Join author, educator, and learner, Annmarie Kelly as she laughs, cries, and kvetches with the writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and wanderers who inspire all of us to reach beyond our divisions and discover what it means to be wild, precious, and brave.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone with Lori Gottlieb
In this episode, Annmarie speaks with writer and therapist Lori Gottlieb about the power of talk therapy to transform our story. After jobs in television, journalism, and even a stint in medical school, Lori finally found her calling in psychotherapy. She has been on both the giving and receiving end of therapeutic wisdom and Lori teaches us how to unlearn old habits and foster new connections.
Parnassus Books -- An independent bookstore located in Nashville, Tennessee, Parnassus is co-owned by bestselling author Ann Patchett and Managing Partner Karen Hayes. Parnassus provides a refuge for folks of all ages--from Nashville and beyond--who share in our love of the written word. Learn more and shop online at parnassusbooks.net
Book Soup -- Known for floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, high-profile author readings, limited-edition books, vinyl records, and celebrity clientele, Book Soup is an essential stop on any tour of Los Angeles. Find your next great read and shop online at booksoup.com
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Annmarie Kelly: Wild Precious Life is brought to you by Parnassus Books, an independent bookstore located in Nashville, Tennessee. Parnassus is co-owned by bestselling author, Ann Patchett, and Managing Partner, Karen Hayes. Parnassus provides a refuge for folks of all ages, from Nashville and beyond, who share in our love of the written word. Learn more and shop online at parnassus.net. And we're brought to you by Book Soup, known for floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, high-profile author readings, limited-edition books, vinyl records, and celebrity clientele.
Annmarie Kelly: Book Soup is an essential stop on any tour of Los Angeles. Find your next great read and shop online at booksoup.com. Since the start of the pandemic, a lot of us have not been at our best. We have been lonely and angry and anxious and afraid. We have had glimpses of normalcy, restaurants reopening, groups regathering, but also setbacks and frustration and division and loss. It's been hard to know the next right step to take, the next right thing to do, especially when plans feel like they are perpetually changing. It's been easy to feel stuck.
Annmarie Kelly: And with everyone struggling with so many of the same problems, it's also been hard to ask for help. My guest today knows a thing or two about all of this. She has been on both the giving and the receiving end of therapeutic wisdom. And she joins us today to talk about how to revise our story, how to foster meaningful and healthy relationships, and how to know when it is really time to ask for help. Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist and author of The New York Times bestseller, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, which has sold over a million copies and is currently being adapted as a television series.
Annmarie Kelly: In addition to her clinical practice, she writes the Atlantic's weekly Dear Therapist advice column, and is co-host of the popular Dear Therapists podcast produced by Katie Couric. Lori contributes regularly to the New York Times and many other publications. And in 2019, her TED Talk was one of the top 10 most watched of the year, a member of the Advisory Council for bring change to mind. Lori has been a sought after expert everywhere from the Today Show and Good Morning America to CNN and NPR's Fresh Air.
Annmarie Kelly: As both a therapist and a writer, Lori believes that we need to go inside ourselves in order to get outside of ourselves, to experience the ways in which connection reveals our humanity and ultimately, transforms us. Lori Gottlieb, welcome to Wild Precious Life.
Lori Gottlieb: Well, thank you so much.
Annmarie Kelly: Thanks for being here. I read your book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, twice. I read it once in 2020, and then once again in 2021. I know that you wrote this in the pre-COVID days. But, man, it holds up. And for anyone looking for a relevant read to a book to hold their hand through these times, I can't recommend it enough. Many of our listeners are super voracious readers, but I'm sure there are a handful who have not been lucky enough to read it even once, let alone twice. I would actually love for you to give us some background for how you became a therapist. The book starts and you're in Hollywood. What did you do there? And how did you end up sitting beside someone in a chair and talking about their days?
Lori Gottlieb: How I got into this was very circuitously. After college, I started working in the entertainment business. I worked first in film development, and then I moved over to network TV. I was working at NBC. And the year that I got there, the two shows that were premiering were ER and Friends. And I loved both of those shows. But I particularly loved ER because we had a consultant on the show who was an ER physician and I would go into the ER with him, supposedly, to research story ideas. But really, I was like, this is where it is all happening. This is the human condition right here.
Lori Gottlieb: Nobody comes to an emergency room because they expected something to happen. So it's always this inflection point. And the reason that I was interested in film and television from the beginning was I was always interested in story and the human condition. And so, I ended up leaving NBC and deciding to go to medical school. And everybody said, "You're going in the wrong direction." But I really loved medical school. When I went up to Stanford and a lot of people were saying, if you want to practice the kind of medicine that you say you want to practice, which is I really wanted these rich, long term, lasting relationships with my patients, I wanted to guide them through their lives.
Lori Gottlieb: That was going to be really hard because this new thing called managed care was coming into play. And it was going to be these 15-minute visits and answering to insurance companies and lots of paperwork, and not really doing the kind of thing that I wanted to do. And at the time, I was also writing about my experience in medical school. And so, I left medical school to become a journalist, where I felt like I can help people to tell their stories. And I love that, and I still do that. I'm still a journalist.
Lori Gottlieb: But about 10 years into it, and I had a very thriving career as a journalist, but then I had a baby. And I was, I think, as anybody who's had a child knows, you crave adult conversation during the day. And so, the UPS guy would come with all of the deliveries that you need as a new parent. And I would detain him and try to engage him in conversation. And he would try to back away to his big brown truck and avoid me and tiptoe to my door and not have me sign for packages, so he wouldn't have to deal with me. But we actually became friends later.
Lori Gottlieb: And the story is actually recounted in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. But I ended up calling up the dean at Stanford Medical School and saying, "Maybe I should come back and do psychiatry." And she said, "Look, you're welcome to come back, but do you really want to come back with a baby, a toddler, and then end up doing mostly medication management, which is what most psychiatrists do. Why don't you get a graduate degree in clinical psychology and do the deep work that you have always talked about doing?" And that's exactly what I did. And so I feel like I went from telling people stories as a journalist to helping people to edit their stories.
Annmarie Kelly: I love this answer. I love the idea that sometimes the path actually can be quite linear, though it doesn't look at the time that you were always choosing to work within story, whether it was telling stories or facilitating others to tell theirs. That you were following the beat of a drum that made sense, but also layered with, as we all know, babies come with challenges. They just do. And making a life path that makes sense with your life really works. One of my favorite things you say right off the bat in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is, "It's impossible to get to know people deeply and not come to like them." Do you really believe this?
Lori Gottlieb: So I didn't believe that when that was first told to me. I was training at the time I was doing my internship. And one of my clinical supervisors said that, because we were all worried about going into our clinical rotations and seeing patients, and what if we didn't like them? That was our biggest fear. Our second biggest fear was, what if we didn't know what to say? But our biggest fear is, what if I don't like this person? And our supervisor said, "There's something likable about everyone and it's your job to find it." And I love that, because then you become like a detective.
Lori Gottlieb: You know it's there and you need to find it. And I think that that goes back to story too, is like what is the part of the story that I'm not seeing? But it turned out to be true that when you really get to see someone and they show you the truth of who they are, not what they put out into the world, because behaviors are just ways of speaking the unspeakable. So, for example, one of the patients in the book that I write about is John. And he is this very unlikable person at the beginning of the book. He's about 40. He's married with kids.
Lori Gottlieb: He's thinks everybody is an idiot and everybody is causing him all these problems. He's very successful, but not relationally. And a lot of people said, "Well, why would you take him on?" He insults me immediately in our session several times, the first time I meet him. But I know that there's something there, because I've done it enough at that point that I know that he is telling me something through his behavior. He's trying to tell me something about his fear of getting close to people. So he'll keep people at a distance. He makes sure that people can't get too close to him.
Lori Gottlieb: But you can see over the course of the book, he actually becomes the person that I think people love the most in the book, and people embrace him and really come to care about him and like him and they just want to hug him. And so I think that that shows right there, instead of just saying that happens. You can see it happen in the book. You can see that there is something likable. Not only likable, but lovable about every single one of us.
Annmarie Kelly: Well, I will admit, I also rolled my eyes the first time I read that. I'm like, oh, okay, yeah. But, man, have I ... Since rereading it and you bring up John is a great example. There are a number of characters in this book who are John and Charlotte and Rita and Julie who we journey with. And we come to love as readers because you share their stories. And these are difficult stories, these are painful stories. But I do come to love each and every one of them. And then, of course, we get to journey with you.
Annmarie Kelly: Because you're not just a therapist, you are a therapist seeking therapy. So we get to know you and grow to love you and of course, your therapist, Wendell. I've never met Wendell. I know that some readers will just beg you to tell us who is he. But will you tell us a little about Wendell? Who was Wendell? And what purpose does he serve in this book?
Lori Gottlieb: Sure. And I should say that even though there's a tissue box on the cover for the reasons that you say that a lot of the stories will make you cry, the book is also very funny. And it's very funny because we, as humans, are ridiculous. And I mean that in the most compassionate way, and I include myself in that. That the ways in which we get ourselves tangled up in situations where we can't see it, but everybody else can see it so clearly, and we just want the other person to see it and they can't yet.
Lori Gottlieb: You see that happen so much in the book and just in life when you think about your friends and family members and yourself. So there are so many very, very funny moments in the book. And so, people, I think, weren't expecting the book to be as funny as it is. So Wendell is the therapist that I go to. And I like to say that there are five patients in the book, because they're the four that you mentioned. And then I'm the fifth patient as I go through my own therapy with Wendell, and that's a big thread throughout the book.
Lori Gottlieb: And Wendell is somebody I was going through a really tough breakup. I was supposed to marry this person. And then unexpectedly, he drops this bomb. And I think, okay, well, I just need to go talk to someone to kind of ... Obviously, this guy was a jerk, so I just need to go talk to someone to get validation about that. I mean, it's very funny when I say it now because it sounds so ... I completely don't understand what therapy is, or even what my process was. But at the time, I write in the book about the difference between idiot compassion and wise compassion.
Lori Gottlieb: So idiot compassion is what your friends do. Like you say, "Here's what happened, look what this person did." And your friend say, "Yeah, they were wrong, you were right. That's terrible." But it doesn't help us to see our own role in the situation or even our own patterns. Like if your friend comes to you often with these kinds of stories and you're always saying, "Yeah, that's terrible." It's like if a fight breaks out and everybody are going to maybe it's you. We don't say that in idiot compassion. We don't say that to our friends, because we think that we're not being supportive.
Lori Gottlieb: But what really helps people is wise compassion. And you can give that to your friends, but you can also get it very easily in the therapy room. And wise compassion is where we hold up a mirror to you and we help you to see something about yourself that maybe you haven't been willing or able to see. So when I go to Wendell, I think I'm going to get more validation. And in fact, I specifically choose a male therapist because I want a guy to tell me, "No, you're not crazy, he was crazy." But that's not what Wendell does, much to my chagrin.
Lori Gottlieb: And in fact, in the very first session, I said something like, "And now half my life is over and I've wasted all this time dating him." And he just glommed on to that phrase, half my life is over. And that was the real reason that I was there, and I didn't know it yet. And you can see it really becomes so much not about the boyfriend at all. And it becomes about the things that I wasn't thinking about the boyfriend was a distraction from all of these things and these were the other things that were much more important in all areas of my life.
Lori Gottlieb: So Wendell was really pivotal, I think, in my experience, but also, I think in the reader's experience. Because a lot of people think two things about therapists, they either think, oh, they have it all together. Or they think they're like the hot mess. You see this on TV all the time. The therapist who's great in the therapy room, but they're a hot mess outside. And you saw that in treatment where they were sleeping with their patients or whatever was happening. That is not ... Therapists are just normal human beings.
Lori Gottlieb: And so, I don't know any person, I don't know anybody who goes through life without, at some point or another, struggling in some way or another, big, small, loud, quiet, whatever it is. You can't really be fully living your life and not experience some kind of struggle. It was so important to me to include myself as the fifth patient. And I say at the beginning of the book that my most significant credential is that I'm a card-carrying member of the human race, that I know what it's like to be a person in the world.
Annmarie Kelly: I'm intrigued by this because many of us fight pretty hard to keep our embarrassing or cataclysmic stories out of the public eye. I don't admit that I was an elementary school bedwetter. I don't tell you about the time I wrote a note to Steve and asked him to a dance and he wrote back, maybe. We don't talk about that stuff, especially as an adult. We don't want to admit that, oh, there was that time a few weeks ago that I accidentally erased a podcast and I had to re-interview my guest. We keep that hidden. So what did it feel like to you to put such personal and sometimes embarrassing stories out there that the world all knows now?
Lori Gottlieb: Well, it's funny because this wasn't the book that I was supposed to be writing. And maybe you should talk to someone. I actually tell the story of how this book came about, because I was supposed to be writing a book about happiness. As I write in the book, the happiness book was actually making me feel depressed. I called it the miserable depression inducing happiness book because every time I tried to sit down to write it, it felt so removed from what I was seeing in the therapy room in terms of the full range of the human experience.
Lori Gottlieb: And I really feel like happiness as a byproduct of living our lives with meaning and connection and purpose is what we all strive for. But happiness as the goal in and of itself is a recipe for disaster. And you see that time and time again. And I think our culture is obsessed with happiness. And so, what I ended up doing was against everybody's advice. I ended up canceling that book, which had many repercussions for me, professionally, financially, logistically, everything else. But I just couldn't do something at that point in my life that didn't feel meaningful.
Lori Gottlieb: And it was an easy book to write in a sense, because you can cite the science and write what you want to write and all of that. But I felt like a fraud. I didn't feel like it was something that would enhance people's experience of their lives. And so, I said, I have the privilege of having these conversations with people every day, and other people don't get to see them. And what people see is the social media version of life. And even though intellectually we know that these are curated versions of people's lives, even when we're just talking to people, we don't have the kinds of conversations that I get to have with people in the therapy room.
Lori Gottlieb: And I think people feel so alone in their struggles or just alone in ... Even if they're not really struggling so much, just alone in their thoughts, their feelings, the way they look at the world, their relationships, all the things that go on. They feel like this is only me because nobody else is talking about it. And so I decided I wanted people to be a fly on the wall in the therapy room. And so, that's where I said, okay, I'm going to take people through the stories of these patients. But then I thought, but I was also going through something and I was also in therapy.
Lori Gottlieb: And I would be remiss if I didn't include that, if I was just the expert up on high who was going through these experiences with my patients. And so, I couldn't sell this book. Nobody wanted this book. And it's very funny because now, it sold over a million copies and it's been made into a TV series.
Annmarie Kelly: That's great.
Lori Gottlieb: Clearly, people wanted to read this book, but publishers didn't think they did. And so, I thought, okay, well, for the three people who are going to read this book, I'm going to be completely honest. I'm just going to let it rip. I'm going to let my freak flag fly, because just nobody I know is going to read this. If they're saying no one's going to read it, they must know. And so, I just wrote the book the way I wanted to write the book. I wrote exactly the book that I felt like people needed and wanted, even though it would be maybe three people.
Lori Gottlieb: And then when I turned it into my publisher, they were like, "Oh my gosh, I've been thinking about this book all week. I laughed. I cried, I gave it to 10 other people." And everybody is talking about it and nobody can stop talking about it. And I thought, uh-oh. Maybe 3000 people will read it. Now I really revealed myself. And so, I had this moment of, maybe I should clean myself up a little bit or there are these parts that maybe, as a professional, as a therapist, that I wouldn't want out there.
Lori Gottlieb: But then I thought, no, the whole point of this book, and I think that the reason that people reacted to it in that way and people connected with it and saw the book as a mirror reflecting themselves back is because it's so real. And if you start to clean yourself up, it ruins the entire premise of the book and it ruins the experience of the book. And so I didn't do that. I didn't know that we'd be in the millions. But I think that's why. I think that's why so many people are saying, wow, this book was extremely meaningful to me.
Annmarie Kelly: It absolutely was. I don't reread much. During COVID, I will say that rereading was a comfort. Going back to a book that I had, a story I already knew, I found very comforting. And I knew what to expect the second time I came to this. And I'm grateful that it's out there. For so many folks, that's very exciting. One of the things you wrote early on about what you wanted from the time after this breakup was you said, "I really needed just hours for someone to sit with me in my pain." I'm hours of this breakup, what I want is for someone to sit with me in my pain.
Annmarie Kelly: And that sentence transformed for me what actually therapy is. I think for many of us, when it comes to a friend or what we envision with therapy, is we envision fixing something like, oh, you're in pain, let me fix it. And I think that I have always thought about therapy as someone's had to go in and then you're going to hear them and you give them an advice to fix it. And this idea of sitting with ... I mean, I just saw you sitting with people again and again with pain. Wendell sat with you in your pain. You sat with John and with Charlotte and others in their pain. How hard is it to do that?
Lori Gottlieb: We're doing so many things as therapists. So part of what we're doing is we're sort of ... I would say, the role of the therapist is that you're both a witness and a guide. And the witnessing is the sitting in the pain. And the guide is, and now where do we go? Which is different from fixing it. Where do we go is, what do we do now at this inflection point? How do we make sense of this? How do we integrate this experience into your life? And how do you move forward? Which is different from moving on.
Lori Gottlieb: A lot of people really are so uncomfortable with grief and loss that they want someone to move on. And what people dealing with grief and loss need people to understand is that you're always going to feel that pain, that pain is always going to be there in different ways and you can move forward. Which is different from moving on is like you're putting it in a box and then saying goodbye to it. So I think that one of the things that you really get in the therapy room that I got that was different from what my friends were able to do, even my friends who are therapists, although they were better at it than my friends who were not therapists, was that there was one session that I read about where I literally went there and I cried, and I cried for the session.
Lori Gottlieb: And I left and people would say, "Really? You spent your money on that? You went and you cried and you left?" But yet, it was one of the most meaningful sessions that I had. And I think it was because we had a conversation. We just had a nonverbal conversation, but we had a conversation. It wasn't like Wendell was staring into space. He was right with me. And the ways that I would cry, whether we get quiet or loud or what would happen in between, we have an entire conversation. And most people can't tolerate that for 60 seconds. And we did it for an hour.
Lori Gottlieb: And to have that experience is ... It's so liberating, to just be able to feel what you're feeling and to not be alone in it. You're alone, I think grief is a very solitary experience. I think that you experience it in your own unique way no matter what it is, even if it's the same loss. Two parents can lose a child, and they experience their grief in completely different ways. So I think that it tends to be a very solitary experience. But when you can be in your unique experience in the company of someone else, it's just something that I think everybody should have the opportunity to do.
Annmarie Kelly: It has changed, I think, this past year for many of us. There has been so much grief, so much loss. But thinking about this in your book has really changed the way I think about what it means to show up for someone in grief or show up with someone who's in a big feeling. Your job isn't to fix it. Your job is to just be there and to honor that space as a friend anyway, is to just sit with them, and that there was something really beautifully intimate about that scene that you're talking about.
Lori Gottlieb: Right. What you're talking about is presence. And presence isn't a physical presence, it's feeling someone's presence. We say it's the experience of feeling felt. And I love that phrase. What does it mean to feel felt? And that's when you know that the person is present with you, when you feel felt.
Annmarie Kelly: I saw that you guys are going to have a workbook and that makes me think about the lessons that will come to folks from this book, because we want to ... Well, one of the things you talked about with the workbook was getting to know yourself, also includes unknowing yourself. The part of getting to know yourself is actually unknowing yourself to let go of the limiting story that many of us carry around in ourselves. I'm wondering what you mean by this idea of unknowing yourself, and whether people can do it based on this book.
Lori Gottlieb: Right. So people think that when they come to therapy, they're coming to get to know themselves better. And I say that, really, you're coming to unknow yourself. Which means to let go of the limiting stories that you've been telling yourself about your life, so that you can live your life and not the stories that you've been telling yourself. Usually, those stories are stories you've been told about yourself, like whatever messages you got growing up about yourself. Or even things you experienced in life, that then you turned into a story.
Lori Gottlieb: You have the story going like, I'm unlovable, or I can't trust anyone, or nothing will ever work out for me. Or like in John's case, I'm better than everyone else. And these stories are just not true. And so, people don't realize that those stories even exist. They don't articulate them to themselves. And then they walk around with those stories and then it's almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then they find evidence for that. People have evidence for two things. You go through your day and you might encounter different people during the day.
Lori Gottlieb: And you have evidence for I'm lovable, and you have evidence for I'm unlovable. We tend to just focus on the I'm unlovable part. We don't focus on the evidence we have for I'm lovable. And so, I did a TED Talk based on the book and it's called How Changing Your Story Can Change Your Life. And it's about this idea that our stories are so powerful and we need to make sure that we are editing those faulty narratives because they affect everything we think, feel, do, choices we make, all of that. So I think it's really important, this unknowing that happens in therapy.
Annmarie Kelly: I love that.
Lori Gottlieb: And I think you see that, too, on ... I have this podcast called The Dear Therapists podcast. And that's where people can hear actual sessions with people. And people write in a letter. And instead of doing the advice column, which I also do for the Atlantic, but you get to hear with my ... I have a co-host who's a therapist, Guy Winch, who's a fellow TED Talker. And we, together, do a session with people. And you can hear how people go from the story they came in with in their letter to the end of the session where they have a whole new story just in one podcast, in one session.
Lori Gottlieb: You hear a whole new story emerged that they hadn't considered before. And then we give them homework with this new story. And they have to do the homework, they have one week to do the homework. And then they have to report back on how it went. And it's so interesting, because a lot of people think that you go to therapy and you're there for years and you just download the problem of the week and nothing really happens. And we're showing that even in one session, you can see not only do people change during the session, but then afterward, you hear what happened that week when they tried the homework and they came back. And people have made substantial shifts in their lives just based on that one podcast episode.
Annmarie Kelly: I learned so many new words and phrases from your book and your TED Talk. So I learned about repetition compulsion, which you write explains why many people who had angry, unavailable, or critical parents end up choosing angry, unavailable, or critical partners. I just wrote the word yikes in the margins there in the book. So can you tell us any more about repetition compulsion? And if it's subconscious, is there anything we can do to make ourselves aware of this tendency?
Lori Gottlieb: Right. So this is exactly what happened with the person that I read about in the book called Charlotte. And she keeps dating guys that disappoint her in various ways. And she keeps thinking that guys are the problem. And she doesn't realize it's the guy she's choosing who are the problem. And at one point, she even meets a guy in the waiting room of our therapy office. And ...
Annmarie Kelly: The dude.
Lori Gottlieb: The dude we call him. I don't know his name. Because with confidentiality, I can't ask my colleague who sees him what his name is. And she eventually learns his name, but we continue to call him the dude. But I know from day one that he's going to be bad news, because she still isn't willing to look at this pattern of really going for the familiar. And so, when we talk about repetition compulsion, we're talking about it's completely outside of our awareness.
Lori Gottlieb: And we think when we're young and if we had somebody in our life, a caregiver, a parent, whoever it was, who disappointed us in some ways or didn't meet our needs in some ways, maybe they weren't very available to us, maybe they were extremely critical of us, maybe they were very angry, maybe they drank too much, whatever it is. We say, oh, well, when I grow up, I'm not going to find someone like that. I'm going to find someone who's really emotionally available and caring and kind and warm and whatever it is. And so, they go out in the world and they start dating. And they think, wow, this is so strange. I meet these people and they seemed great at the beginning, and then I realize they're exactly like the people who disappointed me in the past, right?
Annmarie Kelly: Yes.
Lori Gottlieb: And so, why is that? Why would people do that? Well, it's this kind of reaching for the familiar. We have radar for people who remind us of the people that we grew up around. And so, we don't even realize it. And they might not look like that. Often, they don't look like that on the surface. They look very different when you first meet them. And then as you start to get to know them, the reason that you had "chemistry," the reason that you were so drawn to this person, the reason that you felt this incredible sense of attraction to this person was because it felt like home.
Lori Gottlieb: And even if home was miserable or less then optimal, it's still the home you know. And so, until you become aware of what that isn't, until you work out the stuff that you need to work out with the people who did disappoint you and maybe you work it out with them or maybe you work it out internally around them, you are going to keep repeating that pattern. And you can see with Charlotte that once she really makes the connection between her father who would be very available to her and then disappear, and then be very available and then disappear.
Lori Gottlieb: Those are the kinds of guys that she would engage with. And when she realized that that's what she was doing and when she really processed a lot of the stuff from her childhood with her father, she started being attracted to very different kinds of people. So it wasn't just a decision I'm going to try dating other people. Because you can't force attraction. It was that she came to a place where she truly felt attracted to people who were going to be available to her, to people who wanted what she wanted in a relationship, to people who when they say they're going to call, they actually call.
Lori Gottlieb: And you don't have to wonder and be on edge all the time and think, where do I stand with this person? That was that familiar feeling that she had from childhood. It was no longer attractive to her.
Annmarie Kelly: I find that fascinating. And so, our tendency is, I will just work out why the guy who's unreliable, I'll work it out with him. But you actually need to work it out either with those people where those feelings originated. Or if you're unable to do that, in therapy with a therapist you can trust. Or you have this workbook coming out, working through the knowledge, at least the self-awareness that, oh, this is a tendency I have. And then your attraction and that so-called chemistry will change. I ...
Lori Gottlieb: Right. Because she used to then try to date people who would be "healthier" for her. And she'd be like, yeah, no chemistry, nothing, flat line. And then later, when she started working this out, she was no longer attracted as much to those people who were not going to be the kinds of partners that she wanted. And eventually, she became ... There would be that tendency of like, oh yeah, I get that little feeling when I meet that person, but it wouldn't last. It wouldn't be like, and I want to date him. And then she started getting that feeling with the guys who actually would be the kind of partners that she wanted. And so, no. The problem, as you said, is not that guy. The guy is just playing a role in a script that you've already written. He's just playing his role.
Annmarie Kelly: That's fascinating.
Lori Gottlieb: And you cast him in your own play, and he's playing the role perfectly. So he's not really doing anything wrong. He's just playing the role that you cast him in.
Annmarie Kelly: That's fascinating. Another word in your book that blew my mind was ultracrepidarianism.
Lori Gottlieb: Yeah, ultracrepidarianism.
Annmarie Kelly: I think this is from the book that ... Never have heard this, the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of your knowledge. It made me wonder as a therapist, especially in your early years, did you ever give anyone what turned out to just be crappy advice?
Lori Gottlieb: Well, I love the word ultracrepidarianism, not just for therapists, but I think just for all of us. Because I think that sometimes we feel like we're experts on other people's lives, and we're not. We are all the experts on our own lives. Sometimes we need a guide and a witness and somebody who can shine a light on some of our blind spots and help us to see why we're doing the exact thing that will guarantee our own unhappiness when we think we're doing the opposite. But I think that it's really important to keep in mind that there's a lot that we don't know. And when we make assumptions about other people or we think we know more about their lives than we do, we get into a lot of relational difficulties with them.
Annmarie Kelly: That makes sense. That makes sense.
Lori Gottlieb: And we're not helping them. We're not helping them at all.
Annmarie Kelly: Yeah, sometimes we just need to listen and be in the pain with them, like you mentioned before, rather than try to fix and solve problems that really aren't for us to fix yourself. That's good.
Lori Gottlieb: Well, my goal as a therapist is, really, to help people to understand themselves better. And so, I need to understand them in order for them to understand themselves, but they're really teaching me. I'm helping them to access those things that will help both of us learn what we need to learn.
Annmarie Kelly: That makes sense. That actually reminds me of one of the most hopeful pieces of advice in your work, is this idea that life is about deciding which stories to listen to. I love that. The late Rachel Held Evans once wrote that we live inside an unfinished story. And I find this incredibly hopeful across your work, that none of us is a foregone conclusion. We are still writing the chapters. We get to choose the story that we listen to and the story we want to tell others about ourselves. And I really appreciated being reminded of that. And I know our time is short.
Annmarie Kelly: So we're going to actually do what's going to seem like a wrap up that's clunky. As we go forward, it'll make sense. So we always ask just a few closing questions. They're multiple choice. Pick one, multiple choice, dogs or cats?
Lori Gottlieb: Dogs.
Annmarie Kelly: Coffee or tea?
Lori Gottlieb: Tea.
Annmarie Kelly: Mountains or beach?
Lori Gottlieb: Beach.
Annmarie Kelly: Early bird or night owl?
Lori Gottlieb: Night owl.
Annmarie Kelly: Are you a risk taker or are you the person who knows where the Band-Aids are?
Lori Gottlieb: Both. Don't have to choose.
Annmarie Kelly: It's not unusual for women to say both. Men are like, I'm a risk taker, I jump off the ... But, yes, I think both makes sense. What's a book or a movie you love?
Lori Gottlieb: So many of both. I would say a book that I was rereading recently is Olive, Again, which is the sequel to Olive Kitteridge. And ...
Annmarie Kelly: Right. Isn't that amazing?
Lori Gottlieb: Yeah. I mean, I loved Olive Kitteridge. But I loved Olive, Again even more because it's looking at someone later in life who's examining decisions and choices and ways of being and basically how we live our lives and how we lived in relation to the people who are important to us. And you really see this reckoning that she's doing. And it reminded me a little bit of Rita in my book, who's about to turn 70, and she's really doing this reckoning as well. And there's something so beautiful about Olive, Again where you can see someone who ... When we talk about story, you can see someone who is looking at her story differently. And she sees things now that she didn't see before. And she's also not just rewriting the past, but rewriting the future using that knowledge.
Annmarie Kelly: That was an incredibly beautiful book.
Lori Gottlieb: It really was, yeah. I cried so many times.
Annmarie Kelly: And she's a great example of like the characters in your book, these characters based on real people. You've come to Olive and you think, I don't know that I like her very much. And Elizabeth Strout, the author, knows exactly what she's doing. She knows that Olive is pushing all of our buttons. And yet I came back to ... And you're right, that second one is even, I think, because it's so much more about Olive and it's less about the short stories of the town, I grew to love Olive, this person who ...
Lori Gottlieb: Loved her. Yeah, so powerful.
Annmarie Kelly: I don't know that I can finish this book, because I just find her off-putting and curmudgeonly and mean spirited. But, boy, is that what it's like to work with someone who ... Did you ever have that experience like that in your therapy session? Is it like Olive?
Lori Gottlieb: That's pretty much what being a therapist is like. Yeah, yeah. I mean, and Olive, I think people can relate to her so much because of the honesty of her reflections.
Annmarie Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. What's your favorite ice cream? Do you have a favorite ice cream?
Lori Gottlieb: Chocolate everything. Anything you're going to ask me when it relates to dessert, it's going to be chocolate. Always chocolate. We have a saying in our house, a house without chocolate is a house without love. My son grew up with that. He invented that saying, by the way. And so, we have chocolate every day in our house, sometimes many times a day.
Annmarie Kelly: Oh my gosh, I love that. My son would absolutely wear that t-shirt too. That would be a saying he would embrace. That's so great.
Lori Gottlieb: Ooh [inaudible 00:39:16], my son's going to be right on that.
Annmarie Kelly: Yeah. We'll be your first customers.
Lori Gottlieb: Okay.
Annmarie Kelly: Alright ...
Lori Gottlieb: Maybe our only also. I don't know.
Annmarie Kelly: Alright. Last one. If we were to take a picture of you, just a snapshot of you really joyful and doing something that you love, what would we see you doing?
Lori Gottlieb: Well, this isn't very cinematic, but you might see me reading. You would probably see me dancing. I'm a terrible dancer, but I love to dance. And so, I just dance all the time. Like if I hear the opening theme song of a show that we're watching, I'll stand up from the couch and I will start dancing, and my son will too. So we dance to that. So just dancing, in general. I'll dance to a commercial. I'll dance to anything. And also, maybe playing ping-pong. I love playing ping-pong.
Annmarie Kelly: I did not know that about you. That's excellent, dancing, ping-pong, chocolate, and reading. I mean, that's all a pretty great day right there. Oh my goodness. Lori Gottlieb, it was such a pleasure speaking with you today. You are leaving us with a lot to process. I imagine this might be what it was like to leave Wendell's office sometimes. You heard it here, folks. What story about yourself do you need to unlearn? How can we sit with one another in pain? And when it comes down to it, what story about yourself will you choose to tell?
Annmarie Kelly: Lori's book is Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. I cannot stress enough what a welcome literary companion this book is right now. You can find it at an indie bookstore near you. We'll also link to it and the upcoming workbook in our show notes. Both to Lori and our listeners, we are wishing you love and light wherever this day takes you, be good to yourselves, be good to one another. And we will see you again soon on this wild and precious journey. Wild Precious Life is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to executive producers, Gerardo Orlando and Michael DeAloia, producer, Sarah Willgrube, and audio engineer, Eric Koltnow. Be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.