Shadow work is the process of exploring the hidden side of yourself. In the work, you learn to let go of facades and ways of relating that are disempowering. Today, Dr. Kelly Brogan invites us to lean into the challenges and enjoy the freedom and growth that can result from increased self-awareness.
Kelly is a holistic psychiatrist, the author of A Mind of Your Own and Own Your Self, and the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset. She points out that shadow work helps us break old patterns and to discover what it feels like to really live–feeling our feelings, facing fear, and exploring parts of ourselves that we have either ignored or resisted.
She suggests that we begin with curiosity about ourselves, rather than self-judgment or condemnation. She reminds us that at times we may feel like we’re actually dying as we sit with uncomfortable feelings. She describes the process as a spiral path of learning, where we revisit lessons throughout our lives. Finally, Kelly reminds us that this work can result in a life characterized by greater joy and overflowing vitality.
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Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda
Do you ever feel like you are wearing a mask to get the world’s approval or maybe even to get your own? Dropping the mask means embracing a side of yourself that you have been avoiding. It’s scary but also freeing. This is all a part of shadow work. This is episode 362 and our guest is Dr. Kelly Brogan. Kelly is a holistic psychiatrist, the author of A Mind of Your Own and Own Yourself, and the Founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset.
Kelly invites us to grow in self-awareness and to do some inner work that will enable us to better love others and ourselves. Kelly points out that shadow work is the process of breaking old patterns that we have relied on to get along in society and to rediscover what it feels like to be true to ourselves, to feel feelings, embrace fear and explore parts of ourselves that we may have not even realized were in existence.
She explains how to begin that process in this episode. Steps include embracing curiosity over self-judgment or condemnation, a willingness to learn how to sit with uncomfortable feelings, and the courage to own yourself. She goes over how hard and frightening it is at times to do these things and shares personal anecdotes along the way. She also reminds us that so much of the hard stuff we go through is truly an invitation to grow. When we accept that invitation, it leads to a life that is much more free and full of vitality than any we may have ever imagined.
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It’s such a pleasure to be here.
I have been following you for a while. You have been on the show before and I have noticed that you often say, “Own yourself.” That was even the title of one of your books, Own Yourself: The Surprising Path beyond Depression, Anxiety, and Fatigue to Reclaiming Your Authenticity, Vitality, and Freedom. What do you mean by own yourself?
I was listening to a show or a workshop of an inspirational businesswoman. She was like, “You’ve got to come up with your tagline. What are you?” I was like, “Maybe I’m like the own it queen.” That has been so much of what I have devoted. Not only my public message too, which is, “What are the vital ingredients to this experience of freedom, vitality, joy that we deeply know is our birthright.” That’s why experiences that are out of alignment with that expression feel bad.
That’s why depression, and anxiety, not only has it been my public message but it has been my personal work for many years to come into a greater experience of personal responsibility for that, which is unfolding in my midst. I have not pleased everyone with that message because sometimes it can sound like shaming or blaming the victim. Aren’t there bad things that happen? It’s all about your metaphysical narrative.
I prefer to live in a world where I have God’s creative power. I am awakening to that. I came here for the delight of experiencing the contrast of my own somnolence, my own sleep with the awakening to love, and the awakening to my own divinity. The scariest one is the awakening to my own power because before, we have said that it’s the dimensional hugeness of our personal power that is terrifying. It’s terrifying to us because we were conditioned in our childhoods to associate the expression of that will, authority, power, even that heart energy, our divinity with unsafety.
We were conditioned by a hierarchical society that conditioned our parents that conditioned us. We are in this beautiful process of recognizing that that’s an old set of instructions. We are the ones now who are in charge of determining what our life experience is going to be. It’s daunting and overwhelming. Once you start it, you can’t go back. There’s no crawling back up into the womb. It only recognizes that this is a journey. I call it a spiral path. We revisit over and over again these patterns until we are ready to alchemize them. We alchemize them in our bodies.
Emotions are not something that happens in your head. That’s what I was trained to believe as a psychiatrist. They are energies that move around your body. Your nervous system has to get to the point of being able to hold those energies or you won’t do the deeper work that is awaiting you until you are ready to do it. That’s why I’m a big believer in this Maslow’s hierarchy like the order of operations. First, is the body temple. You learn what it is to exercise your power of choice in the realm of lifestyle. You not only awaken that sense of like, “I do have a lot of power in my choices. What do I have for breakfast? What water I’m drinking? Whether I’m eating this or drinking that, or going to bed at midnight or 7:00 PM.”
You also begin to send your nervous system the signal of safety such that the experience of looking where you have not wanted to look emotionally in your life, exploring toxic dynamics, recognizing that your job is unfulfilling, looking at all of the ways that the experience of your family of origin is holding you hostage, whatever. You will be able to courageously move into that work because your literal vessel will be able to hold the energies that come up when you think about somebody not liking you or when you think about allowing another person in your world to think that you are wrong or bad.
When you’re about to expand, you will choose to lose something that you formerly thought you would die without.
We were conditioned to imagine that these experiences would literally kill us. The feeling then that comes up in our heart, our chest and our shoulders is a cue that says, “You are about to die.” If we can learn to feel these feelings, we see the alchemy at work because you can feel rage. It can move into a sadness that moves into a deep grief that then moves into laughter. That can all happen in six minutes if you have the wherewithal to set that container for yourself. This process becomes quite a journey home to yourself.
You have shared so many profound thoughts. I want to start with this. A friend of mine, and her kids were fighting. She sat down with them and with one in particular who was very mad. She rubbed this child’s back and said, “It’s okay. I also have big strong emotions.” She did all this acceptance and it sounded so beautiful. She waited patiently, Kelly, for the daughter to process her own emotions.
She’s like, “Do you want to hear a story of when I was little?” Something happened at first. Her kid didn’t say anything, but then later, she was like, “Yes.” To the point where she crawled into her mom’s lap out of gratitude and I thought, many of us basically still need that permission so that we are no longer disempowered but are empowered to own it, as you have said.
I have found the most immediately soothing bomb to be approval. There’s this insipid option, which is acceptance like, “I accept reality as it is. I accept what I’m feeling or what somebody else is feeling.” That’s great if you can get there instead of fighting with it. Byron Katie often talks about how the root of suffering is insisting that reality should be something different than it is. Approval invokes heart energy. It’s this empathic bridge sometimes to yourself, to another or to everything that’s happening that says, “There’s wisdom here. This makes sense.” I see why it has to be this way. I would feel the same way if I were you.
To offer approval, let’s say I do something in my life. I make a choice that somebody else doesn’t like and they say, “How dare you? I can’t believe you did this.” All of a sudden, my shame is triggered. I think, “What did I do? I did something so stupid.” Immediately, if I can say to myself or feel, it makes sense that I did what I did. If we can offer that to our children, which is even as they are narrating differently than we would like, they are expressing differently than we would like. If we can offer them, that makes sense.
It’s meaningful that you feel the way you do or you are saying the thing you are saying. “I want to learn more about your experience.” We break the cycle right there. I will tell you. I have been on this tip for a while. I have been doing inner work and shadow work for years. As a part of some re-parenting I was doing on my own around relationships, I decided to ask my daughters two questions. I have two daughters. I asked them, “I want to know about a painful memory that you have of me and something that I did that when you think about it now, still hurts you.” That’s number one.
Number two, “I want to know what do you need from me that you are not getting from me now in your life?” Here I am. I’m a pretty cool cucumber. I can handle a lot of stuff and that’s part of my trauma response. I disconnect very easily from my emotions and I don’t feel much of anything and I can handle it. I have been working on that and allowing my emotions to exist and becoming this container for my experience. It was tested big time with this inquiry. They both decided to respond in writing.
My eldest daughter is basically like a spiritual guru and teacher for me, and so is my younger daughter in a very different way. She teaches me how to feel feelings. My eldest daughter’s name is Sophia. She is a goddess of wisdom. She offered to me. She said, “I remember that before we moved to Miami.” There was a lot of conflict in the family and this includes my family of origin. I don’t need to get into the details but she had very unsavory memories of my role, Kelly.
My story about what happened was like I was the victim. Here, she has a story where I am the villain and was not only lit on fire by this. I read this not in her presence and I was hysterically crying. My children do not typically trigger me. This caught me off guard. I recognized like, “I was secretly attached to my children.” It’s called a narcissistic extension. My children are experiencing all of the psychospiritual work that I have done as 100% positive. If my children see me as something other than I would like to see myself, I can’t handle it and I failed. That’s what I felt.
I felt like, “I have failed in my one mission in this life,” which is to end these cycles of abuse and trauma in my family line. In my despair, I recognized. This little voice was like, “No, Kelly. This is the moment where you end the cycle.” When I sat down with her, I recognized my story is irrelevant. I did not say one word about my version of the story, my thing, whatever. I simply crossed the bridge to explore her experience. That one day evolved our relationship like a quantum leap. Not that it was problematic, to begin with, but I noticed within days she was more affectionate with me. I felt so proud of myself that I could do that.
I had to hold myself. My inner girl was terrified that I have been called bad and wrong. She was having a crazy freak out inside me, saying, “We are about to die. Mobilize the defenses.” I have gotten to a point where finally.” I could barely hold the container and say like, “No, I’m here now. I’m an adult woman. It’s okay. I can handle this.” We can handle this. I’m driving the car. I hear you. I see you, little girl, inside. It’s okay if somebody thinks these things and isn’t that everything?
What if what we think feels like dying is the birth of something better?
It almost always is. That’s the hallmark, the signature that I have found. This is my biased perspective. When you are about to expand, you will choose to lose something, relinquish something or walk away from something that you formerly thought you would die without. That has been the hallmark of every vaginal canal I have passed through in my personal rebirth. In this lifetime, I have had a dependency, an attachment, an experience of hidden victimhood and hidden disempowerment that was cloaked in a, “Everything is fine. If I keep this going, it will be okay.”
Often, there’s a dynamic in there of what I refer to as trying to buy eggs from the hardware store where it’s like, “Keep trying. Eventually it will work. Eventually you will get the feeling of love, connection or empowerment,” or whatever that you are looking for from this place that cannot offer it to you. It’s the same thing I observed with all of my patients before they would come to me. They had that experience of awakening to the reality that they were trying to buy eggs from the allopathic medical hardware store. The eggs were their own experience of a meaningful embodiment like meaningful selfhood because they knew that something was being delivered through these symptoms that they were having.
What they ultimately concluded after working with the conventional system was, “It must be the affirmation of my wrongness. I am this messed up. I am this broken.” They only found their way to me because there was another part in there that said, “Hold on a minute. There’s more to the story and that story can’t be completed at this place we have been going to.” We’ve got to go elsewhere now that we know what we want, which is transmutation, transformation, and alchemy. It’s the light that shines through the wound. It’s not the festering septic, systemic infection or whatever that comes from the wound.
Kelly, you have been in this field for a while. You are using terms that may be new to some of us. I honestly am not even sure I get this concept. I want to ask you, what do you mean by shadow work? What do you mean by inner work?
Here’s the easiest way to explain it. We were raised, all of us, in a society, no matter where you were raised in the world, maybe there are some indigenous exceptions but where there is a binary consciousness, a dual consciousness, where there is such a thing as good and bad. Good is good and bad is bad and because of that, you learned through social conditioning and often very elaborate systems of enduring reinforcement like intermittent conditioning where sometimes your mom had a freak out if you left a crumb on your dish. Sometimes she didn’t. Sometimes she pets your head because she didn’t even notice.
This is somewhat crazy-making but an ultimately, learnable system of reward and punishment was in place in most of our households. Even if you were not physically beaten or punished in seemingly measurable ways, there was maybe a withdrawal of love. Maybe my daughter comes in when she’s two years old and so excited because she found this caterpillar outside. She’s got it on her finger. She says, “Mama,” and I’m on this super important phone call. Maybe I’m being interviewed in like a podcast or whatever. This happened. one time.
Addiction is not a pathology. It is a very necessary way to meet needs that you don’t have another way to meet.
I’m like, “Sophia, stop,” or whatever. That’s all it takes for her to learn and imprint, “My expansion, my happiness, and radiance is a problem for my mom.” She is a helpless, dependent individual. The loss of love, even if it’s that subtle like withdrawal of love, is existentially problematic for the human mammal. We spend our fourth trimester outside of the womb. We are dependent. Children are not able to make the choice that we can make in a bad marriage where we get up and leave. What happens is you end up strategically curating the aspects of your persona, this mask, to present to the world so that you can secure love, approval, and connection.
There gets to the point that young refers to as the individuation process where you recognize that it’s not working. You did all the things. You’ve got the job, the relationship, the body or maybe you are still struggling to do the things or whatever. All of the ways that you have been going to the hardware store to buy eggs all these years, you are like, “I still don’t feel okay, let alone joyous or living every day in bliss, pleasure, and ecstasy. I’m not okay.” What do we do? We develop all addictions and all sorts of workarounds. Addiction is not a pathology. It is a very necessary way to meet needs that you don’t have another way to meet. Pharmaceuticals are nothing other than that.
If the needs are for love, or to diminish a sense of unsafety or to feel some levels of security, we have these needs and they don’t go away. We meet them in all manipulative and strategic ways until we get to the point where we recognize that it’s not working. That’s when the awakening process and your journey can begin. You start to make these courageous choices to look at how you have responsibility for your suffering.
In that way, you meet dimensions of yourself that you couldn’t otherwise have tolerated knowing and we all have this. If I think of myself as a nice person, in my shadow is my selfish, mean, manipulative person, always. Every person has this dynamic. I might think of myself as a selfish, mean, manipulative person, and then in my shadow is my docile, sweet, compassionate, kind angel. Whatever it is that my self-concept encompasses in my shadow is the opposite. Very often in my work careerwoman life or whatever up in New York, I would get very triggered by women that I felt were disorganized and incompetent for whatever reason.
That was annoying to me as qualities in women. I had to meet as a part of this integration process the part of me that is disorganized and incompetent. She is terrified. She has all of these protector parts hiding her because if she’s ever exposed, the jig is up or whatever. I will lose love. That’s where the portal to your own self-integration is always going to be through your judgment and resentment.
Maybe this is why I have heard people say, “Everyone around you is a mirror.” If I’m super triggered or annoyed by someone, I’m like, “This person,” I need to take that emotion, observe it, not judge myself but realize it may be that something in that person is very much in me. That is using that person to shed light on something that I have within me. I might need to learn to accept.
I would go so far as to say 100% of the time, if you are upset about something, there is a projected and disavowed part that you are being introduced to at that moment. This is not a good analogy. It’s not like I pass by this serial killer on the street corner or whatever and he is me. There are all of these different parts of us inside that have been split off because of this strategic approach to life. If there is upset, resentment, disappointment, blame, judgment, condemnation, that is the activation of a part that is holding an old story. That wants to be alchemized felt and allowed to play different parts and expand the definitions called identity plasticity. Expand the definition of who we are.
Life becomes lighter. It becomes like a magic carpet ride but it requires the capacity to be seen as bad and wrong. I have people in my life who imagine that if the public were to know about transgression or perceive something negative about them, it would be so bad. I’m at the point where I do stupid mistakes all the time. I make tons of mistakes. It does not threaten me or bother me any longer than anyone would think badly of me because I don’t take it personally.
They will think badly of you. It’s like, “Okay.”
It’s not enjoyable necessarily but it also helps me to see like, “There’s not maybe a great connection here. Moving on.” Their upset is their invitation. If I’m upset about their upset, there’s my invitation. It’s this radical responsibility model for emotions is the only way because otherwise, even on the geopolitical scale, we can be manipulated and leveraged based on the projection of our own shame, and judgment onto others, and then we get divided. What happens? We get conquered. In the dimensions of the PSYOP, there has been a leveraging of this idea of the good citizen. What does the good citizen do?
It has been in many ways leveraged in spiritual communities because most people go follow spiritual gurus and look to spirituality because they want to feel better and experience themselves as good because they’ve got a lot of beliefs that they are bad. They are twisted up by their darkness. They engage in something called spiritual bypass, which is the avoidance of anything that feels bad, flight into the light, and transcendence.
They are sitting ducks for this PSYOP that says, “If you are a good, virtuous, compassionate, caring individual, you will wear your mask and get your prophylactic injection.” That is what you will do. If you do that, you are selfish. This concept of selfish is part of this mechanism because I believe in something called sacred selfishness pinned by this guy, Bill Harris. I love that concept because, without a deep focus on self-awareness, you will never know what it is to care for another person, let alone love them. It’s not possible because you will be engaged in this endless projection of parts that you are unconscious about.
You will either idealize those people and attach to them or you will vilify them and be engaging this war on the outside. I like to joke, you are funding both sides of the war, and it’s inside. Any conflict that I have in my real life, and this includes with government and all secret agents or universe, I used to live in around activism, it is inviting me to reconcile those parts within and to make informed choices about what I want to do with my energy. That’s what where to get occultist about it.
The harvesting of fear is a very real thing. Emotions are incredible, a precious resource that can be tapped. The experience of fear within us is something we are not taught to hold or to alchemize. It’s very real and active. When we can get to this place where we experience fear, we dialogue with it, and we get to know it. “What is it trying to tell me? What’s happening within me? What am I afraid of?” We can recognize that often what we are afraid of is our likeness. We don’t know how to feel so alive.
Even like a good thing that happened to you, an exciting cool thing that happened, I bet that feeling didn’t last very long because what happens is we start to habitually contract again. We look for conflict. We start a fight with our boyfriend. We start to focus on the bills or whatever because that experience of expansion is something, as somatic experiencing practitioners say, “We have to titrate into.” We have to take little steps to hold our power, holding our aliveness because it’s otherwise represented something.
It’s so fascinating what you are describing because I feel like it has been something of what we have gone through these past few years. We could decide or at least see, “Am I going to live in fear or am I going to embrace the unknown of my own power and personal responsibility?”
As an activist, I have had some very humbling moments where I have recognized. First of all, a lot of people are drawn to activism because they have very significant unexplored trauma. They are playing the rescuer role in the drama triangle, which is the Karpman drama triangle, which is the victim triangle. There’s a villain, a victim, and a rescuer but they are all in victim consciousness, which is feeling disempowered and empowering the enemy. It’s so funny because, in victim consciousness, you have this very intimate relationship with your enemy where their energy is always up in your body.
When you are the rescuer, the activist, the healer or the helper sometimes, not always, there is this dynamic where you are implying that the person, maybe it’s the anonymous victim like that person who you imagine is going to not get a vaccine because of reading your blog or whatever. You are reifying this concept that they can’t figure it out for themselves, empower themselves or do it without you. That’s not true.
The portal to your own self-integration is always going to be through your judgment and resentment.
We all have this native power. Nobody needs rescuing nobody but that doesn’t mean we don’t need, deserve, and require support. That is a different thing. This concept of rescuing is a hierarchical power dynamic. It also doesn’t mean that we don’t each has our gifts. However, when you are the rescuer, what can happen is that you end up moving your way around that triangle. That’s why when Nietzsche said, “Be careful in fighting the monster that you don’t become him,” I have seen this to be very true and brushed with it myself.
I’ve got to a place in my own activism where I recognized that without this level of conflict and fight against the bad daddy and bad mommy, I wasn’t sure I would have meaning. I wasn’t sure I wanted things to get better if I was honest with myself. In this more beautiful world, what is my role because I’m this valiant warrior? If I’m not doing that because there’s no fight, then who am I? What if I don’t matter because I can’t help anyone? What if that means I’m not lovable?
Kelly explains why whatever you are feeling now is perfect. It’s all okay, whether you are disempowered, depressed, anxious or tired.
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I feel like some people reading might feel so disempowered now, Kelly. They might feel all the things we have talked about depressed, anxious and tired. Turning to a rescuer might feel easier but we want to invite them to maybe explore the shadow side like you have been saying because then they will find their own strength and resilience come to the fore.
The thing is, whatever you are feeling is perfect. It’s like all already okay. That’s the big reveal that I have had in my own life. There’s nowhere to get to, nothing to heal. There’s nothing that has to change. It’s already here and now, totally okay. Why? It’s because of this fundamental premise, which is that it’s happening this way because you want it to be this way. When I say this way, I mean how you are narrating it.
One of your superpowers as a human is your power of narration. You get to tell the story of what’s happening. I could feel very victimized in a given dynamic relationship where I say, “He did this and that. I can’t believe it. Whatever,” or not to bypass. There are a lot of feelings that come up with that victim’s story. Those are super important. Let them ride the train of your poor-me story so that you can feel those feelings approve of them, explore them.
Let them move in your body. Literally, move your body around to see what these feelings do. Without many words added to them, they are sensations. It’s a racing heart. It’s a tight stomach. For me, when I feel afraid, it’s like leaf rakes, those big, green prongs. It’s almost like one of those rakes is in my chest. The bottom stick of the rake is plunging down into my stomach. That’s what it feels like to be in my body when I feel upset about what somebody has said or done.
I watch that rake and within a minute, I can’t find it anymore. Maybe an hour or later, it will come back or whatever. Very kinetic is the point. When you ride that victim story to allow the liberation of your feelings, you also can play with it a little. You can say, “I wonder what’s in this for me. I wonder if this is going to bring me to an experience of awareness and choice that couldn’t have been available otherwise.”
It’s like, “This is why I wanted it to happen this way.” I wouldn’t have designed it maybe this way if I was in charge but I can see why it needed to happen this way for me to awaken to this other dimension of me that I would have never met. It’s our cardinal fear. I will tell you, I have been living, which is a big part of my activism, with a cardinal fear that men can kill me. Jordan Peterson says, “Women are afraid that men will kill them. Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.” I found that to be very wide and deep.
It’s one perspective. However, as somebody who has developed quite an arsenal of defenses, intellectually and otherwise, attitudinally, what is this defense saving me from? Humiliation? I don’t know. Maybe but no. It’s bigger. This is existential. Maybe even I’m carrying that fear for a lot of collective women in my work or whatever my chosen role. If I don’t experience that fear through these various things, these very personal experiences that come up in my life, I go into it and I talk to that fear. I meet that part of me. I meet all the parts of me that are protecting that fear.
Women are afraid that men will kill them. Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.
I thank them for doing their part. I liberate that fear to play. That’s what’s happened. That’s why I have started to de-secret my sexuality and why I have started to liberate so many aspects of my relationship with money and my choice in my life and my mothering. It’s because I went into that fear and I recognize that it’s not appropriate any longer for who I am and what I am now. It’s a fear from many decades ago.
That doesn’t mean it’s extinguished and if I were to walk down an alley in the Bronx or something, I wouldn’t be on guard. It’s not about that. This is a storyline of my life and I get to rewrite that storyline anytime I am courageous enough to sit down with its component parts and learn about them. The point is, if you are feeling something, it is an invitation. You do not have to take the invitation. You will take it when you are ready. You are ready when you are ready. I have made a lot of courageous choices in my life and I was not ready the second before I was ready.
The moment you are ready, it will feel like jumping in a cold pool like, “Here I go,” and you will get through that fear wall. On the other side, you will realize, “I’m still alive,” and you are a new you. At that moment, you are a new you. You will never go back to the person you were, who believed the things you were, who was holding yourself small in this little cage of your own design. That’s the big reveal. It’s like we are our own captors. There’s no one holding us in this cage but ourselves.
I have two thoughts now. One is I know someone whose wife basically told him to get out. He said he felt like he was in a canoe and tossed out of the canoe into the water and then went over a waterfall. He thought he was going to die but he found himself bobbing up. This illustration reminds me of what you are saying and what you have said on posts and stuff. That the best way out is through. It’s awareness. It’s taking the invitation to explore parts of ourselves that may be frightening at first but that will help us realize our potential.
Frightening is often an understatement because when that happened to him, it wasn’t like, “This sucks.” It probably brought up in him the terror of a child who thinks they are about to die. That’s the signature of when you are about to do Major League alchemy. All you have to do is be willing. It’s like childbirth. To birth a child, you don’t have to do much of anything. You have to be willing to capacitate the energy and sensations moving through your body. That’s weirdly it.
You have to be willing to hold the emotions in your body. I’m a believer in my own program, Vital Mind Reset, which sets up your body to hold these emotions. I don’t think that’s a trivial dimension of it. However, you have to be willing and able to hold these emotions in your body and then you get to offer yourself that meaning, that approval. You get to say, “There’s something in this for me. If I simply agree not to fight with reality, if I simply agree not to say no, this can’t exist.” It already exists. It’s already happening. This is even true on the international scale or whatever. This is happening. However, I’m seeing it as it’s happening. However, I’m narrating it.
This is happening. What’s in here for me? What am I upset about? Can I go into that feeling and learn something? I’m a big fan of parts work, there are many ways to do it but essentially, you can do it with practitioners through something called internal family systems. It’s essentially a way of dialoguing with the different aspects of yourself. There’s going to be a part that is blaming his wife, “How dare she? This is crazy. We need to get the best lawyer and we need to do this.” There’s another part that’s like, “Calm down. Be a man. It’s fine. You are going to be fine.”
There are parts that are reacting to those parts. Deep down inside is that fragment of the child that is holding the fear, that intense emotion of rejection, abandonment, betrayal, and the adults’ role. The conscious adult can interact with that child, validate that emotion and reclaim that part. That’s when the expansion happens so that you understand yourself to be so much bigger, more free, dimensional, lighter than you would have ever been had, you not been introduced to that part through the challenge in your life. We are not inculturated to appreciate that challenge yields growth and empowerment. It’s not like, “I’m going to get through this.” It’s like, “I get to meet myself on the other end of this,” whatever that is.
My concern, Kelly, is for those who can’t see the invitation and feel like the only way out is to take their own life. I feel like I have seen that darkness in different friends’ experiences and it becomes so painful that they think that’s the best way out. How can they move through that feeling?
This framework is probably the best preventive psychiatric medicine one can offer themselves. I worked in practice for many years where probably 30% of my practice at any given time was actively suicidal. I consider it to be one of those psychospiritual and even biological sequela of being on psych meds for more than 2 or 3 months. The process of coming off of them can be that harrowing physiologically. When part of the reason you took meds was not to feel what you were feeling, then those feelings don’t go away. There’s still in us decades later. Researchers like Candace Pert believed that they were stored, and you could argue, proved, that there were stored in our tissues.
They come back and we have no tools and no context for integrating them. It feels like it’s going to kill us, so we want out. That nihilistic impulse of pressing the reset button makes a lot of sense in certain contexts where we don’t have a greater understanding for the nature of emotions, why they exist, what they are here to show us, and how it is the case that there is always a gift. It’s always a gift on the other side of so-called negative emotions. That’s another reason why I like Pert’s work and specifically, IFS is because there are not many modalities that can hold suicidality. I have watched through the work of Tom Holmes and Dick Schwartz.
I have watched these practitioners who don’t entirely share all of their other beliefs but I have watched their ability to enter into pretty severe symptomatology like suicidality and explore it. In psychiatry, I was never taught. It was a bad thing, a dangerous thing happening. People were either voluntarily medicated or involuntarily medicated, believe it or not. That was that because death is bad and wrong, symptoms are a problem. There’s no meaning in it.
When you explore what’s in there, there’s something very sensical at the root of that feeling. These emotions are so huge and they are tagged with mortal danger. The experience is like, “I’m out. I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do this. This feeling is going to kill me anyway. I’m going to start over.” To explore the terrain with the understanding that the body, mind, and spirit make no mistakes. There’s no such thing as a mistake in my world. One hundred percent of things are a direct reflection of what is already existent inside.
Our experiences show us that. We can look if we want or we don’t have to look. That’s everyone’s prerogative. However, I do think if there is a culture that we can grow that says emotions are meaningful, you can learn how to feel them. It starts with healing your nervous system and your body. It goes into dimensions of practices that can support the real-time experiences of emotion, which honestly, do not need to be that complicated.
The next time you feel something in your body that feels uncomfortable emotionally, you drop everything. You go into a bathroom. You find a quiet room for 2 to 3 minutes. You sit down. You put your hand on your heart. You put your hand on your belly. You put your hands over your face and you literally explore the sensation like you are an anthropologist. It’s like, “It’s sharp. It feels fiery. Maybe it’s like a red ball in my chest. Now, it’s moving down. It’s almost like electrical shocks. Now it’s in my stomach. That’s interesting.”
You do that. It doesn’t need to be some fancy thing. Once you do, it moves, and then you have a little psychological freedom where you can start to inquire. I think curiosity is the most powerful tool that we have because it is the antidote to fear, either you are going to freak out or you are going to ask why. You can start to say like, “What’s here?” What part of me is bringing forth some learned old material that I have the opportunity as a conscious adult now to organize and reallocate?”
I have done parts work and I will have an interview soon, a very vulnerable interview that I did with Tom Holmes that I recorded of him doing parts work on me. Every time I meet a part that is holding a burden of an old story, once that part is liberated, all she wants to do is dance and play with her kittens and run around outside.
I have that energy reclaimed for myself but this alchemy is not a part of our collective consciousness. It is to some extent growing yet, where there is this idea that emotions have an arc. Even when we cried as kids, what we were told? “Stop crying. You are fine. It’s fine.” We never learned like, “If I cry, eventually, I will stop on my own.” It will be because new energy will come into my body. We never learned that. That’s why know many of us walk the Earth having this feeling like sometimes if we start crying, we feel like, “I’m never going to stop. I don’t want to cry because the dam will break.” It’s an old program that came from a childhood where we never learned that emotions have an arc but we can learn that as adults. It takes one experience.
There is always a gift on the other side of so-called negative emotions.
Once you have one experience of feeling an emotion that you need to fix, you need to write that email. You need to break something. You need to take that med, have that drink. You need to fix it. Once you have one experience of holding it and seeing that it will move if you do nothing, then you can’t unknow that. You are empowered in a way that, unfortunately, the vast majority of human beings walking the Earth are not at this moment.
It’s where they imagine that there is a way to avoid feeling the bad feelings, projecting them, fighting with them on the outside, maintaining this shame wall of their badness and wrongness that they never want to encounter experience and so they never learned to own themselves. It’s coming full circle. In many ways, what we came here to recognize is that in self-ownership, in self-knowledge, and self-discovery, we reconnect to the divine. We reconnect to that channel to infinite consciousness, to our creative empowerment, and it is nothing but bliss. That’s all that’s available through that channel. It’s this awe that we get to have this experience. We chose this experience.
As Alan Watts said in one of his lectures, “We want it this way. If you could dream any dream you want when you go to bed at night. The first night you are going to have like amazing sex. You are going to have all the money and you have a beautiful body. By the seventh night, you are going to be like, ‘I liked it the way it was where I don’t know but I designed it but I’m pretending that I’m not the one who designed it.’”
This is the play. We are playing hide and seek with our own divine consciousness. We came here for this experience. Trust me, this is not easy to remember when you are in the throes of conflict, fear, and all the horrible things about life in the world. It’s a practice of remembering that, of choosing to engage that and balancing out all of the body signals of danger, harm and unsafety with this meta-awareness, that love is present even when we can’t see or feel it.
What you are describing is something I feel like I have witnessed among tribal elders, indigenous people, and older people who have gone through so much. They understand that timeless phrase, “This too shall pass.” They understand that we can sit with grief and with terror. We can make it through so much because they have lived it and know it. It takes a lot of us time to get there but it sounds like there’s beautiful vitality along the way and in the end.
That’s the word I love. That’s why it’s in all of my products. It’s our birthright and we know that. That’s why we have these signals of suffering whenever we are out of alignment with our power to generate that vitality and the conditions associated with it.
We have to wrap up but this has been amazing. I feel like people are probably going to want to go back and read again. I know I do. As I learn to navigate the shadow self to do this inner work that it is rewarding work but it is work.
It is and it can feel like, “I did not sign up for this job,” but you did. It did. You love it secretly, even though it’s not always a parent. I have to imagine the work-play balance, that feeling of like, “This grind,” it starts to recalibrate over time where the hidden dimensions of you become fewer and then you start to play with life because you realize like, “This is a fun game, even the experiences that I say I don’t like.” I know that’s a stretch but that’s where we get to.
I’m getting there. Trust me, I’m not there but I can see incrementally that even as I am struggling, I can say like, “There’s some part of me that sees why I would have created this. Maybe even there’s some part of me that weirdly likes this.” It’s the way we like roller coasters and horror movies. We have some funny sensations for sure.
Kelly, I want to ask you the question I often pose at the end. I usually say if the audiences could do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend? That could still be the question or it could be if the audiences wanted to get started on shadow work, what would the first step be?
I was at this silent retreat right before the pandemic in March of 2020. The teacher asked this question that has stuck with me ever since. I asked myself this question all the time as a self-accountability, self-exploration prompt. “If there is one thing that you wish you could unknow about yourself, your life, your choices, your lifestyle, what is that thing?” Somewhere in your intuitive realm is already an awareness of how you are self-betraying and experiencing that as random conditions of disempowerment in your life. The self-betrayal is that you know that something is not working or you know that you have to leave a job, a relationship, or you know that you’ve got to stop drinking, or you know that you want to be living in a nicer house.
You know that you are charging your clients $100 but why aren’t you charging them $500 or whatever it is? You are ashamed of it and it’s uncomfortable. You don’t even want to look at it. You wincingly acknowledge that you have this intuitive awareness inside. That can be the beginning of aligning with your power, even though it feels like a shame portal that you do not want to walk through.
If we recognize that ultimately experiences of betrayal on the outside are reflecting our betrayal of our own inner intuition, our own inner knowing, that is the beginning of connecting to choice and the power of our choice. The choice can be so simple like, “I know I shouldn’t be sending my child to school in a mask and I’m fighting the district.” The truth is that you can homeschool.
You may be telling yourself, “No, I can’t. I have to work and I have to do this,” but you have that choice. You are not making it because you are in this loop where you imagine that you don’t have a choice. That’s always an illusion. We always have a creative choice. I choose to live in that world where I believe that. It’s okay if we don’t make the empowered choice because at one point, we will be ready and we will.
Kelly, thank you for your time, and your wisdom and I will see you at the conference.
Yes. Thank you for this conversation.
Our guest was Kelly Brogan. You can find out more about her resources and programs at KellyBroganMD.com. Now for a review from Apple Podcasts. This is not a good one, folks. It’s from LM18273645. They gave us only one star and said, “Not well-researched.” Their comment was, “Not well-informed.” This is disappointing. Honestly, we do our best to do the research on every episode we do. We make sure the experts are vetted, that they know what they are talking about, that they are reliable, and that you can count on the information they are giving you to be top-notch.
Let’s respond to this review on Apple Podcasts with some reviews of our own, shall we? Please rate and review us if you haven’t yet. I hope this puts a little fire in your belly to get you rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. Go there, give us as many stars as you like and tell us what you think of the show. Honestly, if you think it’s not well researched, you don’t have to read at all but for those of you who are still with me, thank you for reading. Stay well, my friend. Hasta pronto.
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About Kelly Brogan, M.D
Kelly Brogan, M.D. is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the NY Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your Own, Own Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook, Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project.
She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms.🖨️ Print post
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