Poison messages from our brain buries us in piles of doubt & insecurities that clutter up our lives & our relationships. Some of us cover things up better than others, but no one escapes obsessing about their fears & doubts. Facing your anxieties & insecurities by decontaminating your brain is achievable. Listen & learn how to do it!

Poison Messages From Your Brain That Damage Your Relationships

Everybody buries themselves in piles of doubt & insecurities that clutter up our lives & our relationships. Some of us cover things up better than others, but no one escapes obsessing about their fears & doubts. Facing your anxieties & insecurities by decontaminating your brain is achievable.

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I am grateful to one of my clients told me about this podcast that really helped her a lot called “UnF*** Your Brain”. I reached out to fellow podcaster KARA LOEWENTHEIL, J.D. & MASTER CERTIFIED COACH & asked her to join me today. She describes herself as “that doesn’t mean I’m a woo-woo divine-feminine channeling goddess seer who spins law of attraction BS. She’s a fun, non-judgmental combo of wise elder, feminist mentor, and hilarious best friend . . . except she gives way better advice than your friends do. And she actually teaches you how to act on it.” 

Let’s begin with why is it so easy for all of us to get stuck in our brains with trashing who we are so relentlessly?

Kara: Oh,So many reasons, right? I think that there’s sort of… I think of it as like three levels. So the first level is kind of evolutionary biology and, you know, we’re predisposed to think in certain ways, just from the way that our brains evolved, and one of those is having a kind of very… for some of us, a very reactive anxiety kind of mechanism and a very kind of reactive pattern of scanning for danger anywhere. 

And so, especially for humans who evolved and kind of small Hunter gatherer tribes, where rejection by the tribe was very dangerous. Some of us have, you know, just are starting out with this evolutionary tendency to worry a lot about kind of what other people think of us, you know, other people’s acceptance of us, our social status, all of that. And then I think there’s a second level that is kind of culture specific conditioning.

So depending on the time that you’re raised, the Epic you’re raised in, and the society, you’re raised in, there’s different kind of socialization that you get there, and, you know, I work mostly, you know, with women and women in our current society are socialized to really, always doubt themselves and to find their value in what other people think of them. 

And you know, that kind of socialization can vary in different societies, and then there’s like the third level, which is kind of your personal socialization and or genetic tendencies that have to do with like your genetic background and also how you were raised and what your family taught you and what your friends or school, or what you read. 

So there’s all these different levels and layers of ways that we are taught to think. And a lot of them are focus, unfortunately, on what’s wrong with us or what other people think might be wrong with us or what we might think might be wrong with us.

Rhoda: Yes, that’s absolutely true. It’s amazing how I can be talking to beautiful women, smart women, have so much going for them, and I’m listening to this tirade of complaints about how they look or how they think or who they are, and it’s so discouraging.

Kara: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, women in particular in Western and even American culture is kind of what I focus on and living in a male dominated society. What we are taught is that, what matters the most about women is how they look and what other people think about them. 

And, you know, that used to maybe be more direct and it would be easy and kind of tempting to think that, well, people don’t think that anymore, like women are encouraged to have careers and whatever else, but that doesn’t undo, you know, centuries of socialization. I was just watching this HBO show that’s going on right now, called; Undoing, I think. 

Rhoda: Yes, with Nicole Kidman

Kara: yeah, so stars is Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. Now I had to Google this, Hugh Grant is five years older, he’s 60, Nicole Kidman’s 55. Hugh Grant looks like a normal human being. Like he has wrinkles on his face.

He’s 60 years old. And Nicole Kidman, who is a beautiful woman, has had so much plastic surgery that she can’t move her face, and so many women in the show, and it’s just such a striking reminder. You can see if you look at news also, it’s like the male newscasters as they age look like they get older and the women are in this weird holding pattern, even though you start to be able to tell. 

So there’s just, you know, even though we’ve come yes, a long way, there’s still so much emphasis on women’s value, basically being determined by what other people value. Like, are you attractive to men? Are you helpful? Do you give everything to your family? Do you do the things that work? Like, how are you serving other people? That’s really what women are taught. Hadn’t how they’re taught to think about themselves, and that leads to constant self-criticism.

Rhoda: So I want to focus more on the self-critical talk as you define it on your website, because I really liked how you put it, that voice in your head telling you you’re doing it wrong or that you’re too much or not enough, or some weird combination of both. So could you say a little more about that? Because that really run true to me.

Kara: Yeah. I mean, I always say like, if your brain is telling you two contradictory things, that’s time to get skeptical, right? Like a lot of women think they’re like both too vain and too humbled, both, you know, like too much and not enough. 

Yeah. So I think that we, you know, when I talk about the socializations, because we internalize that and that comes out as our own voice and it comes out as that self-criticism and so we’re always looking for what’s wrong with us. 

And part of the challenge is that you absorb all of this teaching of how to women are basically taught how to criticize themselves, right? Like if you’re a little girl and you’re listening to women talk, all you hear is them being like, Oh, I’ve gained five pounds. I didn’t do a good job on that, right?

Rhoda: Yeah, right. 

Kara: And then you absorb it, but you hear it in your brain, like it’s your own voice, and so you just like the biggest mind f-ing genetic curse, the biggest mind surprise, right? Is that so much of what actually is self-criticism we think is just us observing the truth.

Rhoda: That’s right. Yes. So the antidote is to retrain your brain because of neuroplasticity, which is of course our brain’s ability to change neural patterns. How can people go about that?

Kara: Yeah. I think that’s the whole ballgame, right? Is that you actually, most of us just think the way that we unconsciously think, and then we think, well, must be true, that’s why I’m thinking it. When you start to recognize that your thoughts may not be true, that’s when you can start to get a handle on them. 

So I always say there’s sort of two different steps to this, really three steps. You have to identify what you’re actually thinking. And most people have no idea what they’re thinking. Most of your thoughts are subconscious. Also, you don’t want to acknowledge a lot of your thoughts, because you have judgment about your own thoughts and receive like multiple levels of this. 

So when people work with me, when they join my coaching group, the clutch and they go through the first few weeks, they’re often like shocked to discover what they’re actually thinking, right? 

And how self-critical it is, because they really had no idea. So the first step is you have to find out what you’re actually thinking. And you have to… that really requires learning how to observe it without judging it. And then the second part is you have to change it, and so you have to number one, decide what you want to believe. 

And I really teach and focus a lot on what I call, I call them ladder or neutral thoughts or baby step thoughts. Like those are all terms for the same thing, which is that, you know, a lot of people have heard about like positive thinking. 

But if what I have found is for a lot of people, including me, if you try to believe a thought, that’s too positive too soon, it actually doesn’t work. You don’t believe it, and so you don’t get any emotional payoff.

And so you stop practicing and then you give up. Whereas if you try to practice a thought, that is just a little baby, step away from your negative thought, you actually get some emotional payoff. You feel a tiny bit better. You keep practicing. Then you can build from there. 

So it’s one become aware of what you’re actually thinking to identify both, what you want to believe. Ultimately, like I would call that a goal thought, like I’d love to believe, like if your current thought is; I hate my body. You might love to believe my body’s amazing, but you’re not there yet. So you have to identify a thought you can believe, like this is a human body. 

True. And then the third step is you really have to practice a lot of what I think goes wrong when people… whether it’s in therapy or coaching or trying to shift their patterns is they think that just having the insight that they don’t like their body, right. Is going to change it or just coming up with a new thought once. 

But you don’t go to the gym and be like, well, I looked at the weight machine, I picked up one weight. So now I’m going to be strong forever, right? You would never think that that should work that way. You have to practice it consistently in order to change the patterns in your brain. 

Rhoda: So I don’t know if you saw on Facebook, but I read and I’m kicking myself that I never saved it, but there was a woman scientist, and she said that if you want to change your neural pathway, you need to say something like 300 to 500 times. And if you sang it, operatically playfully, you only had to do it 20 times. Have you heard that?

Kara: No. I’ll look into that. It’s going to be bad news for those of us who can’t carry a tune. 

Rhoda: Well, it doesn’t have to be, that’s one suggestion of being playful. There’s other ways you can be playful. It’s just that I’m so serious. It’s not my skillset. You would be much better at that. 

Kara: Yeah, that’s interesting. I definitely tend to advise just like a lot of repetition, but I have had clients who have done things like yeah, make up their own little songs or like think the thought to the like beat or melody from an existing song. That would make sense to me. I mean, advertising jingles certainly stick in your head better than just a sentence you hear, so I can see why that would be the case.

Rhoda: Yes. and I also, I wanted to mention, I love the alcoholics anonymous expression of stinking thinking, and I am always talking about that with people, because I think that’s what this is about. So I hear from my clients all the time, the belief that they are unlovable, because they are still quote unquote single or because they are going through a breakup, how would you want to do this specific twisted belief?

Kara: Yeah. I think that’s one of the core beliefs that most people have and aren’t aware of, right? Like it’s like a joke in my coaching program that any time I’m coaching someone, eventually it all comes down to like, Oh, it turns out, I think I’m unlovable again, right? It’s like always there. 

What I mean by that is everybody can kind of come in and be like, well, my problem is, like I don’t love myself. I think I’m unworthy or my self-confidence, but nobody has any idea how to fix that, it’s much too vague. 

Whereas if I say to you, like, when is the last time that you had that thought? So it’s like, if you’re dating, is it when somebody said, you know, that was a nice day, but I’m just not really feeling it. I don’t really want to get together again. Like, was that the moment that you thought that? 

Was it, you’re going through the breakup and your partner said, you know, like this isn’t that bad for me and I never really loved you or whatever’s happening, right? Really have to get specific about like, what are the individual moments in which you have that thought? Because when you have a thought about yourself, your brain is constantly looking for evidence of it. 

And so the way that we have to change it, is we have to get really specific about when your brain is thinking that, and then we have to deconstruct it to come up with a thought you can practice believing, but you generally, it needs to be kind of specific to the situation.

It’s not that helpful. I mean, some people can just practice thinking I’m worthy of love and that works for them, but for a lot of people, it really has to be a much more gradual process where first, they just start with something that sounds really uninspiring. Like it’s possible that someone could not want to go on a second date with me, and that doesn’t mean anything about whether I’m lovable, right? 

Like I always say like the thought you’re going to practice would not look good on an Instagram graphic, right? Like it’s not going to be on Pinterest. It’s not inspirational on a beach background, it’s like a very… but then you’ll actually believe it, right? It’s like, if you break it down to a small logical thought, you can actually believe it, that’s when you start to get some traction.

Rhoda: Because there’s more authenticity to it, it’s that kernel of authenticity and reality, that there was some show, and I can’t remember the name of it, but the woman began by listening to this tape recording of positive affirmations and they never worked, and I just remember thinking, Oh, my goodness, they’re just so general and gooey, it’s just not real enough. 

Kara: Yeah. And most people don’t even know how to tell if they believe a thought. 

But most people don’t even know how to check, right? Because we’re so disconnected from our bodies and we don’t know what emotions are. So I’m always people how to identify the emotions they’re having and how to identify like the way to know, if you believe a thought is you have to tap into like usually close your eyes and see when you think you’re really painful thought, like, no one’s ever loved me. 

I’m not worthy of love. I’ll always be alone. Whatever it is, you got to bring up that negative emotion in your body, which is going to be painful to try to laugh at, and then you have to practice the new thought and see if your feeling in your body, changes at all. If it changes a tiny bit, that means you believe it. 

People really like shoot themselves in the foot, because even if, when they start getting into this work, because they think that what it means to believe a thought is that all the other contrary thoughts in your brain magically vanish. 

Again, not how brains work, right? Like you’ve been creating those patterns for a long time, they’re not going to disappear. So if you define it that way, then you’ll always conclude, Oh, I can’t believe anything else, this must be true. Back to square one.

Rhoda:  A second specific belief I encounter a lot is women criticizing their bodies constantly, which can be a constant obstacle to sex in a relationship. There’s an abundance of shaming of bodies by women especially, instead of the focus on sharing pleasure, it’s all about hatred and discomfort with their own body and their partner’s acceptance is irrelevant. How can you interrupt this stuck belief?

Kara: Yeah. And that’s so common, right? It’s like we want our partners to make us feel sexy and desirable. But the fact that they’re attracted to us actually has no bearing on how we think or feel. So I would sex as with anything else. I mean, on an individual level, it comes down to those thoughts and figuring out what they are. 

I think like the big patterns that tend to go on, are that number one, women’s sexual pleasure is very demonized in our society. So a lot of women are very conflicted about their sexual pleasure, especially if they grew up in a religious household. 

I think growing up in a secular Jewish household, I was really lucky in that way, there just was no anti-sex or anti-sexual pleasure kind of narrative at all. But of course, I’ve worked with many clients who have undone this, so it can be undone, but you just have to kind of dig into like, what were you raised to think about sex and sexual pleasure?

Women are really taught to believe that their bodies are objects for other people’s pleasure. And so I think the alienation that happens during sex with women is really… it totally relates to the body image and the desire to lose weight. It’s like this whole alienation from your body as if your body is this kind of object, as opposed to the physical animal you live in, that enables you to experience pleasure. 

And so, you know, it really depends on what the person’s thought patterns are, when it comes, you know, when you reject your own, by like women will say hilarious things to me, like, well, you know, sure, my husband like wants to have sex with me all the time, but he’s not really attracted to me. I’m just the only one around, right?

There are a lot of people not having sex in their marriages. I don’t think that’s what’s going on, or like people… and people on first dates or second, it’s like, well, I’m afraid to take off my clothes, right? I’m like, do you think that a man in this day and age, hasn’t seen a naked real woman before, right? 

Like what do you think the internet is for? But it’s never about them. So you really have to dig into like, what are your thoughts about yes. Your body, but also like sex and pleasure and what it means. I mean, there’s so many levels layers to that word.

Rhoda: That’s true. I love the title of your podcast episode, which was number 155; resourcefulness versus resourcelessness. Could you share more about that?

Kara: Yeah. That was my tough love sermon, this fall. 

So when I talk about, on that podcast is the idea that resourcelessness, this is when you sort of give up, anytime you encounter a problem or an obstacle, and you tell yourself that you don’t know how to do it and you can’t figure it out, or it doesn’t even occur to you to try to solve a problem, and resourcefulness is more common word, it’s when you believe and understand that you can solve any problem and you just have to figure it out. 

And I think like it’s not like a character issue, or a moral issue. The human brain evolved to expend as little energy as possible. I actually just was like talking to even my employees in our team meeting today, about when their brains say, when they have a question about like what they think I want them to do, or like, what do we need to do in this part of the business? 

Or how should they respond to this customer or whatever, their brain is always going to say, I don’t know, just ask Kara, right? Because your brain… like their brain is like, why should I expend glucose on that? I might need to run away from a lion later. 

Let’s let Kara expend her glucose on it, right? And I have to be like ready. But as the CEO, like if I spend all night glucose answering the questions about how we should respond to emails, then I can’t go grow the business, that we can all have jobs. So it’s like that’s what our brains just naturally do, is normal, like my brain too. 

I always used to say that my brain used to act like a turtle flipped on its back all the time. Like anytime I had to figure out anything new, my brain was like, no, I can’t, we should just die instead, we should flip and die. And like, everyone’s brain does that. So it’s just not like, Oh, some people just were born resourceful and some people were born, not resourceful. 

No. Everybody starts out pretty much with a brain that just wants to be like, I don’t know, let’s just die instead. And you have to practice not doing that. You have to practice asking yourself good questions. Like, well, if I thought I could figure out the next step, like what would that be? Or where could I go to find this information? 

I’m like always… it is always hilarious to me when people like send emails or DMs or whatever, being like do have a podcast episode on friendship. And I’m like, there’s literally one called friendship. Like, did you scroll? You know, like I put out a free podcast every week for you. All you have to do is scroll to see if there’s one on friendship, it’s like that, right? 

And I really think the biggest difference I see, like it used to really… growing up, I had this very fixed mindset, right? Believing talent is just in born, right? Success is just like inherent. Like if it comes easy, you’re good at it, and if it doesn’t come easy, you can’t do it. And so I used to always be really shocked that somebody who was like really successful in one arena would then have a second career, where they were really successful in another arena. 

I was like, God, it’s like amazing, they’re talented at two things. And now having like trained my brain from a turtle on its back to a brain that pretty much always thinks I can figure out anything. I understand that what makes people successful is only 10% that talent, right? Like 90% is yes. 

Practice, but also like believing that whatever comes up, they can figure it out, and in business especially, like so many people don’t achieve the business and the revenue and the life that they want, because problems come up and their brain says, I don’t know, I can’t do it. And they believe themselves.

Rhoda: Yeah, that’s right. That’s true. How is building a relationship different, if you aren’t desperate for validation from someone else?

Kara: Well, number one; you stopped building relationships with people you don’t actually like, who don’t actually like you. I think that’s like the number one. 

Rhoda: That is right.

Kara: I actually think this is like, this is the deepest work for women in the society, because I think most women have no idea how deeply their desire for romantic relationship is about validation. It’s not about validation and some superficial like, well, I just want someone to think I’m pretty sense. 

Like, yeah, there’s that happening, but we are so deeply socialized in the society to believe that, basically, no matter what else a woman is doing, the ultimate arbiter of whether she’s normal and good and okay enough is being married basically, being in like a monogamous long-term heterosexual relationship. 

And so the depth to which women’s thoughts and feelings about being in a relationship versus being single have to do with that constant desire subconsciously to prove their worth and okayness and value, by being in a relationship is, I just think, it’s like the biggest untold secret, you know, it’s like, yes, we talk about validation.

Like people just want to get a text back or want someone to think they’re attracted, but like it’s so deep. And so all of the stories that we tell ourselves about why we want to be in relationships, until we resolve that stuff, that’s always like a deep, fundamental, psychological need for acceptance and okayness. 

And if you haven’t decoupled it from being in a relationship, nothing else you do is even going to kind of touch the surface. You’re always going to be driven by that, to be with people you don’t want to be with, to stay in relationships that aren’t working, to spend all of your time worrying about being in a relationship, to blame yourself and think there’s something wrong with you. I mean, it just is going to consume so much of your psychic energy.

Rhoda: Absolutely. I would agree. So how should someone who wants to be more secure cope with their mistakes and failures?

Kara: Yeah. It’s a good question. I think that there’s two different ways of thinking about it. One is just to be like, well, we get to decide what’s a mistake or a failure, right? We get to decide whether we even use those terms. But I think the deeper levels just to be like, yeah, I made mistake, like, so what, right? Like, think about a small mistake you make where you don’t care at all. 

Now some people do torture themselves about every kind of mistake, right? But even there, like probably if you, like, let’s say you were walking into the shower and you picked up one shampoo bottle and you meant to pick up another. Most of us would be like, Oh, wrong shampoo, swap it out, right? Like you picked the wrong one, you made a mistake, you don’t make that mean something about you.

Most of us can find some small mistake, quote, unquote, we might make during the day, that we don’t turn into a diatribe about how terrible we are. So from there, it’s all just a matter of scale, right? Like we get to decide whether what to make failure mean. 

And you know, you can imagine like as a coach and there’s, you know, a lot of a lot of coaches whose businesses don’t get off the ground, don’t get where they want to go, and of course, they think it’s like, because the market is saturated or whatever other nonsense, it’s like, not that, right. 

It’s like the combination of not being resourceful and being so terrified of failure, but you’re not afraid of failure. You’re afraid of what mean thing you will say to yourself, when you fail. 

That’s it, that’s all you’re afraid of, it’s wild when you really get down to it. It’s not about losing the money. It’s not about like, not filling the program. Like, it really is just what you’re going to say to yourself. Like even when I used to start out coaching lawyers who do an enormous amount of catastrophizing, so I was constantly coaching people through like, okay, yeah. 

Let’s say you get fired. Let’s say you go bankrupt. Let’s say you live in a van down by the river, right. Like then what? And even then the truth is, what you’re afraid of is the guilt and shame you’ll feel, because you’ll be mean to yourself. The rest of it is just a practical problem that you can probably solve. So I think we have to decide, like when I was building my business, I was just like, all right. 

Every no, gets me closer to a yes. Like every time I screw this up, is closer to me learning how to do it. Not saying it was overnight, I had to coach myself a lot, but I just don’t even… I got to a point where I don’t even think of it as failure, I’m just like, Oh, I tried something that didn’t work. What’s the next thing I’m going to try?

Rhoda:   My persuasion to people is trying does count regardless of outcome, you know? So when someone is obsessing or stuck in a terrible loop of self-torture, what is your favorite interruption technique or advice?

Kara: Yeah, that’s a good… I think there’s a couple of different things you can do. Some people are very responsive to somatic grounding. So like, feel your feet on the floor, look around and name some objects, right? It’s just like giving your brain something else to do. And some people… like I don’t really work that way. 

Some people do for me, it’s more mental, but I liked… one of my favorite techniques is just to like make fun of our brains, because I think then we stopped taking everything so seriously, right? Because we’re like, Oh my God, I’m having these thoughts, and it’s so terrible and I’m ruminating and it’s intrusive and there’s something wrong with me, right? 

It like builds and builds. So I had a client who had intrusive thoughts that you really cannot get rid of, and you know, she had worked with a psychiatrist and a psychologist and we just decided to call them her hamster wheel thoughts.

It was just like a hamster on a wheel. And just to be like not to freak out when they showed up, just to be like, Oh, Hey, hamster, what’s up. You’re coming to the grocery store? Okay. Like you go to the grocery store with the hamster wheel and she stopped having them or stopping aware of them, who cares either way, like within a few weeks, it just, for her, it was like a matter of we. 

I think that often what happens is that we layer on so much resistance and meaning to what’s happening, that it intensifies it. And then we get very hypervigilant about it, and then we’re looking for it all the time, as opposed to just being like, Oh, Hey, hamster, what’s up, we’re go into the gym. Put on your little hamster shoes. Let’s go.

Rhoda: So one of the things I was really thinking about, when I was preparing this episode is that people get so lost in dwelling in their insecurities, and the tragedy of obsessing, is that you really can’t connect with someone else. So do you have any final words about the poison brain spoiling contact with someone else?

Kara: Totally, right? People go on dates and they’re like, so worried about whether the other person likes them, that they don’t even know if they liked the person or what was even happening on the data. Yeah. I mean, I think that this is, you know, whenever you are… I think a good rule of thumb is like, whenever you are feeling insecure or obsessing, what you want to ask yourself is, what am I making this mean about me, right? 

Like in what way am I making whatever is going on here, a reflection of me or mean something about me or my worth or my value, if I’m good enough, whatever it is. So, I mean, in terms of like a quick hack, you know, the easiest thing to do is just to ask the other person questions and actually be interested in what they’re saying, right? 

But the truth is like that doesn’t work if you’re really in it, because on a deeper level, you have to figure out, what are you making it mean about you? I mean, I think 98% of our suffering in life, mental suffering, emotional suffering is making things mean something about us that don’t have to mean something about us, right?

Rhoda: Yes. I would agree. Thanks so much for being on the show. And could you share about the community you’re building called the clutch?

Kara: Oh, yes. My favorite place in the world. The clutch is a feminist coaching membership, that people join and they stay as long as they like, and what I’m basically doing is teaching a much more…organized, orderly process of everything I’ve been talking about here on the show. 

So you learn both kinds of self-coaching tools and tools that work on your brain based on your evolutionary biology and based on cognitive psychology, which you can learn a lot about, you know, some other places too, but you also learn how to deconstruct and understand and change the thought patterns that you have from being socialized as a woman in the society. And that’s like when I became a coach, that’s the part that I really saw was missing.

And that’s what I have created my whole body of work around, is bringing a feminist analysis to thought work and coaching, not saying that nobody was doing that, but just really kind of breaking down, not just what’s the evolutionary biology, not just what’s the cognitive psychology, but what’s the impact of socialization as a woman or as a person of size or as a person of color or as an LGBTQ person, right? 

What are all these different kinds of ways that we’re socialized doing to our brains, right? And how do we learn how to take our brains back and actually create that happiness and fulfillment that we want, which we can’t get when we are operating on the kind of programming that society gave us.

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