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HomeMental HealthWhy the Workplace is Actually a Good Place to Heal

Why the Workplace is Actually a Good Place to Heal

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SUSAN SCHMITT: When we’re constantly coming from this unconscious state, we never take time to really look at how am I responding, how can I do this differently, and then how can I celebrate me. How can I realize that damaged is not doomed, and the rest of my life is mine? And that’s the beauty of Healing at Work.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I’m Morra Aarons-Mele, and this is the Anxious Achiever. We look at stories from business leaders, who’ve dealt with anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenge, how they fell down, how they picked themselves up, and how they hope work can change in the future. When we think of the workplace, a lot of us might have good vibes. We might love our job and our coworkers. For a lot of us though, work is a place where there can be tension, drama, and discomfort. I wanted to talk to today’s guest, Susan Schmitt, because she flips the script on what we think about the workplace can do for us emotionally. In fact, Susan says the workplace is actually a caring, healing lab, a place where we can learn to heal from past hurts, anxieties, and fears. For every encounter at work we have with a stressful situation, mean boss, or just stupid stuff, our workplaces, today’s guest notes, are places where people have chosen us. They’ve invited us in. And work teams offer a learning lab to get better at interpersonal communication and resolve our deep seated issues, even the ones from childhood Schmitt co-wrote the book Healing at Work, a guide to using career conflicts, to overcome your past and build the future you deserve. And she talks about something called ASDP, which stands for adult survivor of a damaged past. Here’s our conversation. You chose the workplace as a venue for healing, and you note right up front, for a lot of us that feels really counterintuitive, right? Like, the office is not healing.

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SUSAN SCHMITT: That’s true.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: But you say no, no, stay with me here. Why?

SUSAN SCHMITT: There are actually several reasons why the workplace is the perfect place for emotional healing. First of all, I don’t know if you’re familiar, you probably are, with Dr. Martin Seligman’s work on flourishing. He has a model that he says that there are five ingredients to really flourishing in your life. And the five ingredients can all be achieved in the workplace. The first one is called positive emotion. And so when you think about your life in your career, there are a lot of positive emotions that occur. Just getting hired, you’re the only one who was picked, the best person picked for the job, that right there creates positive emotion. Secondly, the second category for flourishing is engagement. And of course, now more than ever, companies are focused on engaging our employees. Many companies, including my own, are focused on listening to employees, trying to understand what’s working and what’s not. R, which is a third ingredient stands for relationships. And of course, the workplace is full of relationships. We meet people at work we would never meet otherwise. And so the opportunity for developing meaningful relationships is available to us. The M stands for meaning we need meaning in our lives. And of course from a career standpoint, many of us find meaning in the work that we do. And also, many companies stand for a greater purpose, or a higher meaning and calling. And then finally, the last ingredient that Dr. Seligman talks about is achievement. We need to achieve in order to feel like we can flourish. And of course, again, the workplace is all about achievement and results. And so right there is the first opening to say maybe we should be using the workplace in a different way. And then the second reason I think the workplace is so perfect for healing is that it is full of conflict. My co-author Martha and I call it conflict bumper car moments. When you’re going about your day about your life and your job, and all of a sudden, someone comes crashing into you, or you go accidentally crashing into somebody else, triggering a lot of emotional, negative responses. I believe that most people try to avoid conflict. None of us really like it. But if we look at conflict as a catalyst for growth, we can learn how to navigate the conflict in a very different way that allows us to practice new responses when we get emotionally triggered, because for about two thirds of us, it’s very likely that we have old triggers from our past that may be sneaking into our workplaces every day and causing havoc.

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MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yeah. The premise of your book, which is super interesting, going back to those of us who are carrying stuff from our past, is that the workplace is almost like a lab to work out and unlearn things that happened in your childhood with your family, who, of course, you could not choose, unlike your coworkers. They didn’t choose you, for most of us, and you didn’t choose them. And so it’s super interesting. You framed this in the context of people who are A, S, S for Sam, DPs. How do ASDPs function differently at work? What are some common characteristics?

SUSAN SCHMITT: Sure. First of all, let me explain what an ASDP is. So about two thirds of adults grew up in a childhood before the age of 18, and experienced at least one of 10 adverse childhood experiences.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Right, the ACEs.

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SUSAN SCHMITT: Yeah, the ACEs. Exactly. And so, when Martha and I were writing the book, we were trying to think of something to call those of us that come from a dysfunctional past. And ACOA, which is a common term that’s used for adult children of alcoholics, is useful, but we felt it was too narrow in really describing this broad group of us that did experience at least one or more of the ACEs. And so we came up with the term adult survivor of a damaged past. And so basically, adult means that we are adults now. We get to choose how we live our lives. We don’t have to be prisoners to the past. Survivor is, I think, a hopeful word of resilience that whatever dysfunctional dynamic you experienced when you were younger is also a great gift in teaching the ability to manage difficult situations. Damaged is not about us being damaged. It’s more about having beliefs about ourself that are damaging. And the past recognizes that when you have experienced something negative in your … before the age of 18, the past can sometimes stay with us, and it’s almost like a heavy burden we carry in our hearts. But the opportunity is to realize that we don’t have to. We don’t have to be guided by, unconsciously, the impact of that past, that we can break through that. And so ASDPs, we show up very differently in the workplace. And it’s a really interesting question because when I think about Martha and I, she and I are both ASDPs, but we are totally differently … we operate totally differently from a career standpoint. So there’s not a specific pattern. So for me, for example, I’ve spent 30 plus years in the corporate world. Martha self-selected to be her own boss and to not work in a company, but rather to work with companies. But I think some of the common characteristics that are true for ASDPs is that we carry some limiting belief about ourselves, or limiting beliefs, that affect how we interpret today’s experiences in our career. So for me, for example, if you looked at my career, you’d say, “That was pretty successful.” However, what you wouldn’t know is that underneath that success of the achievements was an underlying belief about myself that I was not good enough, and that it was my job every single day for … I hate to admit this, 30 years of my 34 year career, to go out and prove myself over, and over, and over again.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: And that this is because a director … this line between your experience as a child.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Exactly.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: In this proving. Yeah.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yep, that’s exactly right. I call it living the unconscious, wounded career path. And what I mean by that is that I … For me, for sure, and I have the privilege of working with lots of people in the workplace, I see this dynamic a lot, is we are unconscious to how much those past negative beliefs about ourselves are past triggers, the things that trigger us when we have a negative emotional explosion that occurs when something negative’s happened in our minds in the workplace. And there’s this feeling that we’re never enough. We have to constantly keep pushing. And some people choose a path of overachiever, which is not uncommon. That’s the combination of people pleaser and perfectionist. Some people actually respond from the place of fighting, they’re the bullies in the workplace. So that’s another way that people can respond. And then the third way is that some people become invisible. I know one woman, for example, who told me that she spent her 30 year career and she never spoke first until spoken to.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Wow.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Some people stay quiet and stay hidden, keep their heads down in the workplace. And others leave companies when they feel like the environments become too toxic for themselves. So ASDPs, I think the commonality is having experienced some negative event, some dysfunctional dynamic. And actually it’s interesting, Mora, some people have told me, “I didn’t experience one of those ACEs, but I did have an overly critical parent or a parent that was overbearing, and I have some of those same limiting beliefs.” And so again, the opportunity is to not try to describe exactly, but it’s more about this unconscious impact that those-

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Right.

SUSAN SCHMITT: [crosstalk 00:10:57] limiting beliefs have on us, and how detrimental and how much suffering can get created when we stay unconscious to those past dynamics.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Tell us a little bit more specifically about how your childhood trauma manifested itself throughout your career.

SUSAN SCHMITT: It’s such an interesting question because I honestly never would’ve associated with the word trauma in my … when I thought about my past. And by the way, this isn’t about blaming parents. I think our parents do the best they can, given whatever they learned. But my dad, as I got older, became more and more unpredictable in terms of rage, raging outbursts. And he was a big man. He was very scary when he would go into one of these rage fits. And of course, I was small. And I have memories of him being so angry at me that he comes charging at me like a bull. And when you’re small and you’re experiencing that, it feels life threatening. And so there was just this unpredictable dynamic that led to us feeling like we had to walk around on eggshells in the house, constantly being hypervigilant to watch for his mood, and whether or not it was good or bad. Unfortunately, it was too hard to predict that. And so what I didn’t realize, what I was unconscious about coming away from that childhood, was that I did take away a belief that it was my job to please others, and it was everybody else’s job to determine my worth. And it was a really broken belief system that I didn’t even realize I had. So I went to college, I went on graduate school, started my career thinking this is great. Again, not thinking about any kind of trauma specifically. And then as I pursued my career, that underlying, unconscious belief system that men, especially men in authority … but women too, but particularly men because of the dynamic with my dad, had all the power to decide my worth as a human being. And if I under delivered, or if I did something in a meeting that I felt I shouldn’t have done, or I didn’t speak up and I should have, every single night, it was like I did a performance review of myself, and ended up beating myself up over and over again. And so that’s how I lived my career for a long time.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: It’s funny. I was going to ask you about your relationship with men. Although I think in the book, there is one toxic female boss that stands out. But I’d love you to talk about how this pattern of interacting with authoritarian men, including one who you had a relationship with for a long time in the workplace, played out, and how you finally … Did you just have an aha moment about this at some point? What was the turning point for you about this pattern?

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yeah, this is such an interesting journey. So for years, I would write about things from my past. I wrote about the night my sister died. I wrote about a number of different things. And it wasn’t really until I connected with Martha Finney, who looked at what I’d written and said, “How do you go from that childhood to this career? I want to know how you did it.” And it was in the partnership with her that we discovered this concept together around healing at work. And it was really in partnership … We worked together for … I would say two and a half years, researching and writing together. And it was through the process of conversation with her, understanding her damaged past with a very violent alcoholic mom, and together discovering that there’s a completely different way that we can teach people how to become conscious of that past, and how show up differently on what I call the conscious healing career path, which is understanding our limiting beliefs, what will trigger us. So, for example, for me, I can get triggered if I feel that I’ve done something that was stupid, or somebody thinks that I’m stupid. I get triggered by angry men. I get triggered if I feel that someone’s lecturing me, or I really get triggered if I feel like I’m going to get into trouble. And so of course, with men in authority, and women, there’s always that dynamic of thinking, well, what if I do something wrong and I get in trouble? And so that’s the unconscious manifestation of that damaged past showing up, which again, kept me on 30 years of a career that was full of worry about what my bosses thought about me, going home at night and feeling consumed with what I could have done or should have done. At that time … this was years ago, turning to Chardonnay to take the edge off of all that. I’m happy to say I’ve had my lifetime intake of Chardonnay, so we have parted ways as friends. But the impact of the dynamic of that feeling that it was my job to constantly over again, proving myself, is a way of living a career that’s in a state of conscious anxiousness, and constantly flexing to think about what do I need to do to be viewed by somebody else? I basically outsourced to everybody, men in particular, in authority, outsourced to them the power to decide whether or not I was a good human being. And that’s unfortunately the experience of being a perfectionist. Us perfectionists define ourselves by what we do versus who we are.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: And that’s a lot of power to give away, frankly.

SUSAN SCHMITT: It is, and it was done unconsciously. I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: So what would you say to someone who’s listening to the show and they’re like, “Blah, blah, blah. I’m really anxious about my performance all the time. That’s just called work. That’s just called performance.” Is there a question that they could ask themselves to think, “Maybe I’m acting out some patterns,”?

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yeah. One of the questions that we talk about in the book is to ask yourself am I sure. Am I sure that my boss is angry at me? Am I sure that person has the power over me? Just starting to become conscious of how we respond. How am I responding when I get emotionally triggered? And is it possible that my response is fueled from some outdated script from my past? When we’re growing up in our childhood, we are learning how to respond and feel as safe as possible. As a result of that, there’s programming that happens in our brain. The neural pathways in our brain learn how we should behave and respond. Our central nervous system is wired for survival. And so we automatically are attuned to sensations of fight, flight, or freeze.

SUSAN SCHMITT: In the workplace, these same experiences come up. And so, the question I would ask is, the next time somebody experiences a negative event at work, is just to ask yourself is it possible that I am over responding in this moment because of something from my past? And I know for sure, I was way over responding because of my past belief system. It’s the first step to becoming conscious around if I’m having an over emotional reaction to a workplace conflict, or to a colleague who has done or said something that has triggered me. Ask yourself, is it possible that this is being fueled by something from my past? And just get curious and ask, am I sure? Am I sure this person’s this angry at me? Am I sure that I deserve to get in trouble? Whatever that might be.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I want to zero in on a word you just used, over emotional. What did you mean when you used that word over emotional response?

SUSAN SCHMITT: So what I’ve noticed about myself and others is that when someone has a reaction to something that’s occurred in the workplace, and it seems to be a much stronger reaction than the facts of the situation would suggest, to me, that’s a clue that the person may be having an unconscious response that is fueled from something that happened in their past. I know for me, that when I get triggered, an emotional trigger … Let’s say my boss does or does not say something to me in a meeting, and I take it to mean that I haven’t performed at the level I thought I should have my immediate response, because of my old wiring, is to go into a mode of, “Oh my gosh, what do I need to do to fix this?” And of course, overachievers tend to have not great work-life balance because we’re constantly trying to prove ourselves. You go into this response of how do I manage this situation to make myself feel better. I’ll give you another example. I remember a situation … This was many, many years ago, where a set of circumstances occurred that were all unrelated, and an individual was involved, and the individual got very angry about this set of unrelated circumstances that had occurred. He took it personally. He took it as a disrespectful … a series of disrespectful acts that people were doing against him. And actually, I was curious because his response was so over the top. And my question to him was, is it possible that your reaction in this moment … because I asked him how he was feeling. He said he was feeling disrespected. But the over the top angry response was an indication to me that there was maybe something else going on here that was adding an accelerant to his emotional response to the situation of today. And as we talked, it became very clear that there were some things that had happened in his past where he had felt disrespected, and his initial response was, “No, this happened and I’m interpreting it correctly.” What I love about this individual is he came back to me several months later and ended up telling me how much he’d thought about the question around is there a possibility that something from the past is adding fuel to your reaction today. So when I talk about an over response, an over emotional response, it’s where someone goes into a series of either angry outbursts … For me, it’s about this over response from feeling the anxiety, the stress and worry. So people have different responses to their triggers. But when it seems out of proportion, that to me is a clue. When I’m spending too much time worrying at night about something I should have done, that’s a clue to me that this is me worrying about whether or not I’m good enough. Okay, I need to slow down and take a look at what’s going on. And I need to self-regulate my emotions because I’m responding unconsciously to … So it’s like the childhood ghost has driven into work with you.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: God. Well, let’s learning lab this because one of the things that I really like about your approach is that you have all these really practical ways that you can actually, literally flip the script on these old, what Jerry Colana [00:23:20] would call childhood hurts. And you have this thing called the rapid power reclaim method.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yes.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Which is something that you can literally do when you’re triggered, when you are in a conflict or you are triggered, and you’re having this negative emotional reaction.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yep.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Okay. So let’s do it. First of all, what is the rapid power reclaim method?

SUSAN SCHMITT: Well, there are three steps to it, and they’re three simple steps. I’ll tell you step one is called create choice. So when we are emotionally triggered, we have a response fight, flight, or freeze.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Give me an example. Give me just a quick example-

SUSAN SCHMITT: Okay.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: That we can all use in this model.

SUSAN SCHMITT: And this is a situation that occurred that I was preparing for a big presentation, and I was involved in a series of meetings leading up to my presentation. A number of other people had presentations that week. And during the week, at that time, my boss made some comments that I interpreted to be that I wasn’t doing enough in my job. The comments were around something related to an element of the HR strategy. And he would share these things in the various days leading up to the presentation that I was going to be making. Well, the night before my presentation, I was feeling a lot of stress. I was feeling emotional. I was feeling triggered, and the trigger was somehow I wasn’t good enough, and that I hadn’t done something that I should have done related to this element of the HR strategy. And I remember my team and I were up late that night finishing the presentation, to like midnight, which of course is never good to be short on sleep when you’re triggered. I don’t recommend that. And so the next morning, I woke up really early, and I just felt really emotional. I felt sad. I felt I rejected. All this emotion was coming up. And so, the very first step was, in terms of creating choice, if we stay in that state that I was just describing, we have no choice. We go into our old automatic responses, and we get lost in the trigger. So the very first step is this idea of creating choice. And the first thing is to say, oh my gosh, I am having a bumper car moment. Is this worth [crosstalk 00:25:49] conflict?

MORRA AARONS-MELE: With myself.

SUSAN SCHMITT: In my own head. Based on something that my boss at the time had said, I took it to me that I wasn’t good enough in my job. So the first realization in terms of creating choice is to say, oh my gosh, I’m having a bumper car moment. And the very first thing we have to do is to manage that physiological triggered response. For me, when I get triggered, I feel like a hook has just grabbed me underneath my sternum. I start to breathe heavy and my heart rate goes up. I feel the anxiety blanket has covered me.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yes.

SUSAN SCHMITT: I just feel afraid. I feel this fear of whatever. So for me, releasing that physiological reaction is the first step of creating choice. And there are lots of ways to purge that energy. We probably don’t have time to go into all the ways, but one way that I really love is … A woman named Sheila Darcy just wrote a book, and I’m not going to get the name correct, but she has a whole way of thinking around what she calls sketch poetic. And I have one of her sketch pads. And in her new book, she talks about how do you purge emotion, feelings that are going on inside of you? How do you get them out of you? And she does it through using sketch. And so just taking a sketch pad, and just taking a pen, and sketching the feeling of anxiety just to get it out of my body onto the paper. The art, it’s not about being an artist at all. It’s more about releasing that emotional energy that is coming up and getting it out of your system, purging it. So, that’s one way. But there are other ways-

MORRA AARONS-MELE: So you’ve created choice. Let’s … because I want to make sure we give this to people. So step one, when you’re doing your rapid power reclaim, is that you’re creating choice. You’re saying I don’t have to do this right now. I can act another way.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Right. And you can manage the physiological response by releasing it. Lots of ways to do it. Step two is called elevate action. And so elevate action, once we’ve released that energy going on inside of us, that negative energy, then we can say to ourselves, “What do I need to do in this moment to elevate my action?” And what I did in this particular moment was I took a little pink Post-it note. And on the pink Post-it note, I wrote, “Your boss is not your dad.” I wrote, “Your team has done a great job preparing this strategy. It’s the best strategy you’ve ever presented.” I also wrote on the pink post-it note, “You have choices and options.” In other words, my life doesn’t have to be completely focused on this one particular job, this one particular company. And during the presentation the next day, I put that pink Post-it note underneath the camera on my laptop. And I had it there the entire time I was presenting. I elevated my action. If I had not elevated my action, and if I had not created choice by purging that emotional energy going on inside of me … By the way, another way to do that is to take a pill and hit a couch as hard as you can.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Totally.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Right? And scream, and yell, and get that out of you. Elevating action. What happened was the presentation went so well. Honestly, it was the best engaging discussion the entire week with the particular manager. So, that’s the second step. And the third step, which is really important, and which us perfectionists have a really hard time doing, is we have to take time afterwards to celebrate that success in order to integrate it into our neural pathways. So the third step is celebrate and integrate. And so what I did that day after the presentation went incredibly well, is I literally just went outside, I stood in the sun. I took just a breath and time to release and say, “Good job. You did that really well.” And what we do by celebrating, just taking a moment to celebrate, is the rewiring of our neural pathways, which of course, is based on the science of neuroplasticity. In order to rewire the pathways in our brains, we have to integrate these new responses into a part of our identity. And that’s the third step, is to celebrate and integrate it into your identity.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I want to workshop one more example before we part, because-

SUSAN SCHMITT: Sure.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: You talk through in your book classic bumper car moments, which I think are universal for everyone. There’s getting 360 feedback, or dealing with criticism, everyone’s favorite, dealing with a controlling boss, when others treat you like an emotional dumping ground, which I think is probably very relevant to a lot of ASDPS. But give us the rapid power reclaim method-

SUSAN SCHMITT: Sure.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Lightning round approach to one classic bumper car moment.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yeah. Well for sure, one classic bumper car moment is receiving some negative feedback.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Exactly.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Right? That happens all the time. We’re in the middle of performance reviews right now.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Oh God.

SUSAN SCHMITT: And you know, for us overachieving perfectionists, the last thing we want is for anyone to call out anything negative about who we are. So the rapid power reclaim, let’s say you just got some negative feedback, or some constructive criticism, or whatever you want to call it, from your boss. It is not uncommon to have a negative emotional reaction when we hear something negative about ourselves. And so, as soon as someone’s given you … as soon as your boss has given you some feedback that you feel is negative, the typical response is to go into an emotional triggered reaction. So because I already believe deep, deep down that maybe I’m not good enough, if my boss has just given me fee feedback to suggest there’s something that’s not right about me, I can have a very strong emotional reaction to that feedback. And again, the bumper car moment is happening in our own head. It’s the story we’re telling ourselves. So our managers are supposed to give us constructive feedback. That’s part of a manager’s job. But the ASDP is going to hear it as, “I suck at what I do, I shouldn’t be in this job. My boss doesn’t think I’m good at what I do.” And immediately we go spiraling down on that unconscious wounded career path. And then we just stay stuck down there, which is not a good place to be. So again, rapid power reclaim is, number one, is realizing I can create a choice here. I do not have to have that old physiological response. Now you and I both know that when you’re triggered, that it’s hard to say, “Well, how do I get out of it?” That’s why you’ve got to release it and purge it. So it may be difficult to do right in the middle of a meeting, but if you’re really emotionally triggered, it’s okay to say to your boss, “Hey, look, I just need to step away for about 10 minutes. Would it be okay if we picked this up in 10 minutes?”

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yeah.

SUSAN SCHMITT: And you don’t need to-

MORRA AARONS-MELE: You can always breathe, right?

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yeah.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: You can always breathe.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Breathing is over … or it’s underrated. I always say I need to breathe more. Us ASDPs tend to keep our … this constant sense of holding our breath, waiting for something to go wrong. And you’re right. So in that moment, when you’re starting to feel those negative emotions, creating choice, whatever it means for you, if it’s breathing, if it’s taking a couple minute break to say, “Look, I just need to step away. Can we pick this back up?” And then you go and release it, screaming, yelling, hitting a pillow against the couch, and getting that emotional response out of your body. Our muscles have memory. We remember the way we feel. So, that’s creating choice. The second is elevating action. Elevating action might just be having a conversation with yourself, which is, “My boss is trying to give me feedback to help me be even more effective.” Another element of elevating action may be, rather than going into defense, I’m going to get curious about what this feedback’s all about. I’m going to ask questions to understand it. I’m going to really focus on what I can learn from this feedback versus beat myself up with it. And so each person’s going to have their own idea about how they can elevate action in that moment, but to just be intentional about what can I do to go back into this conversation with my manager, and get curious. You mentioned this about my performance. Can you say more about that? I have a colleague who has got his own consulting businesses, and is also an author, has this really famous phrase that I love, which is, say more. We have a tendency when we’re lost in our trigger and we have no choice, to not be able to hear or ask questions.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: You just want to get out of the room as fast as you can, basically-

SUSAN SCHMITT: You do.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: And cry in a corner. Yes.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yeah, exactly. This idea of saying to your boss and being curious is … Can you say more about that? When do you see me do that? What advice do you have for me? So that’s elevating action. And then again, that third step, celebrating and integrating, is so key. When we have a different response to an old trigger, and we’ve handled a situation in a way where we’re coming from our highest functioning self, we’ve got to take time to go figure out what to do to celebrate. I am not good at celebrating. And so a woman named Celinne Da Costa who I’ve worked with taught me something simple, which is just go into your iPhone and put in the notes page a section called celebrations, and things that you can do that make yourself feel better. So I started a little sheet in my notes of these are things that make me feel like I’m celebrating. For me, celebrating might just be taking a hot bath at the end of the day and congratulating myself about handling that criticism in a way that was positive. It could be different for everybody, but it’s such a key step to integrate that into how I responded differently, consciously, than how I would’ve responded in the past.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yeah. I think the celebration would be is if you do the say more, and you sit, and you stay and listen, and literally … and don’t flee. Right? I think that would be such a cause for celebration for so many of us.

SUSAN SCHMITT: I agree. When we’re constantly coming from this unconscious state, we never take time to really look at how am I responding, how can I do this differently, and then how can I celebrate me. How can I realize that damaged is not doomed? And the rest of my life is mine. And that’s the beauty of Healing at Work.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: That’s it for today’s show. Thank you to my producer, Mary Dooe. Thanks to the team at HBR. I’m grateful to our guests for sharing their experiences and truths. For you, our listeners, who ask me to cover certain items and keep the feedback coming, please do send me feedback. You can email me. You can leave a message on LinkedIn for me, or tweet me @morraam. And if you love the show, tell your friends, subscribe, and leave a review. From HBR Presents, this is Morra Aarons-Mele.

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SUSAN SCHMITT: When we’re constantly coming from this unconscious state, we never take time to really look at how am I responding, how can I do this differently, and then how can I celebrate me. How can I realize that damaged is not doomed, and the rest of my life is mine? And that’s the beauty of Healing at Work.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I’m Morra Aarons-Mele, and this is the Anxious Achiever. We look at stories from business leaders, who’ve dealt with anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenge, how they fell down, how they picked themselves up, and how they hope work can change in the future. When we think of the workplace, a lot of us might have good vibes. We might love our job and our coworkers. For a lot of us though, work is a place where there can be tension, drama, and discomfort. I wanted to talk to today’s guest, Susan Schmitt, because she flips the script on what we think about the workplace can do for us emotionally. In fact, Susan says the workplace is actually a caring, healing lab, a place where we can learn to heal from past hurts, anxieties, and fears. For every encounter at work we have with a stressful situation, mean boss, or just stupid stuff, our workplaces, today’s guest notes, are places where people have chosen us. They’ve invited us in. And work teams offer a learning lab to get better at interpersonal communication and resolve our deep seated issues, even the ones from childhood Schmitt co-wrote the book Healing at Work, a guide to using career conflicts, to overcome your past and build the future you deserve. And she talks about something called ASDP, which stands for adult survivor of a damaged past. Here’s our conversation. You chose the workplace as a venue for healing, and you note right up front, for a lot of us that feels really counterintuitive, right? Like, the office is not healing.

SUSAN SCHMITT: That’s true.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: But you say no, no, stay with me here. Why?

SUSAN SCHMITT: There are actually several reasons why the workplace is the perfect place for emotional healing. First of all, I don’t know if you’re familiar, you probably are, with Dr. Martin Seligman’s work on flourishing. He has a model that he says that there are five ingredients to really flourishing in your life. And the five ingredients can all be achieved in the workplace. The first one is called positive emotion. And so when you think about your life in your career, there are a lot of positive emotions that occur. Just getting hired, you’re the only one who was picked, the best person picked for the job, that right there creates positive emotion. Secondly, the second category for flourishing is engagement. And of course, now more than ever, companies are focused on engaging our employees. Many companies, including my own, are focused on listening to employees, trying to understand what’s working and what’s not. R, which is a third ingredient stands for relationships. And of course, the workplace is full of relationships. We meet people at work we would never meet otherwise. And so the opportunity for developing meaningful relationships is available to us. The M stands for meaning we need meaning in our lives. And of course from a career standpoint, many of us find meaning in the work that we do. And also, many companies stand for a greater purpose, or a higher meaning and calling. And then finally, the last ingredient that Dr. Seligman talks about is achievement. We need to achieve in order to feel like we can flourish. And of course, again, the workplace is all about achievement and results. And so right there is the first opening to say maybe we should be using the workplace in a different way. And then the second reason I think the workplace is so perfect for healing is that it is full of conflict. My co-author Martha and I call it conflict bumper car moments. When you’re going about your day about your life and your job, and all of a sudden, someone comes crashing into you, or you go accidentally crashing into somebody else, triggering a lot of emotional, negative responses. I believe that most people try to avoid conflict. None of us really like it. But if we look at conflict as a catalyst for growth, we can learn how to navigate the conflict in a very different way that allows us to practice new responses when we get emotionally triggered, because for about two thirds of us, it’s very likely that we have old triggers from our past that may be sneaking into our workplaces every day and causing havoc.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yeah. The premise of your book, which is super interesting, going back to those of us who are carrying stuff from our past, is that the workplace is almost like a lab to work out and unlearn things that happened in your childhood with your family, who, of course, you could not choose, unlike your coworkers. They didn’t choose you, for most of us, and you didn’t choose them. And so it’s super interesting. You framed this in the context of people who are A, S, S for Sam, DPs. How do ASDPs function differently at work? What are some common characteristics?

SUSAN SCHMITT: Sure. First of all, let me explain what an ASDP is. So about two thirds of adults grew up in a childhood before the age of 18, and experienced at least one of 10 adverse childhood experiences.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Right, the ACEs.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yeah, the ACEs. Exactly. And so, when Martha and I were writing the book, we were trying to think of something to call those of us that come from a dysfunctional past. And ACOA, which is a common term that’s used for adult children of alcoholics, is useful, but we felt it was too narrow in really describing this broad group of us that did experience at least one or more of the ACEs. And so we came up with the term adult survivor of a damaged past. And so basically, adult means that we are adults now. We get to choose how we live our lives. We don’t have to be prisoners to the past. Survivor is, I think, a hopeful word of resilience that whatever dysfunctional dynamic you experienced when you were younger is also a great gift in teaching the ability to manage difficult situations. Damaged is not about us being damaged. It’s more about having beliefs about ourself that are damaging. And the past recognizes that when you have experienced something negative in your … before the age of 18, the past can sometimes stay with us, and it’s almost like a heavy burden we carry in our hearts. But the opportunity is to realize that we don’t have to. We don’t have to be guided by, unconsciously, the impact of that past, that we can break through that. And so ASDPs, we show up very differently in the workplace. And it’s a really interesting question because when I think about Martha and I, she and I are both ASDPs, but we are totally differently … we operate totally differently from a career standpoint. So there’s not a specific pattern. So for me, for example, I’ve spent 30 plus years in the corporate world. Martha self-selected to be her own boss and to not work in a company, but rather to work with companies. But I think some of the common characteristics that are true for ASDPs is that we carry some limiting belief about ourselves, or limiting beliefs, that affect how we interpret today’s experiences in our career. So for me, for example, if you looked at my career, you’d say, “That was pretty successful.” However, what you wouldn’t know is that underneath that success of the achievements was an underlying belief about myself that I was not good enough, and that it was my job every single day for … I hate to admit this, 30 years of my 34 year career, to go out and prove myself over, and over, and over again.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: And that this is because a director … this line between your experience as a child.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Exactly.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: In this proving. Yeah.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yep, that’s exactly right. I call it living the unconscious, wounded career path. And what I mean by that is that I … For me, for sure, and I have the privilege of working with lots of people in the workplace, I see this dynamic a lot, is we are unconscious to how much those past negative beliefs about ourselves are past triggers, the things that trigger us when we have a negative emotional explosion that occurs when something negative’s happened in our minds in the workplace. And there’s this feeling that we’re never enough. We have to constantly keep pushing. And some people choose a path of overachiever, which is not uncommon. That’s the combination of people pleaser and perfectionist. Some people actually respond from the place of fighting, they’re the bullies in the workplace. So that’s another way that people can respond. And then the third way is that some people become invisible. I know one woman, for example, who told me that she spent her 30 year career and she never spoke first until spoken to.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Wow.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Some people stay quiet and stay hidden, keep their heads down in the workplace. And others leave companies when they feel like the environments become too toxic for themselves. So ASDPs, I think the commonality is having experienced some negative event, some dysfunctional dynamic. And actually it’s interesting, Mora, some people have told me, “I didn’t experience one of those ACEs, but I did have an overly critical parent or a parent that was overbearing, and I have some of those same limiting beliefs.” And so again, the opportunity is to not try to describe exactly, but it’s more about this unconscious impact that those-

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Right.

SUSAN SCHMITT: [crosstalk 00:10:57] limiting beliefs have on us, and how detrimental and how much suffering can get created when we stay unconscious to those past dynamics.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Tell us a little bit more specifically about how your childhood trauma manifested itself throughout your career.

SUSAN SCHMITT: It’s such an interesting question because I honestly never would’ve associated with the word trauma in my … when I thought about my past. And by the way, this isn’t about blaming parents. I think our parents do the best they can, given whatever they learned. But my dad, as I got older, became more and more unpredictable in terms of rage, raging outbursts. And he was a big man. He was very scary when he would go into one of these rage fits. And of course, I was small. And I have memories of him being so angry at me that he comes charging at me like a bull. And when you’re small and you’re experiencing that, it feels life threatening. And so there was just this unpredictable dynamic that led to us feeling like we had to walk around on eggshells in the house, constantly being hypervigilant to watch for his mood, and whether or not it was good or bad. Unfortunately, it was too hard to predict that. And so what I didn’t realize, what I was unconscious about coming away from that childhood, was that I did take away a belief that it was my job to please others, and it was everybody else’s job to determine my worth. And it was a really broken belief system that I didn’t even realize I had. So I went to college, I went on graduate school, started my career thinking this is great. Again, not thinking about any kind of trauma specifically. And then as I pursued my career, that underlying, unconscious belief system that men, especially men in authority … but women too, but particularly men because of the dynamic with my dad, had all the power to decide my worth as a human being. And if I under delivered, or if I did something in a meeting that I felt I shouldn’t have done, or I didn’t speak up and I should have, every single night, it was like I did a performance review of myself, and ended up beating myself up over and over again. And so that’s how I lived my career for a long time.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: It’s funny. I was going to ask you about your relationship with men. Although I think in the book, there is one toxic female boss that stands out. But I’d love you to talk about how this pattern of interacting with authoritarian men, including one who you had a relationship with for a long time in the workplace, played out, and how you finally … Did you just have an aha moment about this at some point? What was the turning point for you about this pattern?

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yeah, this is such an interesting journey. So for years, I would write about things from my past. I wrote about the night my sister died. I wrote about a number of different things. And it wasn’t really until I connected with Martha Finney, who looked at what I’d written and said, “How do you go from that childhood to this career? I want to know how you did it.” And it was in the partnership with her that we discovered this concept together around healing at work. And it was really in partnership … We worked together for … I would say two and a half years, researching and writing together. And it was through the process of conversation with her, understanding her damaged past with a very violent alcoholic mom, and together discovering that there’s a completely different way that we can teach people how to become conscious of that past, and how show up differently on what I call the conscious healing career path, which is understanding our limiting beliefs, what will trigger us. So, for example, for me, I can get triggered if I feel that I’ve done something that was stupid, or somebody thinks that I’m stupid. I get triggered by angry men. I get triggered if I feel that someone’s lecturing me, or I really get triggered if I feel like I’m going to get into trouble. And so of course, with men in authority, and women, there’s always that dynamic of thinking, well, what if I do something wrong and I get in trouble? And so that’s the unconscious manifestation of that damaged past showing up, which again, kept me on 30 years of a career that was full of worry about what my bosses thought about me, going home at night and feeling consumed with what I could have done or should have done. At that time … this was years ago, turning to Chardonnay to take the edge off of all that. I’m happy to say I’ve had my lifetime intake of Chardonnay, so we have parted ways as friends. But the impact of the dynamic of that feeling that it was my job to constantly over again, proving myself, is a way of living a career that’s in a state of conscious anxiousness, and constantly flexing to think about what do I need to do to be viewed by somebody else? I basically outsourced to everybody, men in particular, in authority, outsourced to them the power to decide whether or not I was a good human being. And that’s unfortunately the experience of being a perfectionist. Us perfectionists define ourselves by what we do versus who we are.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: And that’s a lot of power to give away, frankly.

SUSAN SCHMITT: It is, and it was done unconsciously. I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: So what would you say to someone who’s listening to the show and they’re like, “Blah, blah, blah. I’m really anxious about my performance all the time. That’s just called work. That’s just called performance.” Is there a question that they could ask themselves to think, “Maybe I’m acting out some patterns,”?

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yeah. One of the questions that we talk about in the book is to ask yourself am I sure. Am I sure that my boss is angry at me? Am I sure that person has the power over me? Just starting to become conscious of how we respond. How am I responding when I get emotionally triggered? And is it possible that my response is fueled from some outdated script from my past? When we’re growing up in our childhood, we are learning how to respond and feel as safe as possible. As a result of that, there’s programming that happens in our brain. The neural pathways in our brain learn how we should behave and respond. Our central nervous system is wired for survival. And so we automatically are attuned to sensations of fight, flight, or freeze.

SUSAN SCHMITT: In the workplace, these same experiences come up. And so, the question I would ask is, the next time somebody experiences a negative event at work, is just to ask yourself is it possible that I am over responding in this moment because of something from my past? And I know for sure, I was way over responding because of my past belief system. It’s the first step to becoming conscious around if I’m having an over emotional reaction to a workplace conflict, or to a colleague who has done or said something that has triggered me. Ask yourself, is it possible that this is being fueled by something from my past? And just get curious and ask, am I sure? Am I sure this person’s this angry at me? Am I sure that I deserve to get in trouble? Whatever that might be.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I want to zero in on a word you just used, over emotional. What did you mean when you used that word over emotional response?

SUSAN SCHMITT: So what I’ve noticed about myself and others is that when someone has a reaction to something that’s occurred in the workplace, and it seems to be a much stronger reaction than the facts of the situation would suggest, to me, that’s a clue that the person may be having an unconscious response that is fueled from something that happened in their past. I know for me, that when I get triggered, an emotional trigger … Let’s say my boss does or does not say something to me in a meeting, and I take it to mean that I haven’t performed at the level I thought I should have my immediate response, because of my old wiring, is to go into a mode of, “Oh my gosh, what do I need to do to fix this?” And of course, overachievers tend to have not great work-life balance because we’re constantly trying to prove ourselves. You go into this response of how do I manage this situation to make myself feel better. I’ll give you another example. I remember a situation … This was many, many years ago, where a set of circumstances occurred that were all unrelated, and an individual was involved, and the individual got very angry about this set of unrelated circumstances that had occurred. He took it personally. He took it as a disrespectful … a series of disrespectful acts that people were doing against him. And actually, I was curious because his response was so over the top. And my question to him was, is it possible that your reaction in this moment … because I asked him how he was feeling. He said he was feeling disrespected. But the over the top angry response was an indication to me that there was maybe something else going on here that was adding an accelerant to his emotional response to the situation of today. And as we talked, it became very clear that there were some things that had happened in his past where he had felt disrespected, and his initial response was, “No, this happened and I’m interpreting it correctly.” What I love about this individual is he came back to me several months later and ended up telling me how much he’d thought about the question around is there a possibility that something from the past is adding fuel to your reaction today. So when I talk about an over response, an over emotional response, it’s where someone goes into a series of either angry outbursts … For me, it’s about this over response from feeling the anxiety, the stress and worry. So people have different responses to their triggers. But when it seems out of proportion, that to me is a clue. When I’m spending too much time worrying at night about something I should have done, that’s a clue to me that this is me worrying about whether or not I’m good enough. Okay, I need to slow down and take a look at what’s going on. And I need to self-regulate my emotions because I’m responding unconsciously to … So it’s like the childhood ghost has driven into work with you.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: God. Well, let’s learning lab this because one of the things that I really like about your approach is that you have all these really practical ways that you can actually, literally flip the script on these old, what Jerry Colana [00:23:20] would call childhood hurts. And you have this thing called the rapid power reclaim method.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yes.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Which is something that you can literally do when you’re triggered, when you are in a conflict or you are triggered, and you’re having this negative emotional reaction.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yep.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Okay. So let’s do it. First of all, what is the rapid power reclaim method?

SUSAN SCHMITT: Well, there are three steps to it, and they’re three simple steps. I’ll tell you step one is called create choice. So when we are emotionally triggered, we have a response fight, flight, or freeze.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Give me an example. Give me just a quick example-

SUSAN SCHMITT: Okay.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: That we can all use in this model.

SUSAN SCHMITT: And this is a situation that occurred that I was preparing for a big presentation, and I was involved in a series of meetings leading up to my presentation. A number of other people had presentations that week. And during the week, at that time, my boss made some comments that I interpreted to be that I wasn’t doing enough in my job. The comments were around something related to an element of the HR strategy. And he would share these things in the various days leading up to the presentation that I was going to be making. Well, the night before my presentation, I was feeling a lot of stress. I was feeling emotional. I was feeling triggered, and the trigger was somehow I wasn’t good enough, and that I hadn’t done something that I should have done related to this element of the HR strategy. And I remember my team and I were up late that night finishing the presentation, to like midnight, which of course is never good to be short on sleep when you’re triggered. I don’t recommend that. And so the next morning, I woke up really early, and I just felt really emotional. I felt sad. I felt I rejected. All this emotion was coming up. And so, the very first step was, in terms of creating choice, if we stay in that state that I was just describing, we have no choice. We go into our old automatic responses, and we get lost in the trigger. So the very first step is this idea of creating choice. And the first thing is to say, oh my gosh, I am having a bumper car moment. Is this worth [crosstalk 00:25:49] conflict?

MORRA AARONS-MELE: With myself.

SUSAN SCHMITT: In my own head. Based on something that my boss at the time had said, I took it to me that I wasn’t good enough in my job. So the first realization in terms of creating choice is to say, oh my gosh, I’m having a bumper car moment. And the very first thing we have to do is to manage that physiological triggered response. For me, when I get triggered, I feel like a hook has just grabbed me underneath my sternum. I start to breathe heavy and my heart rate goes up. I feel the anxiety blanket has covered me.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yes.

SUSAN SCHMITT: I just feel afraid. I feel this fear of whatever. So for me, releasing that physiological reaction is the first step of creating choice. And there are lots of ways to purge that energy. We probably don’t have time to go into all the ways, but one way that I really love is … A woman named Sheila Darcy just wrote a book, and I’m not going to get the name correct, but she has a whole way of thinking around what she calls sketch poetic. And I have one of her sketch pads. And in her new book, she talks about how do you purge emotion, feelings that are going on inside of you? How do you get them out of you? And she does it through using sketch. And so just taking a sketch pad, and just taking a pen, and sketching the feeling of anxiety just to get it out of my body onto the paper. The art, it’s not about being an artist at all. It’s more about releasing that emotional energy that is coming up and getting it out of your system, purging it. So, that’s one way. But there are other ways-

MORRA AARONS-MELE: So you’ve created choice. Let’s … because I want to make sure we give this to people. So step one, when you’re doing your rapid power reclaim, is that you’re creating choice. You’re saying I don’t have to do this right now. I can act another way.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Right. And you can manage the physiological response by releasing it. Lots of ways to do it. Step two is called elevate action. And so elevate action, once we’ve released that energy going on inside of us, that negative energy, then we can say to ourselves, “What do I need to do in this moment to elevate my action?” And what I did in this particular moment was I took a little pink Post-it note. And on the pink Post-it note, I wrote, “Your boss is not your dad.” I wrote, “Your team has done a great job preparing this strategy. It’s the best strategy you’ve ever presented.” I also wrote on the pink post-it note, “You have choices and options.” In other words, my life doesn’t have to be completely focused on this one particular job, this one particular company. And during the presentation the next day, I put that pink Post-it note underneath the camera on my laptop. And I had it there the entire time I was presenting. I elevated my action. If I had not elevated my action, and if I had not created choice by purging that emotional energy going on inside of me … By the way, another way to do that is to take a pill and hit a couch as hard as you can.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Totally.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Right? And scream, and yell, and get that out of you. Elevating action. What happened was the presentation went so well. Honestly, it was the best engaging discussion the entire week with the particular manager. So, that’s the second step. And the third step, which is really important, and which us perfectionists have a really hard time doing, is we have to take time afterwards to celebrate that success in order to integrate it into our neural pathways. So the third step is celebrate and integrate. And so what I did that day after the presentation went incredibly well, is I literally just went outside, I stood in the sun. I took just a breath and time to release and say, “Good job. You did that really well.” And what we do by celebrating, just taking a moment to celebrate, is the rewiring of our neural pathways, which of course, is based on the science of neuroplasticity. In order to rewire the pathways in our brains, we have to integrate these new responses into a part of our identity. And that’s the third step, is to celebrate and integrate it into your identity.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: I want to workshop one more example before we part, because-

SUSAN SCHMITT: Sure.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: You talk through in your book classic bumper car moments, which I think are universal for everyone. There’s getting 360 feedback, or dealing with criticism, everyone’s favorite, dealing with a controlling boss, when others treat you like an emotional dumping ground, which I think is probably very relevant to a lot of ASDPS. But give us the rapid power reclaim method-

SUSAN SCHMITT: Sure.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Lightning round approach to one classic bumper car moment.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yeah. Well for sure, one classic bumper car moment is receiving some negative feedback.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Exactly.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Right? That happens all the time. We’re in the middle of performance reviews right now.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Oh God.

SUSAN SCHMITT: And you know, for us overachieving perfectionists, the last thing we want is for anyone to call out anything negative about who we are. So the rapid power reclaim, let’s say you just got some negative feedback, or some constructive criticism, or whatever you want to call it, from your boss. It is not uncommon to have a negative emotional reaction when we hear something negative about ourselves. And so, as soon as someone’s given you … as soon as your boss has given you some feedback that you feel is negative, the typical response is to go into an emotional triggered reaction. So because I already believe deep, deep down that maybe I’m not good enough, if my boss has just given me fee feedback to suggest there’s something that’s not right about me, I can have a very strong emotional reaction to that feedback. And again, the bumper car moment is happening in our own head. It’s the story we’re telling ourselves. So our managers are supposed to give us constructive feedback. That’s part of a manager’s job. But the ASDP is going to hear it as, “I suck at what I do, I shouldn’t be in this job. My boss doesn’t think I’m good at what I do.” And immediately we go spiraling down on that unconscious wounded career path. And then we just stay stuck down there, which is not a good place to be. So again, rapid power reclaim is, number one, is realizing I can create a choice here. I do not have to have that old physiological response. Now you and I both know that when you’re triggered, that it’s hard to say, “Well, how do I get out of it?” That’s why you’ve got to release it and purge it. So it may be difficult to do right in the middle of a meeting, but if you’re really emotionally triggered, it’s okay to say to your boss, “Hey, look, I just need to step away for about 10 minutes. Would it be okay if we picked this up in 10 minutes?”

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yeah.

SUSAN SCHMITT: And you don’t need to-

MORRA AARONS-MELE: You can always breathe, right?

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yeah.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: You can always breathe.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Breathing is over … or it’s underrated. I always say I need to breathe more. Us ASDPs tend to keep our … this constant sense of holding our breath, waiting for something to go wrong. And you’re right. So in that moment, when you’re starting to feel those negative emotions, creating choice, whatever it means for you, if it’s breathing, if it’s taking a couple minute break to say, “Look, I just need to step away. Can we pick this back up?” And then you go and release it, screaming, yelling, hitting a pillow against the couch, and getting that emotional response out of your body. Our muscles have memory. We remember the way we feel. So, that’s creating choice. The second is elevating action. Elevating action might just be having a conversation with yourself, which is, “My boss is trying to give me feedback to help me be even more effective.” Another element of elevating action may be, rather than going into defense, I’m going to get curious about what this feedback’s all about. I’m going to ask questions to understand it. I’m going to really focus on what I can learn from this feedback versus beat myself up with it. And so each person’s going to have their own idea about how they can elevate action in that moment, but to just be intentional about what can I do to go back into this conversation with my manager, and get curious. You mentioned this about my performance. Can you say more about that? I have a colleague who has got his own consulting businesses, and is also an author, has this really famous phrase that I love, which is, say more. We have a tendency when we’re lost in our trigger and we have no choice, to not be able to hear or ask questions.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: You just want to get out of the room as fast as you can, basically-

SUSAN SCHMITT: You do.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: And cry in a corner. Yes.

SUSAN SCHMITT: Yeah, exactly. This idea of saying to your boss and being curious is … Can you say more about that? When do you see me do that? What advice do you have for me? So that’s elevating action. And then again, that third step, celebrating and integrating, is so key. When we have a different response to an old trigger, and we’ve handled a situation in a way where we’re coming from our highest functioning self, we’ve got to take time to go figure out what to do to celebrate. I am not good at celebrating. And so a woman named Celinne Da Costa who I’ve worked with taught me something simple, which is just go into your iPhone and put in the notes page a section called celebrations, and things that you can do that make yourself feel better. So I started a little sheet in my notes of these are things that make me feel like I’m celebrating. For me, celebrating might just be taking a hot bath at the end of the day and congratulating myself about handling that criticism in a way that was positive. It could be different for everybody, but it’s such a key step to integrate that into how I responded differently, consciously, than how I would’ve responded in the past.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yeah. I think the celebration would be is if you do the say more, and you sit, and you stay and listen, and literally … and don’t flee. Right? I think that would be such a cause for celebration for so many of us.

SUSAN SCHMITT: I agree. When we’re constantly coming from this unconscious state, we never take time to really look at how am I responding, how can I do this differently, and then how can I celebrate me. How can I realize that damaged is not doomed? And the rest of my life is mine. And that’s the beauty of Healing at Work.

MORRA AARONS-MELE: That’s it for today’s show. Thank you to my producer, Mary Dooe. Thanks to the team at HBR. I’m grateful to our guests for sharing their experiences and truths. For you, our listeners, who ask me to cover certain items and keep the feedback coming, please do send me feedback. You can email me. You can leave a message on LinkedIn for me, or tweet me @morraam. And if you love the show, tell your friends, subscribe, and leave a review. From HBR Presents, this is Morra Aarons-Mele.

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