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“Have you always shown up for everyone in your life, anticipated and filled their needs, carried the emotional load, given everything you have emotionally, physically and spiritually, given down to your bone marrow and in the process abandoned your own needs and turned away from something authentic and vital in you?”
Yes, unlike most episodes, that wasn't actually my question, I started with, that was a quote pulled directly from The Emotionally Exhausted Woman: Why You’re Feeling Depleted and How to Get What You Need. Have you ever shown up for everyone else and abandoned yourself?
If you answered yes too, then today's episode is for you. Over the past few years, we've survived a once in a generation pandemic that brought many of us to our knees. And yet when we look around, it feels like we just slid back into life as usual.
But we've changed, haven't we? Maybe we love more, maybe we trust less, or maybe we just have this sense, this deep down understanding that we don't have as much time as we think. No days are a guarantee, no moments are absolutely ours. What do we want to do with our hard-earned lives and how can we grasp more beauty and more joy?
Today, Nancy Colier and I address some of those questions. A quick note to all the fellows out there who are prepared to skip this episode. Why? I've just told you that some many, possibly even all of the women in your life are feeling depleted, exhausted and abandoned. Don't you want to know why?
Spoiler alert, it's not because of you. Guys, it's not your fault, but you can also help make it better, and you might learn some tips for why you are feeling emotionally exhausted too.
So, my guest today is Nancy Colier, a psychotherapist, author and interfaith minister whose most recent book is The Emotionally Exhausted Woman.
Nancy is a thought leader and national speaker on women's empowerment, wellbeing and mindful technology. And she's been featured on Good Morning America, the New York Times, Psychology Today and countless other media platforms.
In addition, Nancy spent 25 years as a nationally top ranked equestrian and serves as a performance consultant to professional athletes and artists.
Nancy Colier, welcome to Wild Precious Life.
Thank you. Delighted to be here.
Despite librarians my entire life cautioning me otherwise, I initially judged your book, your most recent book entirely on its cover. The Emotionally Exhausted Woman: Why You're Feeling Depleted, and How to Get What You Need, I just read that title and I reread that title and I felt seen. So, then I cracked the book open and I flipped to the very first sentence and then I started to cry.
Because you asked — I might cry now, you asked, “Who's taking care of you?” And there I am crying into this book that I've judged by its cover, this woman I've never met, because it hasn't occurred to me in a really long time that anyone was supposed to be taking care of me.
I'm a wife and I'm a mom and I'm a daughter who takes care of my own mom. And so, I thought I needed to talk to you. And I thought, I'm probably not alone in some of these feelings. And I fully expect that plenty of our listeners will have paused right at this moment to go off and buy your book.
But why don't we begin by having you tell us your story. Who are you and what makes you such an expert on emotionally exhausted women?
Well, what a beautiful intro and thank you for bringing yourself into it. You're not alone, as you know. I'm in the same container as you. I came into this project as an emotionally exhausted woman, a wife and a mom and a psychotherapist to many, many, many people.
And I also, having been in practice for nearly 30 years, have been seeing this show up in my office, this chronic condition of depletion, emotional exhaustion, never asking the question, who's taking care of me? And the assumption that our job on earth is to take care of other people. That's what we do.
And so, when I first started floating the idea for the book to women, every single woman said, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Where do I buy it? When do I get it? How, how, how?” And I hadn't even written the outline.
So, I knew Annemarie, I was onto something here. And at the same time, that question that you became tearful with, “Who's taking care of you?” brings almost every woman to her knees.
So, I wanted to understand, as a longtime therapist, a woman, a mom, a wife, a friend, and all of this, a product of our cultural conditioning, how did we end up here, where this is the norm? How did we end up where we are so good at knowing what everyone else needs and wants, but we have no idea what we need and want?
That became sort of my drive, to understand, not just how did we get there, that's interesting, but that's probably a territory we've covered. But what are the real boots on the ground, choices and behaviors that bring us home, that bring us back to our fundamental vitality, that change our relationship with ourselves, such that we are nourishing ourselves? That's the interesting thing to me. We abandon ourselves.
And we decide that (and we can talk more about this as we go), the best way to take care of ourselves is to abandon ourselves and our true self, right around the tween years. Who do I need to be to be safe?
That's the beginning of the disconnect from self, which is the unplugging from our fundamental vitality and with it a new relationship with ourself where we are suspicious and we, our authentic self, becomes a potential danger to our wellbeing. So, that's a lot that I just said. So, jump in there.
Yeah, there was so much to unpack. So, after I stopped crying at the first sentence, I was reading and highlighting and I'm writing in the book and then I have to buy it, of course, because they frown on you writing in books you haven't even purchased yet. But so, I find myself writing in the margins and saying “Yes” or “Wow” or “What.”
So, even in the beginning there, there were some fundamental assumptions that you asked me to grapple with. And I found myself arguing with you a little in the margins because you're asking me to rewrite scripts that I didn't even know there was a choice about.
So, for instance, you have that phrase, “Dependably pleasing,” or you ask me to question being a good girl or being liked. And quite honestly, I sat there and I don't entirely know who I am without all those labels. Those are the things people like about me. Those are the things I thought I liked about me.
So, let's unpack just a little bit of that. What's wrong with being, “Dependably pleasing?” That sounds delightful.
Yeah, absolutely. So, from the time that we are really young, we know this, we are trained to be sweet, nice, kind, generous, loving, empathic and a big one, selfless. Selfless and don't make it about us.
And what we learned very early, nothing wrong with this, really at the start, but that we're valued and we're loved and we're protected and we're included and we're safe and all those Maslowian things we need in the hierarchy of needs, if we're likable, if we're pleasing, if we're generous, if we're selfless.
So, those are all wonderful qualities, but what happens, it becomes a likability cage, so that it's no longer just about the delightfulness of being likable, but we feel that we have to be likable to stay safe.
So, all of our interactions, the background program really running is, how do I make you like me through this interaction? How do I give you a good experience of me, so that I can have a good experience of me?
So, that starts to be a little bit dangerous. So, we know what perfect looks like. We also very much know what we don't want to be seen as. Which is aggressive, difficult, a diva, high maintenance, a Karen, emasculating, selfish. I could go on and on.
There's a great game you play with your girlfriends, add a bottle of wine maybe and everybody gets a letter and we just go around in a circle all the things we shouldn't be.
But that aside, so much of our energy ends up going into managing the result of our expression. So, I don't tell the truth anymore, I massage it, I manufacture it, I debark it, I sweeten it, so that you like me.
But what's lost because of that? What's lost is so much. For one thing, is we lose the tether, we lose our ear to that still small voice of what we want. We lose our own self experience. What do I think of me? Not, did I get you to think well of me, so I'm safe, but what's my experience of myself, also gone?
So, these are big losses, but what do I want for this one wild, precious life? Thank you Mary Oliver and your wonderful podcast name. But that has to go away because that again, is a potential danger because if I'm really me, it might not go so well for me.
So, I don't think it's a small deal to have to be likable in order to feel that we get a seat at the table. So, one of the things I start teaching women in the book and in the workshops I give, is how to step into our actual truth and be willing to risk not being so reliably pleasing.
What goes into that? And what goes into inviting want back into the conversation, noticing how should has kidnapped us, should is what we live by and how to get back to this blank space where want might have lived.
I have never been afraid of the word selfless before I read your book. The word selfless was aspirational. If you're being selfless, you're giving somebody else the bigger piece of chicken, you're going without, so they can be fulfilled.
And so, the word selfless, I have grown up to be today years old, believing was a great thing to try to strive for, until I thought about what the word selfless means. It means without a self, without me in there, doesn't mean I can't share my chicken, but there's a whole lot of absence.
The other day it was my birthday, and I was asked by the family to pick a movie that I wanted to watch. And the first thing I did was think about what they might want to watch. I didn't think about what I wanted to watch. I thought about, “Well, what will make everybody happy?”
Because that one time I picked the Italian movie with subtitles and my teenager got mad. And that other time I picked the romcom, and my 10-year-old was like, “What?” And that other time when I picked a movie that I knew my husband didn't love, but I did love, he was kind of grumbly.
And now it's my birthday and everyone's cranky. So, what can I pick that will make all of them happy? And I did it. I did the selfless thing. I picked a movie and all four of them were delighted. But I didn't pick the movie I wanted to watch on my birthday. I picked the movie that would make them happy.
And at the time, it was like clockwork. It didn't even occur to me to watch Life Is Beautiful, with Italian subtitles, the movie that came to mind for me. But yeah, I subtracted myself from that moment, moment to moment, no big deal. But over years, over a lifetime?
And what happens over a lifetime. And you, again, are not alone. I'll share a story that was in my office this recent week where a woman, also her birthday and she loves big hearty meals at diners and so on. And her family has a tradition of taking her out for her surprise, for her birthday.
And so, they took her to this super fancy sushi place, super, super fancy, where there's like two pieces of tuna on the table and you go to the diner after and it like $300. And they were placed at a table outside. So, the buses are going by and so on. And nothing, nothing Annmarie to do with what she wanted. Nothing.
But she kept her mouth shut because she wanted to make them happy about the effort that they had made and that she didn't trust that they could set aside what they wanted, to give her what she actually wanted. Because her job, even on her birthday, was to make them happy.
And that's what we are trained from the very beginning of our lives, that our job on earth is to make other people happy. And here's where the sort of insidiousness of it comes in, which is we're also indoctrinated into the belief that we should be able to get what we need by giving other people what they need. And that is just blatantly false.
A dear friend of mine, I was having dinner with her recently and she has three kids, so she's running around the table ordering for them. And I've known this woman 25 years. I have never seen her order a meal, ever.
And somehow, she's always ordering for other people. And I finally asked her, “Why do you never order a meal?” And she said, “Oh, I just get so much delicious pleasure just seeing my kids happy, that I don't need to be nourished myself.” That's what we're trained and then we're celebrated.
But as you say, again insightfully, over time, what happens is you end up in my office, in your forties, in my office, in your fifties, where we don't know who we are when the roles start to go away or those people whose lives we took such good care of, don't need us in those roles anymore. And we have this big absent space where there might have been an us.
And that manifests in depression, in depletion, in anxiety, in resentment, in real disconnection from what am I doing here on earth? So, that's what I'm talking about when I talk about emotional exhaustion.
There aren't enough dead sea pearls to fill in there if we haven't built that self. And again, in our culture, one of the things we do is we make everything dualistic. So, if we care about ourselves, we can't possibly care about other people. We can't give the chicken away, if we want to know what we want, it's not possible. We're going to eat the whole chicken and then 30 more and starve you, you're never going to eat again.
But the truth is that these go both in. And we also are a sentient being that matters. And we care about what you need.
I can see a lot of parents who might be listening and thinking about, “Yeah, yeah, that's all well and good that I don't choose my feelings or that I'm not responsible for them.” But all day long, as a parent, it's kind of like you have to defy your feelings.
If I am sleepy in the morning, they have to get to school, I don't care if I feel tired, I've got to get up and maybe I don't want to drive the kids all over town, but that's what's got to happen. Or they don't get to soccer.
So, I can see people saying, “Yes, yes, selflessness is no good, but isn't selflessness a requirement of being a good parent? Don't I need to ignore my feelings and choose my kids over my own?”
And this is again, that dualistic thinking, which is either/or. So, of course, I'm not suggesting that you lay in bed there because you want to lay in bed. Much of life is should, much of life is saying, “Wait a minute, I can't do my need right here because I'm in charge of these children.” Of course.
And what I'm suggesting is that when we do that in those particular situ … first of all, let me backtrack for a second. There are a million experiences that are not like that, where we don't invite our want in.
So, that's the first thing. Is that we don't even actually invite wanting into the conversation. We need to address that first.
But when we are talking about a should, what I suggest to parents is that rather than routinely disappearing the want to stay in bed. And honoring that and being kind to that, and also acknowledging the grown-upness and the discipline and the kindness in getting up and driving them. Now that's a wholehearted experience. What we do is, “What's wrong with you that you don't want to get up? What's wrong with you? Are you a bad parent? You're so selfish.” And then we go about attacking ourselves.
So, what I'm suggesting in this book is a healing of our relationship with ourselves, such that it includes honoring the want, even when we are going to go ahead and do the should. Because honoring the should also serves a certain want, which is I want my kids to be well, so I do this. But it's holding all the truth of that, rather than just sort of unconsciously attacking and blaming ourselves and going with should, as if want doesn't even exist.
I've already yapped about this before, but you and I are meeting for the first time. At the end of this past summer, I was invited to a writing retreat, one week in Italy to write with other professionals, to spend a week. They were going to feed us and house us. And we were going to eat and drink in community and with other people I respect and admire. And I said no. And I said no, because it was over Thanksgiving and I needed to cook for my family.
And right after I said no, I had this flood of sadness, that why was I missing out on this thing? So, I at least let myself hear-
Needed to cook.
Needed to cook.
Needed to cook. Wow.
Needed to cook.
I … in that sentence.
Right, right? And I was so upset with myself and that I was upset with the people in my family who made me say no, even though they weren't even on this phone call. They had no knowledge of it, nothing to do with it.
And so, I at least listened to that still small voice and I sent an email back to the organizer and I said, “Hey, if you have a wait list or if I could get back in line, for the thing I told you no for.” And then I let it go. And just two weeks ago I got a phone call back that someone had misunderstood the travel dates or whatever, and there was one spot and did I want it?
And I pounced on that like a kitten. And I went to my family and yes, they complained, “What about the stuffing?” They were delighted. They were so excited. And they said, “Do you think we could go to Italy sometimes?”
Yes, yes, they were disappointed. We roasted a chicken a few weeks ago. But mostly they were just delighted. And I thought about the message that I'm sending to my children about, like, do I really want them to say no to what they love? I want them to learn how to say yes to things that excite them.
And I'm so glad, I'm just delighted that you got a spot and the universe gave you a handshake there. How lovely. I think you point two — well, there are two pieces to it. One is that we do create these narratives. That they need us, they would be disappointed.
And often it's just our own narrative. And those very folks that really love us want us also to be served and to receive what actually nourishes us. So, this nourishes you, the turkey you could do any day, but this really nourishes you.
And so, we want to start practicing questioning those narratives. Who's really afraid of honoring what we want? Very often it's us who's really afraid to step into that role.
And I will say, because it's not a but, it's an and, one of the things that I teach, and it is a very boots on the ground issue, which is how do you manage it when the response is very negative? Because that's a real thing. What if I'm going to lose my job, if I speak my truth? What if I'm going to get a lot of rage from a partner, if I really step up and own what's my truth?
So, how do we have the courage and how do we track when is it actually kinder to myself to stay quiet, but honor the truth I know inside myself and maybe not bring it outside. But when can I more, to my book’s point, stand in my own shoes and be willing to surrender the results of our truth?
If you're disappointed with my truth and you're not getting what you want and you're not happy with it, I can survive that. So will you. I'm disappointed all the time by people's truth. I do fine, I manage.
So, how do I start to trust that I stand in my truth and surrender the results of that. I stand in my truth kindly and respectfully, but it may not be what another wants from me. And that's okay.
That's a thing, as women, we don't learn. It's okay for things to not be okay. That's the big miracle to learn. It's not okay, huh. And then there's a period at the end of that sentence.
And I'm open Annemarie to, I care about and I'm empathic with why it's not okay, but it's still my truth. And that has to stand. I'm going to Italy.
That's right. If they had all said, “No mom, you can't. Stay with us. You could never …” Would I have backed down? Would I have called the people I said no to once back or would I have stood in it? I didn't have your book yet when I was making that decision.
I guess that also, until you hear it, until you listen to what it is that you really want and by extension who it is you really are, who it is you're fighting for, until you train yourself to hear that, it would be very easy to just back down and to say, “Oh no, I'm needed here. But I am — yeah.
Part of it is the compassion you felt. Very often we look at compassion as mansy-pansy, it's not an actionable step, but having compassion for, “Wow, did I just give up that unbelievably delicious Italian experience for this thing?” That cracked the code there.
So, if we're not at want yet, we have to at least mourn the giving up of what we might have wanted. And then that can open the door to, “Oh, I do want that.” The “Oh, my God, did I just give that up?” Gets our attention, because we matter. We gave that up.
That's the beginning of change right there, that we invite our want. What do I really want? And that's the hardest question for most women and why we're so depleted because we never ask it. But if it doesn't break your heart that you're not getting it or you don't recognize that, then we're a step away.
Yeah. What is it you want? I've had doctors ask me questions like that and I've cried in their offices too, that nobody ever asks you, we don't ask ourselves. But it turns out we can. I do love about this book that you're not pointing at other people who aren't giving us what we need. You're actually pointing us back to ourselves to listen to what it is that we actually need and to follow the path of our own truth, to give ourselves permission to attain that.
That yes, we are running on fumes and that's actually not our fault. That's just where we are right now. To have grace with that, but to understand that it doesn't have to be that way, that we can reframe those things if we are gentle with ourselves, which a lot of us aren't always.
And we get so much press about getting everyone else to take care of us. That's not what this is. That's not what my book is about. My book is about the return home and that we become a destination for ourselves, once again.
This is not about, there's a guru, a person, a love affair and anything that can make you whole. This is about relating to yourself in a way that is fundamentally friendly and curious and kind. And that's the relationship.
So, it's the movement from doing self-care to being self-caring, actually caring about ourselves. It makes me laugh every day that we have a self-care industry that somehow thinks it's okay to need a post-it note on our computer to say, you matter or take care of yourself.
Imagine for your kids or for your friends or your partner, to need a reminder, that we've gotten okay with that system. I'm teaching what is it to fall in love with yourself? And I don't mean that in a narcissistic way. I mean that in the deepest way to invite your own authenticity and grace back into the conversation.
Yes. And being delighted by the things in you that are in fact delightful. I talk to strangers, I have always talked to strangers. I might be at the gas station or at the checkout line at the grocery store and I'm just chatting, drives my family crazy.
But it turns out that that was something I was always good at, talking to people I've just met. Look at me now, that that wasn't just this annoying thing about mom at the supermarket, but it actually is a kind of superpower that I can be proud of. And remember to see that, to see that be dazzled by something I notice.
You suggest many, many strategies for reclaiming ourselves. And I really do urge folks to get the book. But let's at least share another … you talk about telling our truth and writing our own stories and reclaiming what it is we need. On a day-to-day level, when shopping needs to happen and laundry needs to get done, what might reclaiming ourselves and telling our truth look like?
Well, you got to buy the book. So, I'm only going to give you a couple little one. Have to leave some-
Mystery. But there's one interesting thing that I rode tested with many, many women and it's just starting to notice. So, I was interested in what helps build back this fundamental self and what needs to be kind of cleared that gets in the way of that building. Both of those things interested me.
So, in terms of one of the habits that needs to be cleared, it's this tendency to make everything our fault. So, it's the, it's my fault default. And with that is the, and I must fix whatever is broken. Or again, I am fundamentally not of value, if we follow that down the line.
But this, it's my fault. And I don't mean this in a critical way because it's no fun to have, but it's a kind of negative narcissism. It's like all roads, if it's negative, lead back to something we've done or not done.
So, in tracking these things very carefully, I found that habit supports the disappearance of the self. So that, if we can start to notice how often when something is wrong, we immediately go to blame ourselves and look how we can change or change the situation to fix it.
Because what we're really resisting there is again, that I can tolerate it not being okay. I need this skill, it's the skill I need. So, if something is broken, I can investigate it to understand it, not to fix it, but to just understand it. That my role starts to shift not as the master controller of reality, but as somebody whose job maybe it is to listen and understand, but not to change it. And certainly not to take the blame for it.
So, and when you start living from that place, you are automatically stepping into a great spaciousness because now you're actually in relationship with other people. You're in relationship from an independent place. You're not codependent. Your reality doesn't require me and my reality doesn't require you. Two separate holes.
And that's what I'm encouraging women to become, again, is independent selves. And so, I need to be able to tolerate you’re not okay, understand it, empathize with it, maybe do something about it, but not see my okayness as dependent upon fixing it.
That part of the book, I just drew circles around the idea that someone else's feelings, my partner can be upset about something and it's not my job to jump to, “Well wait, was it maybe that I …” No, no, his feelings are separate from mine and it's not my job to fix them. I can listen, I can honor, I can hear, but I don't need to own. And certainly, don't need to try to believe that I prompted all of that.
And vice versa. He's allowed to have a good day when I'm having a lousy one. Those two things can happen at the same time.
That is a kind of freedom that is immeasurable, to not assume that we know what fixes anyone else. To not assume that what's going on for another person has anything to do with us. We're not in control. We're not in control.
It's the thing that we resist perhaps more than anything is, they have their own reasons shockingly, for maybe not being okay, that are not about us. Well, that means, oh my God, the universe is not — take your hands off the wheel.
But you get good at that and then it's like, “Thank goodness I'm not in charge.” That becomes amazing, the blessing. So, that's one sort of boots on the ground at the grocery store. Just notice how often we take the blame and if we can just break that little habit and little baby steps of telling our truth.
I'm at the coffee store and I have the courage to say, “Hey, that's too much milk in my coffee.” And the barista looks you straight in the eye and says, “So, you want me to dump out the thing?” And you just stay there and say, “If that's what it takes, yeah.”
And you just put a period Annmarie there, you don't apologize, you don't throw yourself under, “I'm neurotic. I know I'm crazy. Oh, I'm lactose intolerant.” Whatever nonsense we come up with. You just simply and just in the most honest way say, “Yeah, if that's what you need to do.”
Mark Twain's, great comment, “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.” Just little baby steps of say what's true and risk, is she going to think I'm blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Okay. And I still stand here because I know my own truth.
That's beautiful. That's so important. I'm so grateful for your time, Nancy. I know that we're time limited, so I want to thank you for joining us today. And folks, we have just barely scratched the surface of what I promise you will be not just a worthwhile read today, but something that will sit with you for months. And I'm going to predict years to come.
Nancy, I'm grateful for the invitation that you've given us to go on a journey to fully meet ourselves and unearth the you that's hiding beneath all the roles that we play.
I'm delighted to get to reach your audience and offer this different kind of self-caring, that actually replenishes us for real.
Thank you so much. And folks, Nancy Colier's latest book, and she has several, so it's wonderful when you can discover an author and then you go and read their back catalog. But her latest book is called, The Emotionally Exhausted Woman: Why You're Feeling Depleted and How to Get What You Need. Judge it by Its cover, then open it up and read it because you're going to find some answers.
If you want to reach me too, Annemarie-
Nancycolier.com with one L. Always love to hear how people are finding the material and how it's moving in your life. Really help.
Absolutely. Guys, I will link to that on our site and make sure that you spell it correctly. And I do invite you to take a look at this book and figure out how to be unshakably, as Nancy Colier puts it, unshakably on your own side.
Hey Nancy, thank you so much for being here. I'm really grateful. It's nice to cross paths with you. I love that you're out here doing this work. Thank you.
Absolutely. And I'm glad you're a person that is really good at talking to people and that you do it.
You guys, wasn't that cool, aren't you just reeling from Nancy's wisdom? I am not responsible for other people's feelings. It's okay not to be liked and let's not fall into the selflessness trap. I don't know about you, but I have some work and some dreaming to do.
Regular listeners know that we usually end the show with some quick and fun questions for our guest, but we're actually going to do something different this time.
One of the struggles that reading Nancy's book made me think about, is how I know all these wonderful women, folks whose very existence just lifts me up and I am terrible at keeping up with them. I don't prioritize friendship the way I'd like to, the way I need to. I focus on my kids' cello practice and basketball games and school lunches. But I'd like to make more time for my friends.
I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but I am one for speaking a solution out loud, to give it agency and to make me believe I want to connect better.
So, in the days to come, I'm going to introduce you to a few women who fill up my soul and help me believe in collective strength and goodness and light.
When we're feeling depleted or lost, chances are good that there's someone we know often, just a phone call away who can lend us some of their shine. And if you're listening right now, I want you to know that you are very likely someone I'm talking about. Thank you for lending me your shine.
So, please stay tuned for a continuation of these Nancy Colier notions. We'll be circling back in the days to come.
Until then, we're wishing you love and light folks. Thank you for being on this journey with us.
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 Ian Douglas. Be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.