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Ep. 155: How to Gain Confidence and Resiliency with Psychologist Joan Rosenberg, PhD

Robyn Openshaw - Oct 30, 2019 - This Post May Contain Affiliate Links

Photo of Dr. Rosenberg smiling from "How to Gain Confidence and Resilience with Psychologist Joan Rosenberg, PhD" by Green Smoothie Girl

Dr. Joan Rosenberg, PhD is a psychologist who studies how human beings become more resilient. She had her own challenges as an extremely shy child. She shares her insights into overcoming adversity and developing confidence.


Learn more about and connect with Dr. Joan Rosenberg

Get the book “90 Seconds to a Life You Love”

Get a free gift from Dr. Rosenberg

Listen to the TEDx Talk “Emotional Mastery”

Listen to the TEDx Talk “Grief: The Pathway to Forgiveness”


  • [07:44] We all feel different, and we all want to belong. Rosenberg grew up shy and feeling different from her peers. It made her wonder: how does someone have confidence to interact with the world? And later in her professional life: what is it that makes it so difficult for people to handle unpleasant feelings? The answer to both is in how we develop confidence to handle emotional outcomes.
  • [13:32] Your hard trials can lead to confidence. Part of confidence cultivation is the attitude of wanting to develop it, but three other key realizations play large parts: don’t quit (because there isn’t anyone that hasn’t “failed),” none of us achieve success alone so ask for help, and rejection is only disappointment. You can work through disappointment, and failures are only learning opportunities.
  • [21:14] The Eight Unpleasant Emotions. Rosenberg has identified eight emotions that are necessary to be able to work through to develop confidence, resiliency, and emotional strength to handle life’s emotional outcomes.
  • [25:37] How can you handle anxiety? Anxiety is too broad of a term for what you experience; if the word was removed from your vocabulary, what’s really going on then? Putting words to your emotions calms you, and gives you something to work with.
  • [30:31] How self-critical are you? Harsh self-criticism is a thought hijack of unpleasant feelings. We don’t control that we feel, or what we feel, but we do control how and what we think to some degree. Don’t let the criticism make your unpleasant feeling worse (and, learn how to accept and feel compliments!)
  • [44:18] Speak up and be assertive. When we speak, things become more real to us. When we’re telling the truth of who we are, we live a much more authentic, confident, and genuine life. Our connections with others deepen, and more opportunities come to us.


This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Robyn: Hey everyone, it’s Robyn Openshaw, and welcome back to the Vibe show.

I’m going to introduce you to my amazing guest, but first just a little word of business that I’m very excited about.

We are launching something I’m very excited about. I can’t remember ever being this excited about something that we’re coming out with. It’s called the Flash Fast.

It’s a three-day package that has everything in it that you need to eat for three days. Everything’s organic, it’s plant based, it’s below the 800 calories that all the clinical evidence about modified fasting shows you need to have to achieve the same benefits, if you fasted, that you can actually get by eating five small mini meals.

That’s what we’ve set the Flash Fast up to do because this modified fasting is super powerful.

A lot of clinical published research shows that the health benefits in both animal studies and human clinical trials range from longevity — animals who fasted periodically had a quite longer lifespans, like 20% longer lifespans — weight loss (and specifically autophagy, which means that when you don’t have food coming in or enough food coming in, the body attacks abdominal fat, very specifically your abdominal fat stores), it’s brain protective, there are benefits of rolling back the degenerative effects of multiple sclerosis. We really have to get autophagy into your vocabulary. is where this product is launching.

If you took three days a month to do the Flash Fast, if you lost, not the average, but the minimum amount of weight that our first beta testers lost, which would be three pounds — our beta testers in three days lost three to seven pounds each — if you did that and you only lost the minimum of that, which is three pounds, and you did it once a month for a year, you would lose 36 pounds in a year. And you’re only focusing on it three days a month. You’re doing whatever it is you’re doing now for the rest of the month.

I’ve done it twice in the last month. I’ve got to be at a business with hundreds of my colleagues in just a few weeks, and I’ll have to be wearing some up-to-here and down-to-there dresses at a big gathering. And I want to look good. And so I’ve done the Flash Fast twice in the last month.

It’s just super easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. I’ve been playing tennis and working all day every day of the Flash Fast. I’ll tell you, that would not have happened when I was doing a water fast. I really can’t work. I really can’t do much out of my bed after the first day. Plus with the specific foods that really address cravings, the five mini meals, I’ve not had a hard time with cravings or with being too hungry. I’ve done absolutely everything that I would have done otherwise.

I’m super excited that we’re finally launching this. It only costs a little over $13 a day, which is amazing, and even less if you get on our subscribe and save program. So after you try it the first time, if you want to get on subscribe and save, it gets really cheap, which is amazing because the other modified fast program out there costs $45 a day.

To try it, you have a $13 a day first trial and you get my brand-new book. You get that for free. Everything’s organic, $13 and 33 cents per day, it costs. Like I said, the other modified fast program out there is not organic and it costs $45 a day.

In your package you get five mini meals, just eat them on the schedule and you’re good to go. No thinking required.

Today I’m excited to introduce to you my friend Dr. Joan Rosenberg. She is a clinical psychologist and author, master clinician, a media host. She’s done two Ted X talks. If you like what she has to say today, you can go check her out on YouTube, her TEDx talks.

She is currently a professor of graduate psychology at Pepperdine in Los Angeles. She’s also a veteran of the Air Force. And she recently released a book called 90 Seconds to a Life You Love: How to Master Your Difficult Feelings to Cultivate Lasting Confidence, Resilience, and Authenticity. It just came out in February of this year and I’ve been reading it, so I’m excited to bring her to you today.

Welcome to Vibe, Dr. Joan Rosenberg.

Dr. Rosenberg: Thank you so much Robyn. It’s an honor to be with you.

Robyn:  It’s been a long time that I’ve been looking forward to interviewing you about your book. You and I both have a real passion for the helping professions that we both come from, our academic background and careers.

The funny thing is — maybe it was because it was subliminally on my mind that I would be interviewing you today — I dreamed all last night that I somehow got interrupted in grad school and didn’t finish. And I went back to graduate school and some of my former classmates from when I was training in social work and in psychology were now my professors in my dream. What does it mean? Tell me what does it mean?


Does it just mean that I’m going to interview Dr. Rosenberg today?

Dr. Rosenberg:  [Laughter] Yeah, you’re going to interview a colleague who’s now a professor.

Robyn:  Right? [Laughter]

Dr. Rosenberg:  Actually, I’ve been a professor for a very long time. It’s been decades actually for me.

Robyn:  Yeah, at Pepperdine, right?

Dr. Rosenberg:  Currently Pepperdine, but I have taught at two or three other places. I taught at USC for 12 years, the University of Southern California for 12 years. I was a staff psychologist at UCLA. I taught at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. And now I’m at Pepperdine University.

Robyn:  Tell us about how you decided to become a psychologist. Maybe a little about how you decided to go into the air force and how, why you’re writing this book. What do you, what is it you’re so passionate about that brought this body of work to the world?


Wanting Confidence

Dr. Rosenberg:  The passion really comes from very early on. I started out in the world as a very shy — actually exquisitely shy — child and really felt quite different from my peers. Started school at an early age. And I think that that left me both raw and vulnerable.

I would look over to my classmates and I’d see them hanging together and have this real clear sense of belonging and laughing and appearing to be so confident. And I just felt so different. And so not part of that. I felt very alone, very raw, as I said. It was like, “I want what they have.”

As I got older, I understood that part of what I wanted was confidence and certainly the sense of belonging. The other would be, of course, not to feel different. But I think a lot of us have that quality of feeling different, and also sometimes the quality of not belonging.

That marked my early life and that question sat with me. How does someone develop confidence? Because I surely didn’t have it.

As I got into my professional life — which actually started fairly early, it was at 20 — and as I began to work with the clients, as the years went on, a second question emerged for me. And that was, what is it that makes it so difficult for people to handle unpleasant feelings?

As the years continued, I started to get the answer to both questions. And it turns out that, in my mind, the answer to the second question in terms of what it takes to handle unpleasant feelings is actually for me the answer to the first question, in terms of how we develop confidence.

That, and I just saw at work over, over and over again, how many people were coming in with a lack of confidence, people not understanding how to gain it. And I felt I have something, or I knew I had something, that would help. And from that the book emerged.

Robyn: You had quite an uphill fight to develop any confidence yourself. I read that in the beginning of your book about how you felt very alone and shy, and I actually read it and I thought of the work of, I think it’s Dr. Elaine Aron, on highly sensitive people. You sound like as a child you probably would have identified that way. Am I right?

Dr. Rosenberg:  Perhaps. I think there are others that are even more sensitive than I am, but yes, at that point in my life I certainly would’ve described myself that way.

Robyn:  So, you had to climb out of that. It’s a lot of your life experience, not just your clinical experience, that led to the book. I got that feeling.

Dr. Rosenberg:  Oh, my goodness. Yes. Yes, definitely.

Robyn:  I think all the best books are like that. It’s not just someone’s academic review of the literature, and “Here’s what I do with my patients when they’re sitting across from me in the chair and we’re going to do some therapy with them.” It’s also married to your own wounded healer.

Dr. Rosenberg:  Oh, of course. Of course. Yes.

Robyn:  What have you concluded, reviewing all the evidence that’s out there, and your own decades of experience as a psychologist?

What does it take to develop confidence?

Dr. Rosenberg:  I think of confidence first. The definition may be really important here as we lead into this.

Confidence, in my mind, is the deep sense that you can handle the emotional outcome — and the key here is the emotional outcome — of whatever you face or whatever you pursue. That the base for me, one’s ability or one’s capacity to experience and move through eight unpleasant feelings. That’s the foundation of confidence. There’s much more to it. But that’s the starting point.

Robyn:  I love it. I just had an experience night before last with my daughter who’s 23. It’s been really fascinating to watch her and my son, who is 19 today, my younger son in Southern California. She’s his boss and they’re doing summer sales and it’s just a horrible job. They’re knocking doors in the heat wearing their “We do creepy pest control,” what do you call those shirts that are knit, they’re hot? They’re horrible, it’s a horrible job.

They get rejected all day; it’s his second summer and her third summer. And they’re killing it, she’s number one and he’s number two in the company.

(My goal for my children isn’t to make their life easier. You know, you hear a lot of parents the ages of you and me saying, “I had nothing when I was growing up and I just want to give my children more than I was given.”

And I think that seems like a recipe for potential big backfire. What I want my kids to have is resilience and resourcefulness. And you talk a lot about that.)

This job has just kicked the crap out of both of them. She called me two nights ago and she was just sobbing; and I listened and I listened and I listened. She was stringing every negative possible together in several sentences.

I said, “Hold on just one second. I’ve listened for a long time and just give me two minutes here.

“I feel like you’re horrible-ising. You’re taking every negative thing about how you take your team of 10 people to knock on these doors and you find out that another team from the same company has been there three times and it’s horrible, and you go on to how difficult your brother has been to work with.”

At the end of it I said, “Is it possible that you’re actually having some PMS, is that possible?” And she didn’t want to answer that because you know how we are we, we don’t want to admit to PMS having to do with anything like that. Just almost makes us mad to be asked that. And I don’t have PMS anymore, but I can still remember how mad that question would make me because I’d be like, “No, my feelings are valid.”

Anyways, late last night I got a text from her –and I had talked her down from quitting — and she had said, “Mom, I sold six contracts today. I can’t believe yesterday I was going to quit.”

The funny thing is I’ve had the exact same issue with my youngest son who was like, “Mom, I’m going to quit. I hate this. I’m depressed.”

Does this play a factor? What about these like hard, hard times we have where, we’re out. We have a horrible job, hot sun, we want to quit every day. Nothing about it is fun. Or many other life experiences.

Are these hard trials part of what leads to confidence? Or can we just cultivate it because we choose to?

Dr. Rosenberg:  This is actually part of the experience. Part of the cultivation is certainly an attitude of wanting to develop it.

But let me walk through a couple of keys, because you really identified a lot of different things in what you were just relating about both kids.

The first is that none of us achieve success alone in the world. And if we go into whatever it is we want to pursue with an understanding that we’re going to have lots of, in quotes, “failures,” (which I just consider learning opportunities), or mistakes, and we all have the mindset that we’re not going to quit, then we will succeed.

The first is going into it with an attitude of, “This is a done deal. I’m not quitting. And because I’m not quitting, there’s only one way that it can work out.” That is, to succeed.

It’s going in also with the understanding that there isn’t any one of us that hasn’t met with multiple failures on that road to success. That’s just the way it is.

Robyn: That’s so true.

Dr. Rosenberg:  The second is, none of us succeeds alone. It’s getting out of our minds that it’s only independence that’s going to make it work. In fact, it’s our ability to lean on others and ask for help. In this case, your daughter’s staying-in-the-game because she was talked down. Because she reached out to you, which is resourcefulness. Then that made a difference, it helped her succeed and go farther.

Third, I don’t think of rejection as rejection the way in the same way that most people do. I like to language things differently. And I think it’s super important because it changes our frame of reference.

I think of rejection as disappointment. So instead of her getting rejected, she got disappointed.

Then the other piece of it is that, it’s understanding. Most of us think that we have confidence and then we go do something. Or we have confidence and then we speak up. But it’s actually the opposite that’s true. And that’s how confidence works.

So, the first part, be able to experience and move through in my mind, eight unpleasant feelings. That’s the base of confidence. And then speaking and acting, or taking action, are the next two ways you help yourself develop confidence. So it’s as you speak and through speaking, you develop confidence, and as you take action and persist, you develop confidence.

Those are the three main ways in terms of what makes a difference in how people can develop it.

Robyn:  Oh, I love that.

I didn’t tell the final funny point of the story, which is not only that, my daughter said, “Hey mom, I sold six contracts today” she also said, “Oh and I started my period.” [Laughter].

I want to come back to the eight unpleasant emotions, because that was really useful to me in the book. Even just to go, “Oh, there’s really only eight.” And if I know the eight I can be like, “Oh, I’m feeling this one right now.”

You and I both talk about in our books — I wrote about this in Vibe, and you go into much more detail — about how the average emotion only lasts 90 seconds. One of my focuses in the book that I wrote is that if your negative emotion is lasting longer than 90 seconds, you could probably identify what you’re doing to pour jet fuel on it. What are you doing to stay in that repetitive cycle?

I love that you said that failures are really just learning opportunities. I feel like if we can get really, really clear on that one point– and whether it’s make a big piece of poster board and hang it on your wall until you see it in your head every single time you have a setback or, like you said, a disappointment — the more you’re going to be resilient.

I’m telling my kids (there’s three of them in college right now) if they have a paper where they have to interview somebody, they always want to interview me about my business or whatever. And I always tell them I’ve had some big huge failures. I have failed and failed and failed, if you must call them failures.

Things that were supposed to make money and didn’t. Things I spent nine months of my life full time working on that were a big bust that I had to just dismantle it. Things like that. But I always tell them, you can actually make a lot of money if you just win a little more than you lose.

If you just chalk up the things you lost on as the things that are how you developed your chops, that’s what all my quote unquote “failures” did for me. I know a lot more; I’m more experienced.

Dr. Rosenberg:  Right. That’s a phenomenal attitude to hold. That’s what allows you and others like you to be successful.

There’s a concept in psychology called “frustration tolerance,” and I wanted to bring that point back to your question about kids.

It’s crucial that children learn how to tolerate frustration, to tolerate the disappointment, the anger and the sadness that goes into things not working out. Because once they are willing to experience that and stay in the game regardless, to hold that attitude of persistence and to keep going, then it makes a world of difference.

If they don’t do it as kids, those are the adults I often see in my practice. Low frustration tolerance. “I don’t want to keep going. I’m afraid of failing. I’m afraid this won’t work out in a relationship.”

It doesn’t matter what it is, they want to back off and not take the risk.

Robyn:  So true. Do you see in your clinical practice — not to keep going on the parenting thing, which I didn’t mean to focus there — I feel like lots and lots of parents these days want to save their children from the frustrations. And it sounds like you’re saying that would potentially backfire, and then they’re going to be on your couch getting long-term therapy and not necessarily moving forward in their life. Is that an inference I could make?

Dr. Rosenberg:  Definitely.

I don’t think it’s a great idea. I mean, obviously you want to protect kids to the degree that you can, but they need opportunities to deal with loss. They need opportunities. And it happens naturally in life, you know, kids switch friends all the time, right? Separations, losses, a pet dies, a team that loses more than it wins, not getting picked for a team.

It doesn’t matter what it is. There’s countless opportunities for children to learn how to handle those kinds of disappointments and frustrations in life. And the earlier that they can learn it and continue to and manage it well, not turn against themselves because of it but go, “Oh bummer, it didn’t work out. What can I do to change that? Is there anything different I can handle, or do I just have to accept what’s going on?”

The more they can go into life that way, the more delightful, if you will, the more fun, the more interesting life becomes when they reach adulthood. It’s a much more effective way of being in the world.

Robyn:  I agree.


The Eight Unpleasant Emotions

Tell us about the eight unpleasant emotions.

Dr. Rosenberg: Sure.

What I identified over time was that people struggled with really a handful of feelings. I eventually identified eight. I’ll come back to that in a moment,

The eight are sadness, shame, helplessness, anger, vulnerability, embarrassment, disappointment and frustration.

The most common question that comes up after I talk about those eight is, “Why isn’t fear, or why isn’t anxiety, or why not this or that?”

The reason it’s those eight is because they’re the most common feelings or feeling states. The common everyday spontaneous reactions to things not turning out the way that we believe we need, or the way we want. It’s the everyday-ness of our reactions.

Robyn:  I wonder if a whole day ever goes by that any given person doesn’t experience all eight of those, do you think?

Dr. Rosenberg:  They don’t have to. There could be days that are free, that are decent and good and nothing upsetting happens. But certainly it’s very, very common to have many of these feelings run through you throughout every day.

Robyn:  Back up, and let’s talk about emotional strength. Because I know you identify that as a big part of confidence too. And you talk about the base of feeling confident. Talk about any of that that you want to do.

Dr. Rosenberg:  I come back to the idea of emotional strength. I think in the book I describe it as “redefining emotional strength,” but frankly, I don’t know if anybody’s actually set out and defined it. [Laughter]

I look at emotional strength as having two major components to it.

One I just talked about. The first component has to do with feeling or being capable. And what I found is that somebody who is going out in the world didn’t end up feeling capable to live in the world, and be effective in the world, until they could experience and move through those eight unpleasant feelings. Think personal capability equals, “I can handle those eight unpleasant feelings.”

The second part of emotional strength, for me, has to do with what I call being resourceful.

I wrestled for so long with, how do I position asking for help as a strength, because so many see it in such a negative light. “I’m going to be a burden. I don’t want to ask for help. I don’t want to be vulnerable and do that.”

What dawned on me is that, actually, if we are able to turn to others and acknowledge our needs and limitations and ask for help, it’s actually something that makes us stronger.

The idea here is that asking for help is actually an element of emotional strength.

It’s capable, the eight unpleasant feelings, acknowledging your needs and limitations and asking for help, that would be being resourceful.

Robyn:  Oh, that feels really true. I couldn’t grow my business if I didn’t ask for help. And of course maybe I pay the people who helped me, but the impact on my life of being able to ask for help, and be specific about what I need, not only has made my business grow, but it’s also really enhanced my personal relationships when I’m able to be vulnerable, and ask for help from whoever.

Dr. Rosenberg:  Absolutely. Absolutely. I really want people to see that as something else that contributes to feeling confident in the world.

Most people think it’s one or the other, that we’re either dependent or independent. In life, it’s the experience of both elements. The more that we can achieve a relative balance between doing the things that we can do alone and feel that sense of competence and confidence based on what we’re doing by ourselves, plus the experience of having people be with us and support us, makes for a much better life.


Uncover what’s under your anxiety to become resilient.

Robyn:  I know a lot of my followers talked to us about anxiety all the time. This is a subject that you deal with a lot.

How are some of the ways that we can handle our anxiety (or we’d really just like to have less of it)? What do you have to say about that?

Dr. Rosenberg:  I have a whole different look at anxiety because there’s aspects of anxiety that’s like, eh, I don’t really buy.

Let me walk through this. Anxiety, in my mind, is a word that’s overused and misused.

If I were to ask 10 people what they meant by feeling anxious, or having anxiety or feeling stressed, I would probably get 10 different answers. In my mind, the word is way too vague. It doesn’t really tell me what’s going on for you. So then I would ask people, “All right, what if I took that word anxiety away from you, then what’s really going on?”

The common responses came back to the eight unpleasant feelings. What I realized is that anxiety, in my mind, is a cover for the eight unpleasant feelings.

The first one people can consider is, are they feeling vulnerable? Because oftentimes somebody saying, “I have to talk to a friend about things, something that didn’t work out and I’m anxious about it,” well, no, you’re probably feeling vulnerable about it. You’re concerned that you could get hurt or something wouldn’t work out. Then if something didn’t work out, you’d have to experience one or more of the other seven.

The thing that people can do is to start to ask themselves, first, “Am I feeling vulnerable, when I’m describing being anxious?”

And if it’s not that, “Am I experiencing one or more of the other seven feelings?”

It’s a pretty high percentage where people turn around and go, “Yep, it’s one or the other seven feelings.”

As soon as you name it accurately, the experience of the anxiety drops. Just dissipates.

Robyn:  Interesting. So there’s the feeling underneath the feeling, and you got to get to it. And anxiety is just this broad category that isn’t a very meaningful word.

I had a professor in grad school who felt that anger was a cover-up emotion and that there was always something underneath anger. But you’ve made it one of the eight fundamental, basic negative feelings.

Dr. Rosenberg:  I did. I did. I would actually agree with the professor, usually there’s sadness or disappointment underneath. Under anger is almost always a hurt feeling.

Robyn:  Yes.

Dr. Rosenberg:  Except I leave it out, because it’s such a common reaction that it wouldn’t make sense to people.

Robyn:  Yeah. Because so many people are conditioned to feel anger.

The family I grew up in, anger was the only those only acceptable emotions. You could express anger unlimited, but then all the others were showing weakness and so there was a lot of expression of anger.

But my experience, like you just said, is that something is underneath that. Where you don’t feel valued by someone else, that your feelings are hurt.

Dr. Rosenberg:  Right?

There’s also one other piece to anxiety that I think too, in my mind, is really poignant. And that is that when somebody says they’re anxious or they feel anxiety, if they say that to me, the other question that comes to mind is not only, “Which one or more of the eight feelings are you trying not to experience, trying to avoid,” but the second part is, “Have you expressed the feeling to the people that it needs to be expressed to?” And almost always it’s a no.

Robyn:  It’s almost like there’s a confusion element to it. That’s very much it for me.

I’ve had lifelong anxiety, and for me it’s just feeling stressed and not at ease, not calm, peaceful, happy, loving. I’ve learned, when I figure out what’s really underneath anxiety and then I address it, it really dissipates.

But another thing is — and this just goes to your point that anxiety is too broad of a term and who knows what it even means when people say it — sometimes it’s just biological.

If I eat sugar, especially corn syrup, I’m going to have anxiety the next day. I’m going to wake up with white hot anxiety and it’s going to stay with me for most of the day. So I’ve just learned to not eat those foods. Whereas if I eat a nice alkaline diet, 60 to 80% raw, drink my green juice, my anxiety is very manageable and it’s more like my fuel in life rather than it gets out of control and messes with my quality of life.

Dr. Rosenberg:  Right. So we’re just talking about the psychological piece of it, but you’re so right. There’s so many other kinds of biological and environmental contributions. We’d have to filter through all those different kinds of things, but absolutely true in terms of what you were just saying.


Reduce your harsh self-criticism.

Robyn:  Another really interesting thing that you really get into in the book is talking about self-criticism.

I’ve seen totally shocking studies of how, when people look at themselves in the mirror or in their interactions with people, they’re constantly saying harsh, negative things about themselves.

I’m curious what you have to say about that. You also talk about the flip side of that , which is how we’re sort of socially conditioned to not take compliments either.

I tell you what, it’s amazing that any of us are standing given how many negative thoughts we have about ourselves. Even on the tennis court — I’m a competitive tennis player — I’ll be playing with my tennis teammates or whatever and they’ll say swear words against themselves and be super harsh if they make a mistake. Can’t say I don’t, I can’t say I don’t do that myself, but I’m aware of it and trying to be kinder to myself. Just move through that energy and get back to the positive place.

Talk about that. Talk about self-criticism and the flip side of, for some reason, it’s so hard for us to accept compliments.

Dr. Rosenberg:  The harsh self-criticism piece is, if there’s one thing that I want people to do to drop as immediately as they can, it’s to end harsh self-criticism. I see it as singularly one of the most self-destructive things we do,

The way I look at it is that harsh self-criticism is a thought hijack of unpleasant feelings. We don’t control that we feel, or what we feel. We do control how and what we think to some degree.

Robyn:  Okay, so if we’re saying something negative to ourselves, like we walk past ourselves in the mirror and we go, “Oh, the lines on my face, I look so old today,” just as an example, I think you’re saying we’re now putting ourselves into the negative tailspin of those unpleasant feelings.

I guess I remember that you said they aren’t negative. Let’s don’t call them negative feelings. I should say unpleasant. They feel unpleasant. Is that what you’re saying? That when we allow those negative, or I mean harsh self-criticisms, that we are inevitably going to go into an uncomfortable emotion?

Dr. Rosenberg:  You’ll activate it. You’ll actually make whatever you were experiencing… you’ll either create something and put yourself in that state or you’ll make something you were already feeling way worse.

Let me explain what happened and talk about it in the book. Again, I just think this is so crucial.

I was working with a guy who was a student who was working on his dissertation and he was frustrated. He didn’t handle frustration well, and he was talking about his frustration. And then all of a sudden I started to hear him talk about how he was unworthy, undeserving, and inadequate. And it was like, what? What is that? How did we get from frustrated to those three words?

Then it dawned on me that he couldn’t be in charge of his frustration. He could be in charge of what he said to himself.

It becomes an equal thing. Now we want to be in control of the unpleasant feelings. It’s a pseudo way to, in quotes, “take control” of an unpleasant feeling, and it doesn’t work. It’s not equivalent. It actually makes things way worse. So we feel markedly worse. Not the frustrated or the sad or the disappointed or the embarrassed feeling we were feeling before.

Another example, I was actually doing a podcast with someone else. And right before we started there was a mistake that occurred and then the person said, “Oh God, I’m such an idiot. That was so stupid of me.” So he went from a moment of embarrassment to immediate response. It happens super quickly: such an idiot, so dumb of me. Or some parallel to that. But just that quickly, there’s a thought hijack of the embarrassment. That’s really what I’m talking about.

The thing that I want people to do is, when they catch themselves saying something that’s harshly self-critical, demeaning, negatively, self-evaluative, whatever, however you want to position it, what I want them to do is to stop and to ask themselves, “What was I experiencing just before I said that to myself?” They can go back to the feeling and allow the feeling to run through them, as opposed to get in the judgment and then make it that much worse and make it last that much longer.

Robyn:  Great. I thought for a second that you were going to say when you catch yourself with the harsh self-criticism, scold yourself harshly. [Laughter]

Dr. Rosenberg:  Nope.


Accept and feel compliments

Robyn:  How about the other side, that you say that many people push away compliments or play them down?

I read about I’ll show it was her name, Deborah Tannen back in the day. I used to teach a unit on the ways that male communication happens and female communication happens, especially like women among women. Remember the Deborah Tannen work? How women are literally conditioned from junior high to push away any compliments and deny that they’re true.

What do you think’s going on there? You feel like they’re important. What important, to accept them?

Dr. Rosenberg:  I go beyond the notion of accept them, I really want people to absorb them. I want them to feel it in their molecules.

Here’s again — and this leads into a variety of other things, because many times I’ll watch somebody who is harshly self-critical and doesn’t accept compliments — it puts people in a bind. There’s no way for them to feel good about themselves.

The thing with compliments is that they don’t come out of thin air. They don’t come out of the blue. They’re not coming out of a vacuum.

A compliment occurs when somebody has an experience of you, or an experience with you. They’re actually based in reality. And when you don’t accept them, not only do you dismiss the other person’s reality of you, you dismiss your own reality. You dismissed the truth of who you are.

Let’s say you’re really good at something. And it’s, “Oh no, no, no, it was just luck.” Or it gets played down, or whatever it is, but you worked your butt off to get to whatever that point was. What ends up happening is that you never have a chance to update your self-image.

For me, the whole notion of compliments is that they’re a reflection of you back to you. And the purpose is to help you update your sense of self or your self-image. If we don’t allow them in, we never really get to fully update, if you will, to whatever that next level for ourselves is.

Robyn: I love that.

I used to ask my university students [a question] when I was doing this unit on how women communicate with each other and how men communicate with each other and what research shows about how a mixed group communicates.

For the sake of the women in the class — which is the opposite of my GreenSmoothieGirl audience, when I was faculty at Brigham Young University’s Marriott school of management, it was like 85% men, 15% women — I would say, “Hey guys, by a show of hands, do you like it when you give a girl a compliment and you say, ‘your eyes look so beautiful today’,” or let’s try a different one “‘You look so good in that dress,’ and she says, “Oh no, I’ve got to lose 10 pounds.”

I said, “Do you enjoy giving compliments to that girl?” And they would just erupt, and they had things to say. They wouldn’t just raise hands quietly. They wanted the 15% of women in the class to know that they just wish that they would accept the compliment.

It’s deflating for the person who gives the compliment to receive that. Plus that was in seventh grade, that was seventh grade girls where we weren’t allowed to accept a compliment. We would give each other one and we weren’t allowed to go, “Yeah, thanks.”

I’ve been trying to train myself in recent years too. If someone says, “Your backhand is amazing,” then I say, “Thank you” instead of being like, “Well, some days.” That’s what my tennis team will do. These are women in their 50s. They’ll say, “Well if I’m lucky,” “Well on a good day,” like put yourself down. And that’s probably the nicest thing we do with a compliment.

I’m practicing saying thank you. And then just leaving it at that. So I would practice that.

Dr. Rosenberg:  That’s a perfect starting point for it, is just say “Thank you.” And then if you really want to learn something from it, take that and go, “All right –” and you’re not one that was used to taking in compliments, walk away and go, ” — all right, if I really took that in, if I really allowed myself to experience that, what would that mean to me? What would it mean to me that people saw me that way, or that that was actually the real me?”

Robyn:  That’s so good.

You know how you and I met through the Mindshare organization, where lots and lots of health and wellness influencers all over the internet — some of us are bloggers, podcasters, social media mavens — and we all get together.

You and I met there, and there’s a contest every year called “The Insanity Awards.” And we submit the meanest, craziest thing someone has said to us (because if you have a big public platform, there’s people who say really awful things to you) and this is making me think, Joan, that you and I should put forward a contest with the most amazing things someone has said to us so we can help each other.

We do The Insanity Awards is for laughs, and I’ve had awful things said about me. And I’ve won that contest! [Laughter] With hundreds and hundreds of our colleagues, I’ve won it because the thing that was said to me was either that laughable or that awful that our colleagues couldn’t believe anyone would actually say that. But they did. And I showed it with screenshots. And in fact, I think one year I was the winner and the runner up at the same time.

I think we should be putting up there the positive things, because what’s crazy — and maybe you could tell us why — is that I could have people say a hundred things to me online about how my work has changed their life, or benefited their life and how grateful they are, very specific things — and people are amazing and they tell me in a very detailed way how their life has been made better by my body of work — and then one person will say something about me personally that’s mean. And that’s the thing that stays in my head!

Dr. Rosenberg:  There’s a phrase in psychology called a Negativity Bias. Part of the reason we have that, and we pay attention to the negative more, is because it actually helps us with survival. We do have a negativity bias to protect ourselves.

But if we only pay attention to that, then again, it’s not realistic because there’s many positive things that we experience as well. So, it’s understanding that paying attention to the negative or holding onto the negative is tied into the survival protective nature that we have. And that it becomes important to override that so that we live a more genuine and full life. And a happier one.

Robyn:  So, when the lady wrote to me and said, “Robyn, I love all the things you’ve taught me about nutrition and being healthy and well, but you know what? Your hair is ratty and you really need to change your stylists and you need to get some conditioner, honey.” Because I focused on that, because it was negative, it helped me stop bleaching my hair so much and get a new conditioner, but then move on to the positive. So it helped me in a way is, I think, what you’re saying.

Dr. Rosenberg:  In that regard then, if there is some negative thing — I talk a lot about intent here too, Robyn, because my thing is I want people to be positive, kind, and well-intentioned — if somebody is just going to offer something and it’s coming from an ill-intention place, then it’s not clean. I don’t have a better word for it. It’s not productive. It’s not clean, it’s not welcoming our shared humanity.

If somebody offers something to you and it’s well-intended (and sometimes even if it’s ill-intended), the thing that we can do with the negative stuff that we hear is to go, “All right, is there something of value here that I can learn from?” And if there’s not, move on.

If there is, do as you did. Take the piece that you can learn from and then move on, let it go and go, “All right. I took what I needed from that, and I can drop it and I can stay focused on the more positive elements.”

Robyn:  That’s perfect. I think that we can all get in the habit of asking ourselves — if we’re going to say something critical — ask ourselves, “Do I have a clean motive here?”

I love that you brought up clean and dirty motives, and I think it doesn’t make us a bad person if we sometimes have dirty motives. But I think we become a more authentic person the more we check our motives and use our filters. Don’t say it and don’t let it in if it didn’t come from a clean motive or if you don’t have a clean motive.

One more thing before we go. I know that you — and this was a challenge for you coming into this world — were a very, very shy person, but you feel really strongly that speaking and being assertive isn’t counter to female culture. It’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t make you some negative word. Speaking up, being assertive; you say make this more authentic and genuine with others that can actually be a relationship builder, right? Tell us more.

Dr. Rosenberg:  Beyond our capacity to handle or experience and move through those eight unpleasant feelings, our capacity or our ability to speak up and to say what we want to say, to the people we want to say it to, when we want to say it — again, with the caveat of it being positive, kind, and well-intentioned, even if we’re angry and upset — is singularly the most important thing that we can do for ourselves.

Robyn:  How did you learn to do it? What are ways that you can speak up and be authentic and be assertive? Even if it’s scary and you don’t necessarily have an innately assertive personality?

Dr. Rosenberg:  Again, it’s understanding — and this is why it’s linked with this idea of the eight feelings — it’s understanding the reason we don’t speak up. Is it because we don’t want to experience the discomfort of our own emotional discomfort? If we don’t want to do that, we’ll never even start.

Think eight unpleasant feelings when I talk about emotional discomfort. But a conversation means I have to be able to experience the discomfort of my own emotional discomfort (the eight unpleasant feelings) and the discomfort of your emotional discomfort simultaneously. Think the same eight unpleasant feelings.

What it takes to be in conversation, whether it’s a conversation that says, “I’m angry and disappointed with you,” or a conversation that says, “Boss, I’d like a raise,” or a conversation that says, “Hey, I really like you. I’d love to spend more time with you,” It doesn’t matter what the nature of it is. It means that you have to be able to be present to those same eight feelings in order to be in the conversation.

Difficulty speaking up is not a speaking problem. Difficulty speaking up is a difficulty of feeling unpleasant feelings problem. And when we can do that, many things happen.

When we start to speak up a lot more, sometimes we’re surprised by what we say and just go, “Oh, I didn’t realize I believed that.” And so we come to know ourselves better when we speak up; when we share our stories, we get more well-connected to others. When we’re willing to take risks to ask for things, we don’t even know the possibilities or the opportunities that might come to us because we put ourselves out there.

When we speak, things become more real to us. And when we speak and we’re telling the truth of who we are, we live a much more authentic and genuine life, and our connections with others deepen and more opportunities come to us.

[Speaking up] is singularly the most important thing for someone to do.

Robyn:  That was so powerfully put, and I think that we should all support Dr. Joan Rosenberg by picking up her book. It’s quite lovely. It’s about her own personal experience, as well as her clinical experience in decades of practice as a psychologist, a psychotherapist.

We should all immerse ourselves in some awareness about these eight unpleasant emotions that we experienced very regularly. It’s just part of the human experience. But what if you could experience them less often? What if you could move through them with grace? That’s what the book is all about.

It’s 90 Seconds to a Life You Love: How to Master Your Difficult Feelings to Cultivate Lasting Confidence, Resilience, and Authenticity by Dr. Joan Rosenberg.

Where else can they find you? What other resources are out there for people who want to learn more from you?

Dr. Rosenberg:  If they go to actually, they can also get a gift. If they put a slash and then a gift there, they can get a couple of different downloads for people to use.

I will be setting up an online training and also doing some live training. So it’s just a matter of people contacting me through my website for that.

I’ve also done two TEDx talks, so if they want to go onto YouTube and find those TEDx talks, all they have to do is punch in my name. And there’s different interviews that I’ve also done.

There’s a lot of resources. On Facebook — I’m on all the four major social media areas, so they can be in contact with me there — there’s a “Love My Life” Facebook group. There’s lots of resources available for people.

Robyn: Wonderful. We will have it in the show notes. It’s, and Rosenberg is spelled B-E-R-G at the end, everyone. I’m excited to hear your feedback after you read her book.

I think sometimes when we spend six or eight hours reading a book, and we really immerse in one subject, we have this one powerful takeaway that changes our life. I’ve had that experience with many books, including yours.

Thank you so much for being with us today. It’s been a total delight.

Dr. Rosenberg:  I am so honored, and I just want you to know how much I appreciate the work that you also do in the world. Just a huge thank you.

Related Vibe episode: Ep. 102: Real, Raw and Vibrant Living Interview with Mimi Kirk

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