership. I just try to bring it back to what I do have some say over, which is myself. So what am I needing that I'm not getting? Where is connection getting forwarded? What is it to me if my partner does this or doesn't do it? Like you're doing that drilling down... So my partner makes this choice, what impact is it having? Okay, there is this outside impact, but what's the internal impact?

Justin: What is the emotional... What are the feelings that come up when your partner does X or when your child does? That for me has been really big. I've been able to see that, oh, I get emotionally triggered—I'll just say around Max's video game time—and to really just start to dig into that feeling. Like what is coming up emotionally around that? And it's a lot of feelings around being a bad parent; that if he’s playing video games then I'm bad.

Jenny: So that’s about you.

Justin: Yes, exactly, exactly, 100%. So then I get to get that little bit of insight that it’s not about his video game playing. Now, the video game playing can be excessive and there are problems with it, but video game playing as such... That's mine. That's my stuff.

Jenny: It sounds like you're figuring out where those two exist, so there's a place where there's a boundary with the video games, which is a choice for Max's well-being, and then there's a place where it starts to tip into stuff that's about you that is not Max's job to fix with whether or not he’s playing video games.

I think another piece of this, too, is just plain old frustration tolerance. Just like me in my marriage, and I'm sure my wife would say about me, it's like: what are the things that are deal-breakers? And what are the things that I just need to tolerate that she's different and I'm different from her, and that we're not gonna do it exactly the same way?

Audra: Such a good point.

Jenny: It is frustrating, but there's still all this good here that keeps me in this relationship, and so what do I choose to kind of focus on? And what then needs to be a conversation or sometimes a fight? Sometimes we need to fight it out, but...boy, I don't know about you guys but my marriage asks so much of me in terms of growing and...

Justin: Yes, it does.

Jenny: But there's a richness in it, like right when you're in the hard part of it, it blows. But when you get on the other side, doesn’t it feel like you climbed a mountain together or something?

Justin: Oh my gosh, I am more in love today than I've ever been. It is the work, and it's not...I don't mean it's the work between us, I feel like it's doing my work that has opened up, just a lot of avenues for just a deeper connection.

Audra: And I feel the same way with the kids. And it does bring me to... There's something that I want, I wanna get out and understand a little bit better, Jenny. When it comes to the burgeoning personhood and one's responsibility for oneself, and when we are in these close relationships, we can often overstep these bounds when we’re taking responsibility for each other. And so how do I help my kids honor who they are? Know that person, honor who they are: they want to take care of themselves, they want to live their best lives. And then how do I respect and trust that?

So how do I step out of paternalism? We need to have boundaries and we need to teach them, so that's a hard part because it's like it's incumbent on us to show them the ropes, but then that we can kind of often...I feel like over-step that into a “you just need to follow what I say.” But I do think that we need to honor and respect each other as autonomous, individual human beings as well, who are self-interested and want to live good lives.

Jenny: What's it like to invite them into that question? Like that's something you guys could figure out together.  Kids need that container. We all need the container. We all need boundaries because they feel good, actually. It feels good to know where our edges are and where you end and I begin, and what is expected.

And when that's communicated directly, it feels really good, but I mean, as the kids are getting older, I don't know. What would it be like to invite them into that conversation of like, you know, “We need to have some rules here,” and “I'm really interested in what you're wanting to get out of this,” “What do you think you would like to have happen here?”

Audra: I like that.

Jenny: I mean, obviously you can't do that at every age, but I think there is a certain age where it's like you can start to invite their voice into the conversation...

Audra: No, I think that you're completely right… I think that just bringing that out, even having the sentence stems and examples, I think is really helpful for parents. What are the questions...that I can ask myself? I think having those questions of “How can I invite in this conversation with my kids?” I have seen just some beautiful things happen as my kids take responsibility for themselves. Maesie has done the most amazing—it has been an amazing shift for her as a child with dyslexia, taking ownership of her school and her progress, and it was like a flip of a switch. It was amazing when she took ownership and wasn't just told what to do, but took it on herself.

Justin: And her particular learning strategies.

Audra: It's the coolest thing. So I've learned from just experiencing that with her, and I know that this is something that parents experience because it is a fine line between setting up boundaries and then over-stepping them sometimes into control, 'cause we don't know what else to do and...we weren't raised with having these conversations. Most of—a lot of us—were raised with “because I say so,” “'cause this is what's best.”

Jenny: Yeah, and I think a lot of those moments happen sometimes quickly, and we feel that pressure. You're talking about having to do it right in the minute, I mean, can we time out? If a kid asks you a question about a boundary and you really don't know, it's...okay to be like, “Let me get back to you on that.” Or like, “This is part of it I can tell you now and this part, we need to talk about more.”

Not having to have it all figured out, letting it evolve like with Maesie’s relationship to her dyslexia and things like that. “Let's try this” and “Let's check in around it, 'cause we might wanna try something else, that we can be more creative together about it.” And not having to have some pressure being a good parent or a bad parent...

Audra: Oh my gosh. What I'm hearing, Jenny, is stepping out of this reactionary, reactive way of living into a thoughtful, kind of like slowing down, and also a bit more proactive way of living with each other.

Jenny: Yeah, I mean, it's kind of the running joke in my house of like, I'm just being like “I don't know, I'm feeling feelings. I'm feeling feeling. I don’t know.”

Audra: I like that.

Jenny: But we know it's a funny and cheesy, or if the dogs are ever act acting up, it's like “And you're feeling feelings.”

Audra: I love it.

Justin: Feelings are meant to be felt. Alright, so I do want to segue now into something very cool that Jenny has done for The Daily Thrive, which is our subscriber-only platform for The Family Thrive. And so it is a self-paced course that we also do as group-based courses later on, and it's called “Loving Your Inner Critic.”

So, Jenny, this is an amazing course. I was so—really, I am so grateful that I got the chance to work on it with you, 'cause I learned so much as I put it together on to the platform… so, I just wanna be clear. Why do we want to love our inner critic? It seems like we...don't like this voice, this chattering voice in our head that tells us we're not good enough: why don't we just fight it and tell it to shut up?

Jenny: 'cause it doesn't work. It doesn't work. I don't know about you, I tried doing that for years, but it just doesn't work. I like to do what works. Well, first of all, the inner critic is something that we all have…we're all kind of wired to have it, and it's individual and that it looks different and sounds different for each of us, but to have a voice that's there trying to manage us is a very human experience, and it's really there to try to keep us safe.

It's just that it's often a very immature voice; it's very...it can be kind of primitive in its understanding of things.

Justin: It is not particularly sophisticated.

Jenny: It's not particularly sophisticated, no. And it's really hooked into old beliefs and fears that have probably been there for quite a long time and have been getting reinforced, and so it's often trying to protect you from rejection, big overarching fears like rejection, humiliation, failure, things that feel like it could be annihilating. But if we can be in our more adult brain, especially if we're doing internal work on ourselves, we start to learn that it's not annihilating… We can fail and be okay. And failure is actually something we might come to have some gratitude towards, but...

So anyway, why do you wanna love it? We wanna just try to be in a different relationship with it. I know I've said that a lot today, but it is just a game-changer when you can start to understand something you've always had with you in a different way. And it's like The Matrix: it's like you take the...other pill. And it's just like, oh...

And so that would be kind of the basic of why we wanna try to... Because it's not going anywhere. Oh, that's the other thing I would say. We love to try to kill off parts of ourselves, like I hate when I feel messy, I'm just gonna try and get rid of it. I hate anger, I'm just never gonna be angry... I'm gonna kill the anger. And what happens is, we can't... It just doesn't work that way, and that part tends to fester and then it starts coming outside you. For example, Justin, I don't mean to make you the identified patient here.

Justin: No, let’s do it.

Jenny: This helpless feeling. “If I hate that helpless feeling, I'm gonna try and kill it off,” and meanwhile it's sort of silently festering and then it starts to come out sideways when Max wants to play video games. And it feels like totally unrelated, but somehow in there—so try as you might get rid of that helpless feeling, it's there, 'cause you're human, and sometimes we feel helpless. So the critic is not going anywhere, so we might as well stop resisting it and turn toward it and see about being in a different relationship with it.

Justin: The way the course is laid out, it's so fantastic where we start out with understanding what an inner critic is, and then you take us through step by step, and by the end of it, it's like the inner critic has then turned into this child who was criticized and just wants love and compassion, and by the end of it, you’re like “I love this little guy!”

Jenny: I know.

Audra: Holding that child, I think, is beautiful. And the thought of being in a different relationship is really profound to me. I think we grow up often not realizing that that's even an option, and what you're opening up here is that this is totally an option in so many different facets of our lives.

Jenny: Yeah, it's powerful to allow these voices to be parts. And there's different therapies... This is thought of conceptually in lots of different kinds of therapies. Internal Family Systems is all about parts work, object relations, but anyway, but it's just... When you can start to think of it as a part of you instead of you, it's so much more empowering, and there's just so much more we can kind of play with and do with it.

Justin: Yeah, awesome. I have no doubt that this course is gonna be really powerful for a lot of parents, 'cause I think even if maybe in other parts of one's life, the inner critic isn't super loud. Well, it’s sure gonna get loud when you're a parent, like, “You're doing it wrong. You're not enough. You're a terrible parent.” So it seems like such a real part of parenting, so I'm excited to launch this course.

So our last question before we move into our regular podcast are the final three quick hits. So the last topic real quick—I wanted to get personal. But we've already gotten really personal, so I'm gonna get even more personal. What is really at your edge right now in your own mental and emotional wellness journey?

Jenny: That's a great question. I don't know about you guys, but I have noticed in quarantine like whatever your issue is, it is right up in your face, and requiring being looked at and known about. Pema Chodron talks about being pinned to the spot when life pins you to the spot, and there is no wriggling away, and I feel like that's been true for quarantine.

Justin: You can't go on vacation, you can't go see a show, you can't go to a bar...

Jenny: Yeah, and I feel like in terms of psyche, it's the same thing, so whatever I was working with clients around, it's heightened right now. And so for me, this is around allowing myself to be, to take up space and to have boundaries. My inner critic—it's funny that this is coming up right now because of this course, I kind of went into that course like “I'm good. Inner critic? I dealt with that.”

I don't really... I used to beat myself up really intensely—I mean, a yelling, cursing voice—and...I don't do that anymore. I'm really a lot more tender with myself. What I have noticed though, is that my inner critic has gotten very, very sophisticated, and it does it in this tricky way where it's like, there are places where I wanna step into who I am and it tells me, “Oh, that's... You're being a narcissist.” Like it pathologizes me.

Audra: Oh my goodness. Yeah.

Justin: So your inner critic basically went to school with you and learned all the tricks that you did.

Jenny: Yeah, and true story. I'm just gonna put it out there. I mean, Audra knows, I like to be a part-time witch over here. I’m a little... I'm quite woowoo. I recently got a tarot reading that was pretty... It was right. It was so affirming and right on.

And the first thing that she named out of the gate was this years-long, pretty toxic relationship that I came out of with someone who's quite narcissistic, and there's been a big healing around it and a big...all this stuff. And she's like, “Basically what you did is you learned how to say no to those people on the outside and you've internalized it and put it in your head. And that voice is now inside of you judging you.” And I was like, “Oh god, busted.” I was like, “Oh!”

But it's so subtle and it's not overt, and so I'm doing the work right along with you guys with this course. Just like trying to understand it, turn toward it, make friends with it and see the ways it wants me to stay small and quiet and does that serve anyone or me? And that's definitely a growing edge for me.

Justin: I think a lot of us can relate.

Audra: It's really powerful to hear that and to hear about how that inner critic can transform with you.

Jenny: It gets more sophisticated.

Audra: You need to keep doing the work, it's like, now that you have become nicer to yourself, it doesn't mean the work is done.

Jenny: No, not at all. And I think it's like, the growth I'm trying to do now or I wanna do now, or I am doing now, is really different than the growth. I mean like, in my twenties it was survival. It was like... We didn't talk about this, but another part of becoming a therapist was I went through very severe suicidality and depression and anxiety for a big part of my twenties and early thirties, and it was just survival.

It was just trying to get tools to get out of a life-or-death feeling inside. And then being in that for a period of time in your life and career growing, and then realizing like, I'm not in a survival mode, but there's still more growth to be done, and then hitting that wall and noticing like “Oh, interesting. It's way more sophisticated and it's trickier.”

Justin: Yeah, the game has evolved... Okay, let's go into our regular three questions for our podcast guests. Audra, we'll just switch off on this. I'll let you go first.

Audra: Alright, if you could post a big Post-It Note on every parent’s fridge for tomorrow morning, what would it say?

Jenny: I'm just gonna go with the first thing that came to mind when I heard the question which is: I am enough.

Audra: Thank you, thank you. I can use that.

Justin: I think every parent... Every parent needs that. In fact, yeah, if you're listening right now, just take a deep breath and repeat that.

Jenny: But I will say—can I add on, which is I am enough, and then the therapist in me is like, “But go and figure out what Post-it Note works for you.”

Justin: It is a big enough Post-It Note to put the whole thing on there.

Jenny: Take the time to figure out what you need and then allow yourself to have it.

Justin: I love it. Alright, so what is the last quote that changed the way you think or feel?

Jenny: Okay, so these questions, I felt this high pressure to pick the best quote.

Justin: Absolutely…nothing less than the best.

Jenny: Yeah, so full disclosure, you guys kinda gave me a heads up you're gonna ask me this, which I appreciate. And I was like, “Oh lord…” And I was looking, I was thinking, and I had this quote and that quote, and I was like, “You know what, universe? Just send me a quote...just give me a quote, 'cause I just can't pick the best one or whatever.” So I was getting out of the shower and I heard my wife clear as day say, “You're gonna go where you're looking, so you better look where you wanna be going.”

Justin: Kinda like eyes on the prize.

Audra: Absolutely.

Jenny: So I was like, “Oh my god, is she talking about life?” It turns out she was talking about riding a motorcycle, but that's okay.

Audra: Life lesson, yeah.

Jenny: So what it got me thinking about was what we were talking about earlier… If I'm looking about being a bad...having to avoid being a bad parent or a good parent, that's where I'm going, right? I'm going into this place of good or bad, if I'm looking toward trying to...you know…

When I'm upset with someone and I'm looking at what it is about them that's upsetting me, that is what I'm gonna get. That is what I'm gonna see and that is the feedback I'm gonna get in terms of if I'm going in with this question of like, “What is there to learn here? What's my part here?” So I was kind of just taking it into a more like, that could be applied in so many ways.

Justin: If I follow on Twitter, just like smart, kind people who are nice to each other and have really great ideas then I have a good time and I feel lightened, airy, when I'm done with it rather than... You know.

Audra: But, there is this concept, is what it relates to for me, is this concept that if you keep yourself kind of mired in the rabbit hole of the fear of the path forward, you will go there.

Jenny: Exactly.

Audra: If you look towards the vision that you're creating, the very real vision that you're creating, you will go there, right?

Jenny: Yes. Exactly.

Justin: That’s way deeper than my Twitter feed. Yeah.

Audra: And that's that concept of you manifest that.

Jenny: Yeah, agreed. And I guess, what it came up for me is that that can be applied to small and big things. I think when we think of manifesting we think of like, “I wanna have this amount of money and this…” In your relationship, in this conversation that I'm heading into with my child: Where am I looking? Am I looking toward connecting and repair? Am I looking toward blame and control?

Audra: Totally. I feel that.

Jenny: Like, you’re gonna go where you're... I had a recent experience with someone who texted me and they were upset about something, and I just... I got so triggered. I got so upset, and I was like... I slowed it down, I was like, “I don't wanna text. Let's have a conversation.”

And I went into that conversation of like, I wanna remember this is my friend, we care about each other, there's a way we can both be happy and we can find a way through. And that's exactly what we did. And I could have gone in that conversation very differently, and I have a feeling...of where it would have gone if I had drawn my sword.

Audra: Had you drawn your sword, gone in defensively, gone in with the list of assumptions and stories, like how we normally do it, right?

Jenny: Yeah.

Justin: Okay, 'cause I wanna just explore this idea just one second, because what has worked for me is to learn—especially with this past year—to go into conversations, go into any sort of interaction with as few expectations as possible and really as few assumptions as possible, and to just come in with kind of a jazz-improv mood.

Jenny: Jazz hands.

Justin: Yeah, let's just see what happens here. And so what I'm hearing though is that, I don't know. This quote of yours makes me think, “Oh, I should have some sort of expectation” or “I should be going in with an expectation.”

Jenny: Ohhh… Interesting. Maybe more of an intention than an expectation?

Justin: Yeah. Okay.

Audra: Especially in conversations like that. It depends on what it is. So for example, previously on a Saturday morning or a Friday night, you would have a complete plan in your head of how everything should run, and if things didn't go that way, it would cause difficulty.

Justin: I would have assumptions, and a lot of expectations...

Audra: And now you’ve been very open, just like let's see what the night presents. Let’s just see, I'm gonna do me, but let's see what happens. Look at this morning: so I’m gonna run to Target, but I'm gonna see what happens.

But having that tough conversation with your daughter... To walk into that with an intention that isn’t based on these stories and assumptions and defensiveness and guardedness and all of the...I think which relates to the inner critic, the self-protective ego, all of that stuff. But [just] walk in with the intention, as you like to say: what is going to serve in connection? What, how am I going to learn more about my child? It's a different intentionality.

Justin: Nice.


Audra: So I still think you can be open.


Justin: Yeah, yeah. This last question, so we are going to be asking everybody this question. Because as parents, we can sometimes get to a point where we say, ‘Ahhh, kids,’ where just like this exhaustion, and it's just chore and obligation and spilt milk and all this stuff. So we wanna just end on this note of like, what's your favorite thing about kids? Let's focus on something rad about kids.


Jenny: Okay, this is a two-parter. Well, I think I love kids’ honesty. I just love how they are so honest and from telling you that you look fat to... I just think there's a beautiful integrity in that. Where they just tell a certain kind of...they just tell their truth.


Audra: Tell it like it is.


Jenny: They tell like it is.

And the other part is, I love—I mean, this sounds cliche, but it's true—I really, really love their imaginations. I remember having a conversation with Max, years ago, when he was... I think he was doing something around narrative work...I feel like ninjas were a part of it, and his understanding of the bad guys and the tumor, and I just was like... I just loved sitting there, listening to him tell me his story and the way he was making sense of it and understanding it and living it… And I was just like, “It's ingenious.” It's just ingenius. And so there's that creativity and that imagination is just... It's inspiring and...I think it's ingenious. There’s something we can all learn from it, so that's my favorite.

I just love being around kids, just like... One of my favorite jokes is by this four-year-old little girl I met once, and she was like, “What's purple and sits on the bottom of the ocean and goes click, click, click?” And I'm like, “What?” She's like, “A four-door grape.” Brilliant. Of course. It’s a four-door grape. I’m like, “I have no idea what that is.” So totally amazing.


Audra: Jenny, do you...speaking of that: I couldn't agree more, and it makes me think of Sir Ken Robinson, who passed away I think just last year—not too long ago—and his work on creativity and how our educational systems often just squish it. We're not fostering it.


Jenny: Not valued.


Audra: Do you remember when... I'll just say this: I remember when my imagination started to wane. And I remember feeling grief around it. I was, like, probably and 11, 12-year-old, being like, I used to see whole worlds with my Legos and would be fascinated with it, and now I want a sweater for Christmas like, this is a little sad, it's going away.

Do you, I mean, you're an artist, but I'm wondering if you have any feelings around your childhood imagination with something that you appreciate in kids. What about for you personally? Someone who was once a kid.


Jenny: I spent so much time by myself and I created worlds. And, I do love that part of myself, I think it was... When I look back to her, I think like, “What a cool little kid in a lot of ways.”


Justin: I do love that.


Jenny: But in terms of when it started to wane? When you said that the first thing came to mind, for me, I remember in high school, making these ridiculous videos. So video cameras were not common, and we happened to have one. And so turning in videos, you could get it—and now, it would just be like, consider phoning it in—but at the time, I could get out of writing papers by making videos.

And I remember doing a video about “The Scarlet Letter,” and it was stupid and not hilarious—but hilarious to me. And I roped my friends in, and my friends got scared they weren't gonna get an A, because the teachers weren't impressed or something, and everyone just abandoned ship. I remember that moment of just feeling like I was the only one standing behind this creative idea and feeling like everyone was mad at me and hated it. And I do think that that was a time where I started to start to tuck that that part of me away, that part of me that was a little bit more daring and a little more out-there and a little more risk-taking in terms of my creativity. That's a moment I won't forget that. I think it kind of was like, “Oh, This maybe doesn't work.”


Audra:  My gosh, that feels really monumental. It feels really big, to me, to hear that and it makes me think of how many of us have these moments where we are standing strong and tall in this space, and we... It's like the inner critic, as you mention, is there—it makes us smaller to make us safer in some way. Right? And so that's one of those first experiences of just feeling like I've gotta go smaller, I can't stay this big.


Jenny: I think I will add that the choice for me, and this is a choice that I think has been a theme in my life and true for most people, we’ll always choose attachment. The child within us will always choose attachment. And for me, it was like I would rather be an attachment with my friends and my teachers. If I have to choose between myself and my creativity, my vision and the attachment, I'm gonna pick attachment, and that's what we as humans do every single time. And this is where we can—in certain situations—we can abandon ourselves.


Audra: Also give ourselves grace when we do abandon ourselves, to know that it wasn't because we weren't…whatever, principled or whatever the thing may come up for you.


Justin: Millions of years of evolution, of the lone gazelles a dead gazelle, type of thing.  


Jenny: I was a dead gazelle, Justin. I was looking at a B+ and...social ostracization. Yeah, I was a dead gazelle.


Justin: Jenny, thank you so much for this talk. I just wanna state the intention to have you as a recurring guest. I think there's so much to talk about.


Jenny: I would love that. I could talk with you guys all day. Are you kidding me? I love this.


Audra: I have so many questions, Jenny, and so many different things I want to explore. So many different things.


Justin: Thanks for listening to The Family Thrive Podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell it to your friends and head on over to Apple Podcast—or anywhere you listen to podcasts—and give us a review.

We’re so grateful you’ve chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.


Justin: You ever have those inner voices that are telling you you're not doing it right as a parent, you're not good enough, have you ever thought about how your own childhood emotional wounds are affecting your parenting?

Well, these are things that we think a lot about. So we were so lucky to have this amazing conversation with Jenny Walters, a licensed marriage family therapist from Los Angeles, California. We got into it all, it got deep, it got challenging, but if you are in the mood to go there with us, then get a cup of tea, take a deep breath, find a comfy seat on the couch and join us for this amazing conversation.

Jenny: People come to therapy wanting us to get rid of their pain, and they are at first disappointed to learn that it isn't about getting rid of the pain, it's the power we [have] in relationship to it.

Justin: What can I even say about Jenny Walters? We've been friends with her since our oldest son Max was born. I remember Jenny taking baby photos of Max, and at that time she was an artist in Los Angeles. A couple of years after that though she found her true calling and true creative outlet, which was in psychotherapy, and it was so cool to watch that journey and then to watch her blossom professionally, and now to have her on our podcast and to help us kick this podcast off, it's just like the stars are aligning.

So today, Jenny is a depth therapist who specializes in working with highly sensitive people—and in this conversation, I found out that I was a highly sensitive person. She also works with adult children of narcissists and borderline disorders. Her background is in union psychotherapy, so she works with patients to heal deep, unconscious traumas. She's a graduate of the Pacifica Graduate Institute, she is a founder and director for the Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles. If you wanna see more about her and what she does, you can find her at jennywalters.com

Let's just get straight into it. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

So, Jenny, I have a memory that you met Audra before I met you, is that right?

Audra: I don't think that's correct.

Jenny: I think you were both at the same barbecue where we met.

Justin: Oh, that's right.

Audra: But we spend time together, I think you were off...

Jenny: Yeah, I don't have any memory of chit-chatting with Justin, but Audra was like a beacon of light in a very dark storm. I had just moved to Los Angeles...

Justin: Actually, always is.

Jenny: Yeah, no kidding. That's the truth. I was in a horrible relationship, but that relationship brought me to that barbecue, and then I met Audra.

I’ve had a lot of those in my life where the vehicle was kind of gnarly, but it got me to these really great people, and Audra was really one of the first friends I made in Los Angeles, and she just took me in and...yeah, we became fast friends that day

Audra: I think you were one of my first friends too, because we had to move to LA much... Didn't we move around the same time?

Jenny: I don't know, I got there in late 2007.

Justin: So we were in 2005?

Audra: Yeah, I guess we were a little bit earlier, it didn't seem like it. [LA’s a tough place] to meet people and make friends. Isn't it? At least for me, it was.

Jenny: I agree; I've moved a lot in my life, and especially back then. LA was the last big move for me, but it had been preceded by many years of big moves to different cities, and I would say that Los Angeles was the toughest landing and the toughest place to really build a life. And I think it took me a self three years before I really felt at home there and felt like I had a community and I belonged. And that's not uncommon. I get a lot of transplants in my practice—in my therapy practice—and it's tough. It's a tough one, so I try to normalize that for people, just like LA's kind of hard to land in.

Justin: Okay, so here's my question, what was the impetus for you wanting to become a therapist?

Jenny: Maybe, yeah! I think LA was the final frontier of me having to confront things. Prior to being a therapist, I was teaching photography and art as an adjunct professor, which is a racket that's very difficult to survive in. There's no money. You're constantly hustling for work. So I was doing the starving artist thing, but the truth is, I really wasn't making art anymore, I was just trying to make a living, so I was pretty unhappy.

And then I moved to Los Angeles, it was kind of a Hail Mary. People ask why, and I wish I had a reason—I just felt like I needed to go to Los Angeles, but really everything in my life said, “This is a terrible idea.”

It was really hard, but now looking back, I'm so glad I did, because all my dreams came true. But they weren't dreams that I knew I had, so I was very attached to an idea of the way I thought my life needed to look, which involved having a successful art career. Marrying a man, having a family. This is what I thought I needed to look like.

But my life was not going that way, I was very unhappy, I was miserable, I was broke, and I started to just—also my body, I started to get sick. So I developed an auto-immune condition, my body started to break down, and it was really just my life was trying to shake me awake into some other knowing about what my calling was.

So I started getting acupuncture every week to try and get relief from the physical pain of this—at that point, kind of...well, it was diagnosed, but I didn't know how to treat the thyroid disorder that I had—and my acupuncturist also did energy healing, and I actually was really fascinated by it, so I started to study energy healing with her just on the side and got really into that started… I've always been interested in self-development, self-help, I was always reading the self-help books, and so I was always interested in psychology, but I just started to reconnect to this part of myself that had this inkling that I was being called to the healing arts and, I mean, it's not a fancy story, but I started to Google. Our good friend Google took me to Pacifica Graduate Institute, where I saw that you could study psychology through the lens of the imaginal and through the lens of myth and metaphor and psyche.

And I get chills thinking about it because that's exactly why I wanted to make art: was to create meaning-making and try to understand these bigger questions, that's why I made art. And so I thought, “Oh well, if I can get the same itch scratched, but actually make a living as a therapist, wouldn't that be nice?”

So that was kind of what got me to enroll at Pacifica, but I wasn't really sure until I started working with clients, and then I was hooked. That was when I was like, “Oh my god, this is amazing.” And it was so much more satisfying than art-making because there was an instant connection and instant moments of understanding and just all that stuff you want your art to do, but...if no one looks at it, that doesn't happen. So that was really exciting, so that was this after I could start working with people, I was hooked and that was my journey.

Justin: So Jenny, you are not a parent yourself, but you are passionate about family mental health— parents’ mental and emotional health. What is your connection? How does that fire you up?

Jenny: Yeah, I'm not a parent to human children, and I do have two fur babies...

Justin: What are their names?

Jenny: June and Oh Hi, and they are very special snowflakes, very different animals, but anyway...

Well, so yeah, having a family wasn't in the cards for me. I met my wife late in my 30s, and I've always been a bit of a late bloomer, and so we wanted to spend...we were really wanting to spend time just the two of us, and then it was too late, so we decided not to have a family, but we are really dedicated to our chosen family, and our chosen family is filled with lots of children, and these kids are a really important part of our lives—like yours are part of that chosen family.

But my dedication to it and my interest in it is that I think if we can start to help children and families understand their internal experiences and help them make sense of it and start to value that as a culture, that we could change the world. So when parents are doing their own internal work, they are in turn helping children make sense of their lives in their worlds, which are not going to be free of suffering, as you two know, as much as we'd love that to be the case. It's just not how it goes for humans, and when we avoid it, when we pretend it's not there; we don't help, we are not helping anything, and we're actually really traumatizing and confusing kids.

And so when we can be courageous and brave and look at our own stuff and help our children understand and look at their own suffering, we're less likely to be acting it out unconsciously out in the world, and we're less likely to be jerks, and I think that we can...I don't know, I think we can change the world, so I think it starts young. So I feel very passionate about that.

Justin: I’ve found that personally for myself, that I, as a parent, for so many years, was just working out a lot of my own issues out on to my kids, and it was like over the past few years, realizing, “Wow, my own mental and emotional health and wellness is absolutely crucial in raising these kids, so they don't pass down. What was passed down to me.”

Audra: Yeah, yeah, can I add to that? Because it really strikes me as a powerful paradigm shift in parenting and our approach to being in family and being in community. So you are in family Jenny fully with your chosen family, or you're being in family in the space. And I think this would come naturally to think, “Yes, I potentially suffered from significant trauma, maybe I was abused, I will... The buck stops here. I will work hard to make sure I don't abuse my child…” Right?

I've heard of this line of thinking before, but to take that out into... Then instead of like, “Okay, maybe it's not completely abusive, my acting out of my stuff, or it’s my anxiety or whatever it might be, it may not be abusive, but am I setting up my child for success? Or my family for success? Am I creating an environment of flourishing?”

It's almost like you're in preventive health to some degree; helping people live their best lives and do that in family and therefore changing the world because we are changing the way we are doing this together and... Yeah, you're not damaging your—well we all have our damages, it hurts, I guess—but it does seem like a beautiful...it was a beautiful mission and a beautiful vision, and one that really excites me to hear you talking about it because it's so positive and proactive.

Jenny: Well, thanks. Yeah, I mean, I think we're becoming more evolved whereas, like you said, it may have been before so overt: “Well, I was abused, I won't abuse.”

I think we're getting into a much more nuanced understanding of mental health and wellness, which excites me because in my former life as a photographer to make ends meet, I had a photography business where I photographed babies and children, and so I worked with a lot of families in that way, and what I noticed was that there were a lot of parents who were trying to parent differently than they have been parented.

Where they had maybe been overly frustrated by their parents, maybe a lot of rules and not a lot of building up of self-esteem and a lot of affirmations, I noticed a lot of parents going this extreme other end where if the child was experiencing any discomfort at all, everything had to stop, we had to get the kid comfortable again. And now that generation is showing up in my room, in my therapy room, and they have a different confused relationship with suffering.

Justin: So what strikes me there is the wanting to protect your kids from any discomfort at all is just working out those issues, I mean, it seems to me it's a product of the parent oneself not being comfortable with distress, not being able to regulate one’s on emotions and deal with challenges, and so now you're gonna protect your kids from challenges and from stress and from different emotions.

Jenny: Exactly, I mean, the kind of therapy I do is sometimes called integrative therapy. Depth therapy, integrative therapy, and the ideas that we're integrating all parts of ourselves, and I like to think too, that we need to integrate all parts: we wanna get the insides and the outsides lined up, so we're in our integrity, but the outsides as well, and this says that all things can be here. So good and bad feelings can be here, not just good feelings, but good and bad feelings that we can grow tolerance and resilience around that, and we can learn how to help our kids know when they feel bad, it's okay that you feel bad... I'm here to be with you when you feel bad, I'm not gonna try and fix it, I'm just gonna…and we're gonna get to the other side of this. That is so empowering. I have so many young adults that have shown up that were...there is such an aversion to any kind of “negative feeling” or distress or this pressure to be the level of perfectionism that's showing up and…

And not to get political or anything, but it just speaks to me of this sort of narcissism in our culture: if something matters and something doesn't, it's good or it's bad, you're a winner or you're a loser, and it's like we just miss out on our humanity, and we miss out on each other and... It's a split...our psyche is split, which always is pain and suffering, and so if we can integrate all those parts and help our kids integrate them all, what a world we live in, you know?

Justin: This is something that's very real for me. When we... So we recently moved to Savannah, Georgia. We lived in Southern California for 15 years, and we made this big move, and it was, for the kids, it was a really big move and I was feeling a little—I don't know—guilty for pulling them out of their environment that they grew up in and moving all clear across the country because Audra and I thought it'd be cool and fun.

And so, when they would express distress around this, I was experiencing myself like, “Oh, let's just distract ourselves,” or “Let's bribe them,” or “Let's do...is there any way we can just make these challenging emotions stop?” And then, because of the work I've been doing over the past couple of years, I realize like, “Oh.” I... I need to do exactly what you're saying.

Like, “Let's make space for this. Let's make space for feeling sad, let's make space for being angry, let's just open up and just let it be here.” And it was amazing once I kind of let down my guard around that and just let the feelings be expressed. We could move them, they just kinda needed to be moved and just processed at expressed… And that was it!

Audra: Do you remember—was it at dinner just last night—we were talking about this, and Max said that he just doesn't like anything new. And one thing that came up that I asked him, it wasn't that he just doesn't like anything new; it's that everything new that's happened to him since he was four-and-a-half, has been kind of bad news, been really hard. [And] just for him to be able to let it out without judgment...

Justin: And for us to get curious about it...

Jenny: And to name that and acknowledge it, and so now we can have a more nuanced understanding of it so that, “Oh, maybe this is a different kind of new than the kind of new that you've known,” and then just acknowledging how hard transition and change is.

And you know, also, side note: I work with a lot of people who would identify as highly sensitive, which is actually a legit research classification, that some people are more sensitive and that they are receiving more kind of sensate information in lots of different ways all the time—and transition’s really hard for those folks, it's really...it feels really uncomfortable and instead of it being shamed, we can just acknowledge it and know that and [if] there's a transition coming, we need to take our time with it. We need to be tender. We need to be talking about it. And that, just like you said, Justin, when you came out of the block around, it's like coming out of the resistance, it just lessens the pain so much so what a great insight for you guys to have around him and as a family, his experience...

Justin: How does one know if one is a sensitive individual? 'Cause I might be one.

Audra: You've always self-identified as one.

Justin: Yeah.

Jenny: It's a great question. Okay, so have you been called over-sensitive your whole life?

Justin: Audra, what do you think?

Audra: You've called yourself sensitive your whole life, but I don't know that you have been called sensitive.

Justin: I think I've been able to hide it and find ways to cope.

Audra: I found you to be trigger-y, if you will, around me...

Jenny: Yeah, are you sensitive to lights and sounds? Do you... For example, I cannot tolerate—my wife makes fun of me—I cannot handle overhead lighting.

Justin: Oh my god, me too! Right now, I'm just dealing...

Audra: Jenny, he turns off all the lights, he prefers for us to live maybe by one candle that we carry around.

Justin: And I rationalize it by saying, “What about we're saving electricity? Or were saying global climate change,” but it's really that... Yes, overhead lighting.

Jenny: So that what you just named right there is that you have this heightened sensitivity to light and then there's this shame around it, so we have to rationalize it. So that is a great way of telling if you're a highly sensitive person, is that that’s a really unconscious experience for a lot of people who are HSP, because it's like, it's different.

It's only about 20% of the population has this sensitivity, and I don't think it's better or worse, it's just different. It's a different way of receiving and processing, we just tend to process... And what I say is, I feel like it sounds like it's... I mean, it's better, but we just process a little more intensely, a little more deeply.

Justin: It sounds better, yeah.

Jenny: But it's actually a real pain in the butt. And for a lot of us, I can say a trajectory for a lot of us is just a lot of anxiety, a lot of over-identifying, when we feel something, we assume it's ours, and so a lot of the work around being a highly sensitive person is learning how to identify what's yours and what is something that you're picking up on, and then a lot of processing needs to be a big part of your existence.

Justin: Oh wow. Yeah, okay, so we are gonna have to cut this part short because I totally wanna talk about this and make it all about me.

Audra: No, but it sounds like this...this is a bigger topic to talk about. One thing that really strikes me though is, not to get too granular here, is that you've never struck me as somebody who is completely empathetic when it comes to other peoples...

Justin: It’s just coping, where it's like I'll just shut myself off,

Audra: Oh, you just shut it down.

Justin: Yeah, that’s why I identified with “what’s mine” and “what’s others’.” There are some documentaries that I will watch that will make me just really feel like, “Oh my god, am I maybe?

Audra: Which one was the last one? Yeah.

Justin: It was this HBO documentary about this cult in Albany…

Jenny: The NXIVM... Oh my god, I did such a deep dive on that.

Justin: Oh my god, and it just messed me up. About 30 years ago [or] 20 years ago, there was this... It was a documentary about this guy in Wisconsin who made horror movies.

Jenny: Oh, the real low-grade budget ones. I remember this movie, yes. Didn’t he work in a cemetery cleaning up poop and stuff? Like people poop in cemeteries.

Justin: Yes, and the running joke throughout it is that he was pronouncing this word incorrectly... What was it?

Jenny: “Cove-in!”

Audra: “Cove-in!” That was it!

Justin: It was like coven, “No, cove-in.” And I remember at the time I was watching this, I think I had just graduated undergrad and I wasn't sure what I was gonna do with my life, and that movie messed me up for days. I was like, I'm gonna be him. Like that, and it was weird I just...

Jenny: Yeah, Justin, we need to do a separate convo. That was... Just constantly projecting yourself into other people's lives and [thinking that is] going to be your life—that was my favorite pastime for most of my twenties.

Justin: Oh my god. Oh, okay, so one more thing, what about showers? Is it harder to get it just right where hot and cold—like ah, that’s too hot, that’s too cold, that’s too hot, that’s too cold. Our right temperature is just so finally tuned?

Jenny: That could definitely be a sensor, a sensory thing. Like a touch thing can be something that is up for you in terms of how you have your sensate experience. Or sounds. Like certain sounds can really...

So there are lots of... It looks different for every person, and that's why it's really important to you.

I'm actually working on a course about this, it’s called “The Sensitive Uprising,” 'cause I'm just like...'cause if sensitive people can understand this part of themselves, it turns out—studies show—that highly sensitive folks are actually really incredibly resilient. They make good leaders because we're really good at listening for nuance and having this kind of more nuanced insights and stuff. But usually, we're so overwhelmed and we have no idea how to navigate the sensitivity that we're just rocking in a corner having little anxiety attacks.

Justin: Oh, I love this. I’m glad that we could take this little detour. Maybe there are parents out there who are recognizing this...

Jenny: And recognizing it in their kids. 'Cause I grew up in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, so I was always told I was over-sensitive, I mean, this was not in any way valued at all in my family.

Justin: So Jenny, I wanted to ask, in the therapeutic, psycho-emotional health world, it seems to me that pretty much every major issue is just childhood wounds, childhood emotions. In your experience, does everything just really go back to childhood or is there more to it?

Jenny: I think a lot does. I think there's more to it, and people will have different opinions about this. What's sad is that what you just named is what keeps people from going to therapy because they think that we're just going to sit and vilify their parents. And again, it's about having a more holistic understanding of your experiences, but I'll just go through the things that I think make up what shows up in my therapy room.

One is inter-generational trauma. So we know trauma gets handed down in your DNA, so you're gonna show up into your life with trauma you didn't actually experience firsthand, but it's actually in your body. That's a piece of it, and that of course can extend to the trauma, the collective trauma: racism, patriarchy, white supremacy, all that. I mean, so that's in your body.

Then there’s... Sure, there's the childhood experiences that you have, and sometimes those aren't actually what you would think of as trauma—and I have a great example. So when I was studying EMDR, which is a trauma therapy called it's Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, it has a very sexy title that no one can remember, but basically what we learned is that when we activate a certain part of your brain, while we're remembering traumatic experiences if we process it and it discharges it from your body and you no longer have that trauma response that fight, flight, freeze.

So it's a game-changer, and it's an amazing therapy, but when I was studying it, one of the stories they told was about this man who was deeply phobic of shoes, which is a strange—that's hard to be afraid of shoes. That's a tough one. And when they were doing EMDR—and he'd been to so many therapists and phobia therapist, and nothing helped—well, when they did EMDR and they started getting into his memories and he was just kind of free-associating to memories. He went back to when he was five years old his grandma died, and he asked Mom, “Where did Grandma go?” And she said, “The angels took her soul up to heaven.” And as a five-year-old, he thought a soul was the sole of the shoe. And he made an association with that and death. And that got stored in his memory network and in his body and carried forward into this deep phobia for 30 years, and then when they [concluded that] with the EMDR, he was no longer afraid of shoes.

That's not something you would—I mean the parent didn't do anything wrong there. I know that's a perfectly reasonable thing to tell a five-year-old. But in terms of letting parents off the hook, we are humans raising humans, and it is every human being’s, I think, job to work through your emotional difficulties, experiences, and sufferings, and there is no way to raise a child without them experiencing suffering, so just let yourself off that hook.

Certainly, we can take responsibility for our stuff and not be harming them in overt ways, but there are ways in which kids are gonna feel hurt and powerless that we couldn't predict, we couldn't control. So just let to people off the hook: that there is no way to raise a child without pain. And can we just breathe a sigh of relief there?

Justin: And... Yeah, that pain is a part of life and we're bringing kids into this world.

Audra: It's a part of humanity.

I think it's so important, Jenny, too. Because so often, parents are in so much pain seeing their child in pain. They want to relieve their own pain, not just their child’s pain, but they don't wanna have to go through seeing their kids go through the typical, normal things in life, the Mean Girl syndrome and not having any friends, whatever it might be—the normal things. And these are not things for us to manage in that way of preventing them, we're removing every obstacle, it's how do we process these obstacles together?

Jenny: Exactly, I mean, I once met with a therapist and he was kind of this older surfer-slash-psychoanalyst guy, like very California therapist. He was probably in like his 70s, and he said, “You know, people come to therapy wanting us to get rid of their pain and they are at first disappointed to learn we teach them how to suffer; that it isn't about getting rid of the pain, it's the power we [have] in relationship to it.”

When you try to eliminate the pain and suffering, you also eliminate your experience of joy because you can't cut off one end and not the other, and so what we end up doing is living on this little island of a very limited amount of emotionality. And what's astounding to watch with clients—and it was true for me too—that when I could allow these other harder feelings to be here, more joy showed up as well, and I started to have a more expansive experience.

Justin: I've experienced that as well. Oh my gosh, yeah. And I so identify with the patients who are coming in and have issues with their parents and bring a lot of energy around their own childhood, and I certainly—although I love my parents and they know that—I dealt with a lot of that.

And one therapist I worked with told me, and this was a game-changer for me, that there was nothing that my parents today could do or say to fix any of that. There's nothing, and that all I needed to do is grieve, just grieve that whatever that happened to that four-year-old, whatever happen to that eight-year-old, that 13-year-old, great. There's nothing they can do. There's no magic words, they can say there's no...because it's gone, it's done. But that was in the past, and you just need to grieve it. And I was like, oh my god, what a game-changer for me and my relationship with my parents and my childhood emotional wounds.

Jenny: Well, yeah, grieving is such an integrative process because it's an acceptance of death and a processing of it. And it's like the process I see is people come in and they—not for everyone—but a typical one can be: “I don't wanna talk about my parents. They were amazing. They did the best they could.” There's this fear that if we talk about what hurt that we’re making them all bad, so we gotta have them all good.

Okay, then we start to open up and then we go into...they may slip and we're in the all-bad place. How could they do that? “They're horrible.” And then we allow them to start to be humans and we start to know about their compassion. We start to compassion for them without disowning our experiences. And then it's like it can be this more integrative place of like, “Okay, they were humans. Yes, they screwed up, but they also... I can see their own trauma and I can hold it.”

And that's a lot to hold. That's complex, and I don't know, if you look around our culture right now, people don't like to hold complexity; they want it to be black and white, they want it to be right and wrong, and it's like, this work, this is just not the truth of...

Justin: It’s not the truth, that'll mess you up.

Jenny: Yeah, it keeps you in deep, deep pain when things have to be split apart and all or nothing like that.

Justin: And it keeps one from being the best parent that they can be. Like, this is not a game for black-and-white thinking.

Audra: Jenny, do you see that pain can be so painful that it leads to, potentially for many people, the desire to control it, numb it altogether, and that very often leads to the lawnmower-ing, the control of the entire environment?

Jenny: Yep.

Audra: Try to keep the pain that is inevitable in this way at bay, but it's always there.

Jenny: Absolutely. And I can say I have a lot of compassion for that response, you know? Alcoholism is up right now, drinking, and we are in a moment of something is out of our control, and a lot of people got no help knowing how to be in relationship with something like that. And so, yeah: numbing, disassociating. Like we were talking about sensitive people, like I'm the same way. I tend to just be like, “Bye. I’m outta here.”

My therapist calls it the “skis away skedaddle,” which—a little therapy lingo there. Yeah, absolutely, in the controlling, the anxiety of needing things to be perfect, needing things to be on a trajectory… That was a big piece of pain in my life: was that my life path has been very circuitous, and I had so much shame around that, that I should have known what I wanted to do.

I think we're coming out of this as people who have more complex career paths, but I was in the generation where I was like, “Yeah, you can be a barista in your twenties, but then you gotta pick something and go with it.” And I didn't... I was all over the place. A lot of pain in that. So yeah, and I think that's true.

Audra: Jenny, I wanted to talk about that actually. I think that we have some questions coming up more about emotional health and parenting. But going back to your story, I just find it to be so powerful, because when we're just talking to you just now like, this is you. Through and through, the you I've always known, but I've also known you in different places with different careers, and I feel like we've learned so much together and we've grown so much together. Yet, this is the you I've always known. This is like...the you that's always been there, always been my friend is like, you sort of unlocked the box and it's all there.

And one thing, I remember really vividly, was processing with you your art career, and the fact that the performance of artists and a fine artist, because you're a fine art photographer, in many ways. You have many things, right? And this is one of the things: you are an incredible photographer, not just of children and babies, but fine, fine art, and how challenging it was to have to perform this perfection-driven persona and life and all of the requirements that went with that never, ever sat with you as I remember—and correct me if I'm wrong.

And then I remember there being guilt around that because you're kind of supposed to want to lean into that as an artist, and then I remember getting in... You introduced me to Brené Brown, actually. I feel like she'd broke open for so many of us to say, “Wait, let...let's talk about perfection openly.” And so, is this a part of your Genesis? Because I feel like there is very much an intuitive, spiritual aspect when you talk about energy work with this. That this has always been there for you. I feel like I've so valued our time together, wrestling with all of this, and you in many ways followed your gut and intuition down this path and have used this experience to kind of open up this space moving forward. Or do you have any reflections on that?

Jenny: You’re totally right. First of all, that's...what you just described is why we're dear friends: is that there's a soul connection that I feel like we have, that you could see that in me when I couldn't see it in myself, and when I was in a really a bit of a hot mess there—I mean, let’s be honest—you've been very generous in how you described it.

Audra: You didn’t seem like a hot mess to me!

Jenny: I felt like it for sure.

Audra: But for us, the struggle was real.

Jenny: The struggle was real.

Audra: It was objectively real to me.

Jenny: Yeah, but I think the evolution for me has been, and I think this happens in therapy a lot, is... I was very attached to a concrete understanding of my life and that it needed to look a certain way. And it was a very limited imagining—it wasn't even that imaginative. But it was as a visual artist in the fine art world, which is, you're right, it never jived with me. It was never who I was. It just requires a certain persona just to really succeed in that world that I just wasn't... It just isn’t who I am.

And as things shifted, I started to trust the unseen world a bit more, you know? The intuition, the knowing, the spiritual has been a big part of that for me. And that's what I noticed with clients is they come in and they are like, “Okay, I just need to find the right partner and the right job, and I will be happy.” And then I have to give them the bad news of like, it just doesn't work that way. Because I sit with people who have the right job and the right partner, and they're miserable. And when you're trying to force those concrete pieces around, it's very hard to push concrete, but when you start to get these interior pieces understood and in connection with souls’ calling, and that's what I meant when I was saying like doing the therapeutic work is the same feel as what I was trying to get in art-making. And if I'm in the feeling of my soul's calling, who cares what it looks like? If it's being an artist or being a therapist, it’s like, if I'm happy, who cares?

Audra: Oh, and it's incredible that you tapped into that. Like one thing, I'm in awe of it, because one thing that seems to be potentially a really big challenge for people is that when you are good at that thing that doesn't feel right, you can get by. You can get by doing it, but it doesn't feel right. And you just know on your intuitive level it's not the right way, it's not the way, the right way to manifest this, or to live this part of yourself, right?

Jenny: Yeah.

Audra: So how do you trust that? And therefore, as parents, I think one thing that gets really challenging—that's hard enough with us, right? But then as a parent, you end up in the space of like: “What do you wanna do with your life? I don't care who you are, right? What do you wanna do with your life? What are your interests?”

You wanna cultivate these things and tie them into jobs, and there is a challenge in that because you don't want to pigeon-hole, you wanna teach that intuitive knowing. How do you do that when you don't know that for yourself or you're just trying to uncover that?

Jenny: Great question. It's rhetorical, right? I don't have to answer that do I?

I think you start by posing the question, you start by noticing your own experience so that you aren't projecting it onto your kids. And also letting your kids be different. My wife and I've been talking a lot lately about the concept of fruit smoothie and fruit salad, and this comes from a friend of mine, Annette Leonard, who... She actually has a podcast called “Chronic Wellness,” and it's about helping people with chronic illness live in a state of health. But anyway, she can't remember who said this, so if anyone knows, I’m all for giving credit where credit is due. But it's about this idea of when we all need to be exactly alike, and I think parents can do this with kids where we want our kids to be how we think they should be, and it’s usually...it’s something to do with us.

And so we're in this... We're insisting on this fruit smoothie experience, and we really wanna be a fruit salad where we're all in the same bowl, but you’re pineapple and I’m mango and sometimes I don't like pineapple, but you still get to be here. So can your kids have a different experience than you, and also can we not put pressure on kids to live a corrective experience for us?

Audra: Oh! Beautiful point too.

Jenny: Like, “Oh, I made this mistake, I don't want you to make that mistake.”  You know what? They’re gonna make the mistakes they're gonna make.

Audra: And kids know that very often. I mean, I remember saying to my parents, my kids have said to me, “Well, I need to make the mistake so I can learn.”

Jenny: Yeah! Wow. Wisdom. It's true, right? It's like, can we trust in our okayness; even in the midst of mistakes, even in the midst of bad or hard feelings, even in the midst of suffering, can we know about some level of okayness and connectedness—and this is really the spiritual part comes in for me—I'm here living this life as a human on this planet, and I also feel like I am you and you are me. It's like we are connected. So can I hold both of those? And in that there is an okayness that for me was very helpful with my anxiety in terms of feeling more at peace with myself.

Audra: It's powerful, so powerful, Jenny, 'cause it makes me really think about… There's a major transition in parenting that I don't feel like I recall reading about or hearing about or anything like that. 'Cause if you are in the position to start out with a baby in some way, and then parent that baby into childhood and beyond—not every parent has this experience, but I think many, many do.

And you start out caretaking, and you start out knowing this baby, knowing when they need this and not the other. And there is that parenting where it's like, I get to think I know you, and have seen this from the beginning, and this sort of sense of you kind of being a part of me, but also that you know I know who you are. And then there's this transition where these human beings are their own people, and there's a breaking point where I think it really is super, super important to learn how to notice it within yourself to start to honor that they are their own people.

They are not mini you’s, they're not... You don't know them better than they do. There might be some ways in which you do, but we can just jump to that so fast and be like, “No, I know what you actually mean” and not let them represent themselves. You know things like that and how to help parents start to notice the space of transition and start to move along through it.

I don't think we really are...we're not raised with these tools, and most of us, in experience, I haven't seen that many books. I feel like we need help.

Jenny: Well, I think what your naming is—I think it's right on. And I think what we need to notice is when that opportunity is presenting itself and then noticing what about it causes us to be anxious or causes us to wanna double-down on regressing them back into this place where we're a fruit smoothie, where we're all the same, and “I know you.”

And it's like the parents have to deal with their own anxiety, and I think that's the work: is owning like, “Oh, it makes me anxious to let you go.” It's really...to wear your heart outside of you at all times in the form of a child, and then to start to have to let it live its life and still have that level of connection. I mean, that is... Talk about needing some resilience around that, but if you can't acknowledge that, it kicks up a new fear or anxiety and then we can’t do anything with it.

Justin: That has been a game-changer for me to just [ask] the simple question of, “What am I feeling right now?” And then just to go further of like, “No, no, no. Try to get more detail with that. What are you feeling?”

And I remember a revelation working in therapy about a year ago, where I was talking about this time when I had kind of blown up at Max... It was early in the morning, and I like to have my quiet mornings, and he was asking to play video games before school. This is right before the Covid thing hit, and I was like, “No, you can't play video games before school. That's not what we do.” And he kept nagging. And then I just blew up at him and I was really angry. And he kind of was like, “That was mean” and then went off.

And I talked about this 'cause it's stuck with me for a couple of days, and it was really just doing the work of “No, what were you feeling?” And like, “What was that?” And just get into the emotions, not why. “Let's not create a story, just try to get deeper about what you were feeling.”

And finally, I got this part, I was like, “Oh my god, I was feeling helpless.” That's why I lashed out at him. It was not him, it was not all the other things, it was this emotional feeling of helplessness.

Audra: And you actually talked to Max about it after, which I thought was really amazing. And something that I wish I had known earlier in my parenting is like, you don't have to have all of the answers in a split second. Who invented this idea that parents have to have immediate comebacks for everything and I know what to do? You can pause. You can also come back later and apologize later and have conversations about it, not like it's all over in a second, you know?

Justin: This was literally the week before everything closed down for Covid, and so I was like… I was teaching at the time, I had a couple of classes and I didn't know what was gonna happen with those and...the whole world felt like something bad was just about to happen.

Jenny: So there was an underlying feeling of helplessness.

Justin: Yeah, so then it was like, I've no idea what's going on and I can't stop it, and so I was like... Okay.

Audra: Plus the narrative of being a bad parent if I let you play video games before school, there’s a lot of things like that.

Justin: And I have emotions around that. Like if you play video games before school, I am a bad parent. I will be judged harshly by someone somewhere...

Jenny: Yeah, no pressure.

Audra: Yeah, I know, right?

Jenny: Yeah, and so the Max just kind of unknowingly stepped in that. He kind of unknowingly stepped into that helpless feeling and for you to process that with them is just... I mean, that's the game-changer right there. Because now he understands. That's just great.

And in terms of what you're saying, Audra, about their repair after, and this idea we have to know exactly what we're doing. I train therapists now, and there's this pressure they put on themselves to have these perfect sessions where we know exactly how to respond to someone. And I'm like, “No, that is not how life goes, and that is...not how therapy is going to go. What's great is they come back next week to talk about it.” Then it's just all grist for the mill; we get to talk about it, that's the beauty of doing this work every week.

Audra: Jenny, that's amazing. That’s like the slowing down that it seems like we need to be bringing into our society and culture in these ways that feel completely unexpected to me, I had no idea that therapists have that...feel that sense of pressure.

Justin: I can imagine, though, that they would... And what comes up for me is my most impactful therapy encounters have been just another human being bearing witness, just bearing witness like pain or discomfort... Just see me.

Jenny: Me too. Me too. I was just sharing that with one of my associates, who was kind of stressing out about not having had the exact experience that her client had had, and her client was super upset and dysregulated, and just feeling like, feeling like she needed to fix it. And I was remembering a time in my own therapy where I had recently lost my sister-in-law to a horrific disease and it was a total trauma and tragedy, and I just sat on that couch and wept for 50 minutes, and we just sat together and I wept. And he said one thing at the very end. And to just have that space to be held and to be seen, I will never forget that session: it was profound and it really helped me grieve. So, yeah… Fixing it isn't where it's at, that's not gonna work and we can't fix it.

Justin: Jenny, I’ve had a... I don't know if this is a full-blown realization yet, but that for guys, and if any dads are listening to this, when we're confronted with the emotional distress in our family, we wanna fix it. Like, “What is the problem? Can we just fix it?” And the realization that I had was “oh my god, fixing is a way of avoiding.” It's a way of avoiding the emotional pain that is happening and allowing it to be processed and expressed. Like, if you want to avoid the emotional pain... Can I make this go away?

Jenny: Would you say that it's also a way to avoid a particular feeling of powerlessness?

Justin: Oh my god. Yeah, right? Yeah, I didn't go that far and I can appreciate that insight. Yeah, yeah.

Jenny: And I think for the cultural identity of men and this pressure... I think the patriarchy hurts men as much as it hurts women in many ways. And this pressure that you guys have to be in power, that you have to be in a state of feeling in-power at all times—and that's just not true of our human experience. There are going to be times where we just simply are powerless, or we are helpless, or we are not in control, but if that's not okay, that means something bad about you.

Justin: That whole thing has changed for me, where I feel like the real strength and power is in being able to acknowledge the helplessness and express it and name it. That takes a real man. Like, come on, you're being a baby if you just wanna just shove it down, repress it, avoid it, ignore it. Like, come on, man, let's go out. Let's do this.

Audra: I agree that this has been really life-changing for you, and in terms of also your view on masculinity and fatherhood and all of that, it's been really life-changing. But wouldn't you say that these things still pop up and you still need to process them?

Justin: Oh my god, all the time. All the time. It’s just that when I'm emotionally activated, I now have tools and I've now practiced it, practiced enough to be able to identify, observe what's happening. Give it some words, dig a little deeper, give us some even better words, and then express it, cry it out if I have tears, just move the energy. And now it goes through so fast and it's like, “Oh, that’s it. Now I've identified it. Now I've expressed it and now we can start to move on.”

Audra: I just want to be clear, for any fathers who might be listening at some point, that it doesn't mean that you're just over it or as you’re immune to these things, that everything has changed, it's just that you have the tools to process.

And it makes me think, Jenny, that this is probably a really powerful conversation to be had, maybe at more length at some time for parents, because we're talking about our inter-relational worlds together as a family, and we've been talking about our relationships with kids. But as partners and as life partners, it really struck me talking about this power and the control and how that's sort of built into how you are raised as a man, and how that can present.

And so I know in our relationship at times there's been things that, for example, Justin has not liked various things like in my lifestyle or things that you have had questions or concerns about; I know that I'm probably not alone in this as a partner and as a woman. And so I think, even going both ways, but I think that it has the tie in the control part and the helplessness part actually helps me on the other side of it as well, having an understanding that it's also not necessarily just about me.

Jenny: It’s that you don't have to take it personally. Yeah, I think that's a big thing that you just named Audra. I've known that in my own marriage that just by understanding where my partner is coming from…not in a defensive way, but in a vulnerable way. Then I can access—I don't have to take it personally—I can access some compassion. I can still be upset, I can still have my feelings, you know? It's not one or the other, but I can kind of hold both of like, “Well, I don't have to vilify her or make it all bad or…”

And I think what you said too, Justin, is right on. It’s that we're going to have emotional reactions, we’re going to be activated and triggered. Things happen, but it's how you move through it, how you're in relationship with it and it sounds like you've gotten these tools. And sometimes people think that therapists have it all figured out and it's like, no I get in arguments with my partner. I can sometimes slip into road rage and I just like... But I have an awareness that I didn't have.

Audra: Along these lines, Jenny, I'd love to know with our partners, with our family, the family unit, I think there's a fine line between—'cause we all want the best for our loved ones, be it our parents, our children, our Life Partners, extended family, we all want the best—what's that line and how do you grapple with wanting the best for these folks or loved ones and then stepping into control, wanting to see that outcome, wanting to have control of the outcome that we see? Like how do you manage that?

Jenny: I think whenever we’re in a controlling mindset or place inside, it's a moment to stop and check ourselves because the truth is you cannot control your partner. Like you just can't.

Now, with kids, it's different and...there is some level of control that you need to be having in terms of boundaries and things—and then you have boundaries with your partner—but it's different in that you cannot make them be who you want them to be. And that's true with kids: you can't make them be who you want them to be, and if we're in that headspace, I think that's the moment to pause and see what's going on.

Usually, it means some of my needs aren't getting met in my partnership. I just try to bring it back to what I do have some say over, which is myself. So what am I needing that I'm not getting? Where is connection getting forwarded? What is it to me if my partner does this or doesn't do it? Like you're doing that drilling down... So my partner makes this choice, what impact is it having? Okay, there is this outside impact, but what's the internal impact?

Justin: What is the emotional... What are the feelings that come up when your partner does X or when your child does? That for me has been really big. I've been able to see that, oh, I get emotionally triggered—I'll just say around Max's video game time—and to really just start to dig into that feeling. Like what is coming up emotionally around that? And it's a lot of feelings around being a bad parent; that if he’s playing video games then I'm bad.

Jenny: So that’s about you.

Justin: Yes, exactly, exactly, 100%. So then I get to get that little bit of insight that it’s not about his video game playing. Now, the video game playing can be excessive and there are problems with it, but video game playing as such... That's mine. That's my stuff.

Jenny: It sounds like you're figuring out where those two exist, so there's a place where there's a boundary with the video games, which is a choice for Max's well-being, and then there's a place where it starts to tip into stuff that's about you that is not Max's job to fix with whether or not he’s playing video games.

I think another piece of this, too, is just plain old frustration tolerance. Just like me in my marriage, and I'm sure my wife would say about me, it's like: what are the things that are deal-breakers? And what are the things that I just need to tolerate that she's different and I'm different from her, and that we're not gonna do it exactly the same way?

Audra: Such a good point.

Jenny: It is frustrating, but there's still all this good here that keeps me in this relationship, and so what do I choose to kind of focus on? And what then needs to be a conversation or sometimes a fight? Sometimes we need to fight it out, but...boy, I don't know about you guys but my marriage asks so much of me in terms of growing and...

Justin: Yes, it does.

Jenny: But there's a richness in it, like right when you're in the hard part of it, it blows. But when you get on the other side, doesn’t it feel like you climbed a mountain together or something?

Justin: Oh my gosh, I am more in love today than I've ever been. It is the work, and it's not...I don't mean it's the work between us, I feel like it's doing my work that has opened up, just a lot of avenues for just a deeper connection.

Audra: And I feel the same way with the kids. And it does bring me to... There's something that I want, I wanna get out and understand a little bit better, Jenny. When it comes to the burgeoning personhood and one's responsibility for oneself, and when we are in these close relationships, we can often overstep these bounds when we’re taking responsibility for each other. And so how do I help my kids honor who they are? Know that person, honor who they are: they want to take care of themselves, they want to live their best lives. And then how do I respect and trust that?

So how do I step out of paternalism? We need to have boundaries and we need to teach them, so that's a hard part because it's like it's incumbent on us to show them the ropes, but then that we can kind of often...I feel like over-step that into a “you just need to follow what I say.” But I do think that we need to honor and respect each other as autonomous, individual human beings as well, who are self-interested and want to live good lives.

Jenny: What's it like to invite them into that question? Like that's something you guys could figure out together.  Kids need that container. We all need the container. We all need boundaries because they feel good, actually. It feels good to know where our edges are and where you end and I begin, and what is expected.

And when that's communicated directly, it feels really good, but I mean, as the kids are getting older, I don't know. What would it be like to invite them into that conversation of like, you know, “We need to have some rules here,” and “I'm really interested in what you're wanting to get out of this,” “What do you think you would like to have happen here?”

Audra: I like that.

Jenny: I mean, obviously you can't do that at every age, but I think there is a certain age where it's like you can start to invite their voice into the conversation...

Audra: No, I think that you're completely right… I think that just bringing that out, even having the sentence stems and examples, I think is really helpful for parents. What are the questions...that I can ask myself? I think having those questions of “How can I invite in this conversation with my kids?” I have seen just some beautiful things happen as my kids take responsibility for themselves. Maesie has done the most amazing—it has been an amazing shift for her as a child with dyslexia, taking ownership of her school and her progress, and it was like a flip of a switch. It was amazing when she took ownership and wasn't just told what to do, but took it on herself.

Justin: And her particular learning strategies.

Audra: It's the coolest thing. So I've learned from just experiencing that with her, and I know that this is something that parents experience because it is a fine line between setting up boundaries and then over-stepping them sometimes into control, 'cause we don't know what else to do and...we weren't raised with having these conversations. Most of—a lot of us—were raised with “because I say so,” “'cause this is what's best.”

Jenny: Yeah, and I think a lot of those moments happen sometimes quickly, and we feel that pressure. You're talking about having to do it right in the minute, I mean, can we time out? If a kid asks you a question about a boundary and you really don't know, it's...okay to be like, “Let me get back to you on that.” Or like, “This is part of it I can tell you now and this part, we need to talk about more.”

Not having to have it all figured out, letting it evolve like with Maesie’s relationship to her dyslexia and things like that. “Let's try this” and “Let's check in around it, 'cause we might wanna try something else, that we can be more creative together about it.” And not having to have some pressure being a good parent or a bad parent...

Audra: Oh my gosh. What I'm hearing, Jenny, is stepping out of this reactionary, reactive way of living into a thoughtful, kind of like slowing down, and also a bit more proactive way of living with each other.

Jenny: Yeah, I mean, it's kind of the running joke in my house of like, I'm just being like “I don't know, I'm feeling feelings. I'm feeling feeling. I don’t know.”

Audra: I like that.

Jenny: But we know it's a funny and cheesy, or if the dogs are ever act acting up, it's like “And you're feeling feelings.”

Audra: I love it.

Justin: Feelings are meant to be felt. Alright, so I do want to segue now into something very cool that Jenny has done for The Daily Thrive, which is our subscriber-only platform for The Family Thrive. And so it is a self-paced course that we also do as group-based courses later on, and it's called “Loving Your Inner Critic.”

So, Jenny, this is an amazing course. I was so—really, I am so grateful that I got the chance to work on it with you, 'cause I learned so much as I put it together on to the platform… so, I just wanna be clear. Why do we want to love our inner critic? It seems like we...don't like this voice, this chattering voice in our head that tells us we're not good enough: why don't we just fight it and tell it to shut up?

Jenny: 'cause it doesn't work. It doesn't work. I don't know about you, I tried doing that for years, but it just doesn't work. I like to do what works. Well, first of all, the inner critic is something that we all have…we're all kind of wired to have it, and it's individual and that it looks different and sounds different for each of us, but to have a voice that's there trying to manage us is a very human experience, and it's really there to try to keep us safe.

It's just that it's often a very immature voice; it's very...it can be kind of primitive in its understanding of things.

Justin: It is not particularly sophisticated.

Jenny: It's not particularly sophisticated, no. And it's really hooked into old beliefs and fears that have probably been there for quite a long time and have been getting reinforced, and so it's often trying to protect you from rejection, big overarching fears like rejection, humiliation, failure, things that feel like it could be annihilating. But if we can be in our more adult brain, especially if we're doing internal work on ourselves, we start to learn that it's not annihilating… We can fail and be okay. And failure is actually something we might come to have some gratitude towards, but...

So anyway, why do you wanna love it? We wanna just try to be in a different relationship with it. I know I've said that a lot today, but it is just a game-changer when you can start to understand something you've always had with you in a different way. And it's like The Matrix: it's like you take the...other pill. And it's just like, oh...

And so that would be kind of the basic of why we wanna try to... Because it's not going anywhere. Oh, that's the other thing I would say. We love to try to kill off parts of ourselves, like I hate when I feel messy, I'm just gonna try and get rid of it. I hate anger, I'm just never gonna be angry... I'm gonna kill the anger. And what happens is, we can't... It just doesn't work that way, and that part tends to fester and then it starts coming outside you. For example, Justin, I don't mean to make you the identified patient here.

Justin: No, let’s do it.

Jenny: This helpless feeling. “If I hate that helpless feeling, I'm gonna try and kill it off,” and meanwhile it's sort of silently festering and then it starts to come out sideways when Max wants to play video games. And it feels like totally unrelated, but somehow in there—so try as you might get rid of that helpless feeling, it's there, 'cause you're human, and sometimes we feel helpless. So the critic is not going anywhere, so we might as well stop resisting it and turn toward it and see about being in a different relationship with it.

Justin: The way the course is laid out, it's so fantastic where we start out with understanding what an inner critic is, and then you take us through step by step, and by the end of it, it's like the inner critic has then turned into this child who was criticized and just wants love and compassion, and by the end of it, you’re like “I love this little guy!”

Jenny: I know.

Audra: Holding that child, I think, is beautiful. And the thought of being in a different relationship is really profound to me. I think we grow up often not realizing that that's even an option, and what you're opening up here is that this is totally an option in so many different facets of our lives.

Jenny: Yeah, it's powerful to allow these voices to be parts. And there's different therapies... This is thought of conceptually in lots of different kinds of therapies. Internal Family Systems is all about parts work, object relations, but anyway, but it's just... When you can start to think of it as a part of you instead of you, it's so much more empowering, and there's just so much more we can kind of play with and do with it.

Justin: Yeah, awesome. I have no doubt that this course is gonna be really powerful for a lot of parents, 'cause I think even if maybe in other parts of one's life, the inner critic isn't super loud. Well, it’s sure gonna get loud when you're a parent, like, “You're doing it wrong. You're not enough. You're a terrible parent.” So it seems like such a real part of parenting, so I'm excited to launch this course.

So our last question before we move into our regular podcast are the final three quick hits. So the last topic real quick—I wanted to get personal. But we've already gotten really personal, so I'm gonna get even more personal. What is really at your edge right now in your own mental and emotional wellness journey?

Jenny: That's a great question. I don't know about you guys, but I have noticed in quarantine like whatever your issue is, it is right up in your face, and requiring being looked at and known about. Pema Chodron talks about being pinned to the spot when life pins you to the spot, and there is no wriggling away, and I feel like that's been true for quarantine.

Justin: You can't go on vacation, you can't go see a show, you can't go to a bar...

Jenny: Yeah, and I feel like in terms of psyche, it's the same thing, so whatever I was working with clients around, it's heightened right now. And so for me, this is around allowing myself to be, to take up space and to have boundaries. My inner critic—it's funny that this is coming up right now because of this course, I kind of went into that course like “I'm good. Inner critic? I dealt with that.”

I don't really... I used to beat myself up really intensely—I mean, a yelling, cursing voice—and...I don't do that anymore. I'm really a lot more tender with myself. What I have noticed though, is that my inner critic has gotten very, very sophisticated, and it does it in this tricky way where it's like, there are places where I wanna step into who I am and it tells me, “Oh, that's... You're being a narcissist.” Like it pathologizes me.

Audra: Oh my goodness. Yeah.

Justin: So your inner critic basically went to school with you and learned all the tricks that you did.

Jenny: Yeah, and true story. I'm just gonna put it out there. I mean, Audra knows, I like to be a part-time witch over here. I’m a little... I'm quite woowoo. I recently got a tarot reading that was pretty... It was right. It was so affirming and right on.

And the first thing that she named out of the gate was this years-long, pretty toxic relationship that I came out of with someone who's quite narcissistic, and there's been a big healing around it and a big...all this stuff. And she's like, “Basically what you did is you learned how to say no to those people on the outside and you've internalized it and put it in your head. And that voice is now inside of you judging you.” And I was like, “Oh god, busted.” I was like, “Oh!”

But it's so subtle and it's not overt, and so I'm doing the work right along with you guys with this course. Just like trying to understand it, turn toward it, make friends with it and see the ways it wants me to stay small and quiet and does that serve anyone or me? And that's definitely a growing edge for me.

Justin: I think a lot of us can relate.

Audra: It's really powerful to hear that and to hear about how that inner critic can transform with you.

Jenny: It gets more sophisticated.

Audra: You need to keep doing the work, it's like, now that you have become nicer to yourself, it doesn't mean the work is done.

Jenny: No, not at all. And I think it's like, the growth I'm trying to do now or I wanna do now, or I am doing now, is really different than the growth. I mean like, in my twenties it was survival. It was like... We didn't talk about this, but another part of becoming a therapist was I went through very severe suicidality and depression and anxiety for a big part of my twenties and early thirties, and it was just survival.

It was just trying to get tools to get out of a life-or-death feeling inside. And then being in that for a period of time in your life and career growing, and then realizing like, I'm not in a survival mode, but there's still more growth to be done, and then hitting that wall and noticing like “Oh, interesting. It's way more sophisticated and it's trickier.”

Justin: Yeah, the game has evolved... Okay, let's go into our regular three questions for our podcast guests. Audra, we'll just switch off on this. I'll let you go first.

Audra: Alright, if you could post a big Post-It Note on every parent’s fridge for tomorrow morning, what would it say?

Jenny: I'm just gonna go with the first thing that came to mind when I heard the question which is: I am enough.

Audra: Thank you, thank you. I can use that.

Justin: I think every parent... Every parent needs that. In fact, yeah, if you're listening right now, just take a deep breath and repeat that.

Jenny: But I will say—can I add on, which is I am enough, and then the therapist in me is like, “But go and figure out what Post-it Note works for you.”

Justin: It is a big enough Post-It Note to put the whole thing on there.

Jenny: Take the time to figure out what you need and then allow yourself to have it.

Justin: I love it. Alright, so what is the last quote that changed the way you think or feel?

Jenny: Okay, so these questions, I felt this high pressure to pick the best quote.

Justin: Absolutely…nothing less than the best.

Jenny: Yeah, so full disclosure, you guys kinda gave me a heads up you're gonna ask me this, which I appreciate. And I was like, “Oh lord…” And I was looking, I was thinking, and I had this quote and that quote, and I was like, “You know what, universe? Just send me a quote...just give me a quote, 'cause I just can't pick the best one or whatever.” So I was getting out of the shower and I heard my wife clear as day say, “You're gonna go where you're looking, so you better look where you wanna be going.”

Justin: Kinda like eyes on the prize.

Audra: Absolutely.

Jenny: So I was like, “Oh my god, is she talking about life?” It turns out she was talking about riding a motorcycle, but that's okay.

Audra: Life lesson, yeah.

Jenny: So what it got me thinking about was what we were talking about earlier… If I'm looking about being a bad...having to avoid being a bad parent or a good parent, that's where I'm going, right? I'm going into this place of good or bad, if I'm looking toward trying to...you know…

When I'm upset with someone and I'm looking at what it is about them that's upsetting me, that is what I'm gonna get. That is what I'm gonna see and that is the feedback I'm gonna get in terms of if I'm going in with this question of like, “What is there to learn here? What's my part here?” So I was kind of just taking it into a more like, that could be applied in so many ways.

Justin: If I follow on Twitter, just like smart, kind people who are nice to each other and have really great ideas then I have a good time and I feel lightened, airy, when I'm done with it rather than... You know.

Audra: But, there is this concept, is what it relates to for me, is this concept that if you keep yourself kind of mired in the rabbit hole of the fear of the path forward, you will go there.

Jenny: Exactly.

Audra: If you look towards the vision that you're creating, the very real vision that you're creating, you will go there, right?

Jenny: Yes. Exactly.

Justin: That’s way deeper than my Twitter feed. Yeah.

Audra: And that's that concept of you manifest that.

Jenny: Yeah, agreed. And I guess, what it came up for me is that that can be applied to small and big things. I think when we think of manifesting we think of like, “I wanna have this amount of money and this…” In your relationship, in this conversation that I'm heading into with my child: Where am I looking? Am I looking toward connecting and repair? Am I looking toward blame and control?

Audra: Totally. I feel that.

Jenny: Like, you’re gonna go where you're... I had a recent experience with someone who texted me and they were upset about something, and I just... I got so triggered. I got so upset, and I was like... I slowed it down, I was like, “I don't wanna text. Let's have a conversation.”

And I went into that conversation of like, I wanna remember this is my friend, we care about each other, there's a way we can both be happy and we can find a way through. And that's exactly what we did. And I could have gone in that conversation very differently, and I have a feeling...of where it would have gone if I had drawn my sword.

Audra: Had you drawn your sword, gone in defensively, gone in with the list of assumptions and stories, like how we normally do it, right?

Jenny: Yeah.

Justin: Okay, 'cause I wanna just explore this idea just one second, because what has worked for me is to learn—especially with this past year—to go into conversations, go into any sort of interaction with as few expectations as possible and really as few assumptions as possible, and to just come in with kind of a jazz-improv mood.

Jenny: Jazz hands.

Justin: Yeah, let's just see what happens here. And so what I'm hearing though is that, I don't know. This quote of yours makes me think, “Oh, I should have some sort of expectation” or “I should be going in with an expectation.”

Jenny: Ohhh… Interesting. Maybe more of an intention than an expectation?

Justin: Yeah. Okay.

Audra: Especially in conversations like that. It depends on what it is. So for example, previously on a Saturday morning or a Friday night, you would have a complete plan in your head of how everything should run, and if things didn't go that way, it would cause difficulty.

Justin: I would have assumptions, and a lot of expectations...

Audra: And now you’ve been very open, just like let's see what the night presents. Let’s just see, I'm gonna do me, but let's see what happens. Look at this morning: so I’m gonna run to Target, but I'm gonna see what happens.

But having that tough conversation with your daughter... To walk into that with an intention that isn’t based on these stories and assumptions and defensiveness and guardedness and all of the...I think which relates to the inner critic, the self-protective ego, all of that stuff. But [just] walk in with the intention, as you like to say: what is going to serve in connection? What, how am I going to learn more about my child? It's a different intentionality.

Justin: Nice.


Audra: So I still think you can be open.


Justin: Yeah, yeah. This last question, so we are going to be asking everybody this question. Because as parents, we can sometimes get to a point where we say, ‘Ahhh, kids,’ where just like this exhaustion, and it's just chore and obligation and spilt milk and all this stuff. So we wanna just end on this note of like, what's your favorite thing about kids? Let's focus on something rad about kids.


Jenny: Okay, this is a two-parter. Well, I think I love kids’ honesty. I just love how they are so honest and from telling you that you look fat to... I just think there's a beautiful integrity in that. Where they just tell a certain kind of...they just tell their truth.


Audra: Tell it like it is.


Jenny: They tell like it is.

And the other part is, I love—I mean, this sounds cliche, but it's true—I really, really love their imaginations. I remember having a conversation with Max, years ago, when he was... I think he was doing something around narrative work...I feel like ninjas were a part of it, and his understanding of the bad guys and the tumor, and I just was like... I just loved sitting there, listening to him tell me his story and the way he was making sense of it and understanding it and living it… And I was just like, “It's ingenious.” It's just ingenius. And so there's that creativity and that imagination is just... It's inspiring and...I think it's ingenious. There’s something we can all learn from it, so that's my favorite.

I just love being around kids, just like... One of my favorite jokes is by this four-year-old little girl I met once, and she was like, “What's purple and sits on the bottom of the ocean and goes click, click, click?” And I'm like, “What?” She's like, “A four-door grape.” Brilliant. Of course. It’s a four-door grape. I’m like, “I have no idea what that is.” So totally amazing.


Audra: Jenny, do you...speaking of that: I couldn't agree more, and it makes me think of Sir Ken Robinson, who passed away I think just last year—not too long ago—and his work on creativity and how our educational systems often just squish it. We're not fostering it.


Jenny: Not valued.


Audra: Do you remember when... I'll just say this: I remember when my imagination started to wane. And I remember feeling grief around it. I was, like, probably and 11, 12-year-old, being like, I used to see whole worlds with my Legos and would be fascinated with it, and now I want a sweater for Christmas like, this is a little sad, it's going away.

Do you, I mean, you're an artist, but I'm wondering if you have any feelings around your childhood imagination with something that you appreciate in kids. What about for you personally? Someone who was once a kid.


Jenny: I spent so much time by myself and I created worlds. And, I do love that part of myself, I think it was... When I look back to her, I think like, “What a cool little kid in a lot of ways.”


Justin: I do love that.


Jenny: But in terms of when it started to wane? When you said that the first thing came to mind, for me, I remember in high school, making these ridiculous videos. So video cameras were not common, and we happened to have one. And so turning in videos, you could get it—and now, it would just be like, consider phoning it in—but at the time, I could get out of writing papers by making videos.

And I remember doing a video about “The Scarlet Letter,” and it was stupid and not hilarious—but hilarious to me. And I roped my friends in, and my friends got scared they weren't gonna get an A, because the teachers weren't impressed or something, and everyone just abandoned ship. I remember that moment of just feeling like I was the only one standing behind this creative idea and feeling like everyone was mad at me and hated it. And I do think that that was a time where I started to start to tuck that that part of me away, that part of me that was a little bit more daring and a little more out-there and a little more risk-taking in terms of my creativity. That's a moment I won't forget that. I think it kind of was like, “Oh, This maybe doesn't work.”


Audra:  My gosh, that feels really monumental. It feels really big, to me, to hear that and it makes me think of how many of us have these moments where we are standing strong and tall in this space, and we... It's like the inner critic, as you mention, is there—it makes us smaller to make us safer in some way. Right? And so that's one of those first experiences of just feeling like I've gotta go smaller, I can't stay this big.


Jenny: I think I will add that the choice for me, and this is a choice that I think has been a theme in my life and true for most people, we’ll always choose attachment. The child within us will always choose attachment. And for me, it was like I would rather be an attachment with my friends and my teachers. If I have to choose between myself and my creativity, my vision and the attachment, I'm gonna pick attachment, and that's what we as humans do every single time. And this is where we can—in certain situations—we can abandon ourselves.


Audra: Also give ourselves grace when we do abandon ourselves, to know that it wasn't because we weren't…whatever, principled or whatever the thing may come up for you.


Justin: Millions of years of evolution, of the lone gazelles a dead gazelle, type of thing.  


Jenny: I was a dead gazelle, Justin. I was looking at a B+ and...social ostracization. Yeah, I was a dead gazelle.


Justin: Jenny, thank you so much for this talk. I just wanna state the intention to have you as a recurring guest. I think there's so much to talk about.


Jenny: I would love that. I could talk with you guys all day. Are you kidding me? I love this.


Audra: I have so many questions, Jenny, and so many different things I want to explore. So many different things.


Justin: Thanks for listening to The Family Thrive Podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe, tell it to your friends and head on over to Apple Podcast—or anywhere you listen to podcasts—and give us a review.

We’re so grateful you’ve chosen to join us on this Family Thrive journey.

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