Episode 33: Being with Primal Suffering with Robert Strock
Episode 33: Being with Primal Suffering with Robert Strock
On this week’s episode, Alyssa sits down with psychotherapist, humanitarian, and author, Robert Strock. Robert discusses the core concepts from his book, Awareness That Heals. The inspiration from this book comes after years of experience as a therapist in addition to a life-changing moment in Robert’s 30’s that turned his world upside down.
Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Light After Trauma podcast. I’m your host, Alyssa Scolari. I am sitting here today with the wonderful Robert Strock. Robert is a psychotherapist, teacher, and humanitarian. He’s also the author of a book that we are going to talk about today called Awareness That Heals, an expression of the powerful tools that Robert has developed over a lifetime of inspired exploration.
He has hundreds of online videos, blogs, and guided meditations, which I tried, by the way, and are fantastic, that he has shared with therapists, psychology students, social workers, caregivers, and seekers of their own inspiration. In addition to this, 20 years ago, Robert co-founded the Global Bridge Foundation, whose mission it is to continue on the creation of a more compassionate, just, and peaceful world that honors the dignity of all beings. This foundation is a part of a united effort to support systems for global change and economic inequality. Most recently, he has two podcasts that are coming out. As if he wasn’t busy enough, now he is coming out in… You said April, right, Robert?
Robert Strock [01:44]:
Alyssa Scolari [01:45]:
In April, he has two podcasts coming out, one that is based off of the book, Awareness That Heals, and then one is… Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s the one that’s tied to the Global Bridge Foundation, right?
Robert Strock [01:59]:
That’s correct. It’s really tied into homelessness, regenerative agriculture, and immigration reform.
Alyssa Scolari [02:08]:
All right. Welcome. How did I do with that bio?
Robert Strock [02:11]:
That was pretty good on the fly.
Alyssa Scolari [02:15]:
I did do that on the fly. Thank you. Thank you. Well, welcome. Welcome.
Robert Strock [02:21]:
Great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Alyssa Scolari [02:25]:
For the listeners out there, Robert and I connected on LinkedIn. We had had a conversation back in January of 2021, so this year, about his book. He was kind enough to send me a copy of his book, Awareness That Heals. It took me some time to get through it. It’s an incredible book. I really wanted to have him on the show. Even just after my first conversation with him, it’s very easy to tell how passionate he is and how much knowledge he has on healing, especially knowing his personal story.
I wanted to bring him on the show today to talk about this book because he really has developed tools that I think are helpful for everybody, especially going through difficult times. As I was just saying before we started recording, right when I got this book was when I started to go through a lot of health issues and a lot of health scares. Reading this book truly helped me to be able to ground myself during times when I felt so anxious and so worried about my health. Thank you so much, Robert, for sending me this incredible book.
Robert Strock [03:49]:
Well, you’re very welcome. Thank you for being willing to share yourself personally, which is such a gift to the audience, to have someone that is leading the way by sharing their own process, which is… One of my pet peeves is just, we’re all human. If we could just learn to be able to… with those that we trust, be able to share what our inner experience is and then guide ourselves or be guided to how we can best take care of ourselves.
Alyssa Scolari [04:25]:
Could you talk a little bit more about what it is that you do? Because you have so many things on your plate, are you still practicing psychotherapy, or did you become a therapist and then kind of launch into all these other different branches?
Robert Strock [04:43]:
Well, all the branches are really connected to the same tree. The foundation and my therapy work, which is still happening, is very connected because the last 35 years, I’ve exclusively been seeing leaders in fields that are successful, but they know they haven’t arrived. They feel an emptiness. They feel an incompleteness.
They know that they followed the program of life. It was taught to them, and they won. They succeeded. Yet somehow, it didn’t touch their heart, or their being, or something inside, so they wanted to really understand, well, what am I missing? That has really been the narrow referral base that I’ve had for the last 35 years. I’ve been counseling for close to 50 years.
Alyssa Scolari [05:32]:
Wow. It’s a very specific niche of people who have made it, essentially, but still feel this type of hallowness inside.
Robert Strock [05:43]:
Right. To make it even more confusing, almost all of my clients are running foundations and are doing good work with people. They may be at the beginning stages of it, or they may still be scared, or they may have communication issues. They may have issues with their foundation. They may have issues with their family. They’re good souls. They’re a select group, so I’m very, very fortunate to not have the monetary need so that I can really not have my discretion of clients be people in a random sort of way because, really, from my vantage point, the inter-connectedness of all the things that I’m doing and trying to do is that the world itself is endangered: the global warming and all the other aspects of the political chaos, and corruption, and terrorism, and nuclear dangers.
Somehow, all of us doing what we can to have a different understanding of what mental health is, which means to me, how are we relating to the world? Are we doing our best to be a quality person that is caring for others, and caring about the world, caring about the earth?
Normally, in psychology, a traditional therapist is trying to have you adjust to the world or have a stronger ego. I would say my work largely is focused on having a stronger relationship to the world, a stronger relationship to your heart, and also a stronger relationship to what is really challenging where your own suffering is so that you can be aware of that and then let that guide you to asking the question of, how can I best take care of myself? and then a number of other strands.
Basically, the tree is we’re all interconnected. The more we can see that, the more it has a tendency to open our heart and guide us to where we’re not connected to ourselves, to each other, to the partner that we’re with, to a family member, and facing the hard-to-face things, like what you’re talking about where you have a health issue. Obviously, that’s terrifying. It’s scary. It’s frightening. It’s anxiety-provoking. Sometimes it’s 10 times that.
To have the courage to, A, admit that, and then, B, while you’re allowing that to be the way it is, not trying to magically make it go away, but guiding yourself to know and to follow, how can I best take care of myself? What are the qualities that I need to guide myself toward?
Courage, perseverance, maybe diligence with going to the doctors that you need to see. Whether the thoughts that I need to think, I know I want to care for myself right now. I think this is a very hard time for me. It would be a hard time for anyone, so I want to be open to what I’m experiencing that’s challenging. I want to find the best way I can to guide myself, to care for myself, but also care for others too. When you have a health crisis, sometimes you just need to be self-oriented.
Alyssa Scolari [09:20]:
Yes, which can be hard to do when you’re a therapist, absolutely. So many of the themes or so much of what you said, I see themes of what I read in your book, which is this concept of awareness that heals. It’s so vastly different from just general awareness. I know for you… Well, I guess I should ask. Is it all right if we dive into the book?
Robert Strock [09:51]:
Alyssa Scolari [09:51]:
Can we dive right in? because I think this book is phenomenal. I mean, a huge congratulations to you. I want to start with this word, heart-ectomy, heart-ectomy. You made that up, right?
Robert Strock [10:11]:
Yes, I did.
Alyssa Scolari [10:11]:
That is a Robert Strock… You should trademark that because when I read that, right? There’s this part in this book where… Well, why don’t you explain it. What is this concept of the heart-ectomy? How did you get to that spot?
Robert Strock [10:26]:
Well, I had to pay a price. I was really fortunate enough that I had a need for a kidney transplant. My brother gave me a kidney. Of course, that’s normally the amazingly good news, which it was. The bad news was that the medications that I took basically were received by my body as if I was taking speed. I slept for an hour a night for six months. Then basically, for the next 8 to 10 years, slept for about three or four hours a night.
When that happened, I was so exhausted, so anxious, so agitated that I couldn’t feel my heart. I couldn’t feel all the qualities of peace, or inspiration, or joy, or degree of tenderness. All of those were 97% gone. I just refer to it as, my heart was taken out, my inner heart. With that, it led to a natural provoking of, well, if I’m not the good feelings that I was my prior 30 years, throughout my adult life, who am I? Who am I? How can I live a quality of life when my heart can’t feel because I’m too exhausted? I had never had a bad night’s sleep in my life until the first night of the transplant. It was not a gray situation. It was a very black-and-white mainline.
Alyssa Scolari [12:08]:
Yes, it was like your world as you knew it, which you say in the book, drastically changed. It flipped a switch, a complete 180 where for the first 30 years of your life, you were relatively unaffective and doing great things in the world. Then it was like boom, sickness.
Robert Strock [12:31]:
The inquiry, which I had a lot of time… I had 23 hours a day now to be contemplating.
Alyssa Scolari [12:37]:
Robert Strock [12:38]:
I think the first thing that I really became aware of in the first month or two was in the middle of the night, because I was so exhausted, that my mind had nothing beneficial to tell me. I was just going to be quiet and kind of trained myself. I had been meditating for 30 years, but I trained myself to really say, “No, I’m not going to listen to this,” because I knew it was going to come out of fear. Is this going to last forever? I can’t stand this.
I know those are the kinds of thoughts that would have been spawned, so I could feel the impulse as they started. I just went, “No, no, no, no, no.” Then it became clear that my intelligence was still okay. My wish to heal was still there. I wished to be able to feel my heart. There was a combination of wisdom, intelligence, and will that were still intact. That became more my focus.
As a matter of fact, it became overwhelmingly my focus and still allowed me to be a therapist. I still kept my practice. The clients that had been with me for quite a while… They all knew I was getting a transplant. I would just say to them, “Listen, please. I’m in a state of exhaustion. I’m fine. I don’t want to be the center of attention, but I don’t want you to identify with my state because I’ll be a bit flatter, but I’m still able to fully be with you.” In reality, my ability to feel their heart or their body was much more available to me than being able to feel my own.
I was able to kind of borrow their body, almost, and be able to feel where they were. I knew my job was, as it had been and still is, is to empathize with whatever the person in front of me is going through and then listen to their words and their ideas as to, what’s the very best way they can take of themselves? If I can mirror back, oh, so you’re saying you’re afraid because you’re not healthy, and you need to have the courage to go to the doctor, that’s my job to mirror that back to you.
It’s not my job to judge you. It’s not my job to make morals for you. Of course, what I’m saying is a very high-functioning client. There’s some people… They have very serious issues that it’s not just a matter of mirroring. It’s a matter of medication. It’s a matter of all kinds of other strategies.
For my clientele, they’re mainly looking for the guidance of the tagline of the book, which is bringing heart and wisdom to life’s challenges, which is a very key part of awareness that heals because you can’t have an awareness that heals if you suppress your emotions. You need to really be open to both be aware and actually develop a caring for your emotions. Then that naturally can lead you to the qualities, the thoughts, and the actions that you need to embrace to care for yourself.
Alyssa Scolari [15:55]:
These were principles that you came up with while you were healing, while you were going through the physical recovery, well, and emotional recovery.
Robert Strock [16:06]:
They were doubled. They were principles that were already… Let’s say, two-thirds of them were already in my practice, but those all deepened. Then about a third brand new principles were developed because of the depth of suffering that I was in.
If I use my old tools, they didn’t work. For example, my old tool would have been share with friends, “Gee, I’m really unbelievably wasted today and exhausted.” The sharing would create some kind of relief in their caring for me.
Well, that did nothing for me because I was chemically altered. In a certain way, I think the important thing is virtually all of us are going to have a time in our life, if not many times in our life, where it might be hormones. It may have been there from birth. It may be a trauma. It may be something that we need chemical support.
We really need to honor the fact that these feeling states that we’re in… If we don’t embrace them and find a way to hold them, that they will run our lives if we let them stay unconscious. They need our caring. We need to let them guide us to what we need.
I have a free… Part of my website lists 75 challenging emotions and 75 qualities and actions to help be more literate for anyone… Gee, I know I’m not feeling good, but I can’t quite tell what it is. Now I know what I feel, or a few feelings, or a constellation of feelings. Here’s 75 ways that I could potentially help myself. Which ones of these do I really want to put my attention on? Making that connection is such an extraordinary link to connect the suffering, specifically with the needs that you need to develop the discipline to focus your attention on and summon up the courage to keep them together.
Alyssa Scolari [18:18]:
I think that’s so important, especially for… Kind of like you said, none of us get through this life unscathed. I think that we all endure some type of trauma at one point. I think when that happens, we can feel almost like our hearts have been ripped out of us. In that moment, we don’t have words. Sometimes when it comes to trauma, there are no words because our brain can’t process it. Therefore, we’re like, “Well, I don’t know what this feeling is. If I have no awareness of this feeling, what am I supposed to do about it?”
Robert Strock [19:01]:
Exactly, exactly. Words like overwhelmed, or just exhausted, or just, I really feel bad-
Alyssa Scolari [19:11]:
Or, upset, upset. I get that word, upset, all the time when people come into my office. “I’m just upset. I’m just upset.” That’s when we need your list, right? That’s when we need the feelings chart of, all right, let’s go through this. What is it? Be more specific, which is very, very hard to do when you feel like your heart’s been ripped out of you. Fundamentally, who you are has been altered.
Robert Strock [19:37]:
It’s very helpful because most of us say, “I feel so-and-so.” Really, there’s a sense that you believe you are what you feel. Let’s say when you’re in a crisis, I would say not only when you’re in a crisis, but really in ordinary life, a better definition of who are is how you respond to how you feel. Really developing the ability to respond… First, to identify how you feel, but also to develop the ability to have a resilient set of qualities, and actions, and thoughts that will guide you to be able to care for yourself. It’s rare that people stay aware of what they feel, let alone are aware of a whole bunch of different ways to care for themselves and others.
Alyssa Scolari [20:37]:
Then if you become aware of what you feel, some things that you talk about in the book that really hit home for me, I was like, “Well, how do I cultivate a friendly mind around this, right, if I feel X, Y, and Z?” I know for me, when you describe that experience of your whole world’s stopping or your whole world changing, back in 2018, my mom… It was May 5th. I had been married for a month and a half.
My mom got very, very, very sick very fast. It was like she was totally fine, in the prime of her life. She was 59. Then boom, within a day, she was in the hospital with full-blown sepsis. I was sitting in the intensive care unit in a room with the doctors going, “Your mother is gravely ill. Your mother is gravely ill.”
I’m like, “What do you mean? I just got married a minute ago.” I was on my honeymoon. I came back. I was starting my life with my husband. It was like boom, your mother is not going to make it. She did, but we were told many times that she wouldn’t.
In reading this book, I come back to this a lot. Cultivating a friendly mind… I remember talking to my therapist during those moments and not being able to identify how I felt. I felt like a shell. I felt like who I was got up and left, and she was nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t identify how I felt, but what I did know is that I believed, right, because there’s a difference between thoughts and feelings. I couldn’t identify the feelings, but I did know that somehow it was my fault that she was dying.
That’s when this concept in your book of cultivating a friendly mind really, really hit me. Setting ourselves up for impossible standards as if I solely was responsible for the health of my mother and keeping her alive, right?
Robert Strock [23:08]:
Alyssa Scolari [23:10]:
I’m no doctor. I guess, could you talk a little bit about that, cultivating a friendly mind throughout this process?
Robert Strock [23:18]:
Yes. I want to come back to the word, solely. I doubt you were even partially responsible, let alone solely.
Alyssa Scolari [23:28]:
Robert Strock [23:29]:
Coming back to that. When I was in this state of, really, almost being inert other than the aspect I’ve already talked about, I realized I did have my mind. I realized that the mind usually is viewed as a booby prize relative to the emotion and feeling good.
I also came to, really, quite a depth realization that if I could have my mind be friendly toward me in a way that I earn, it’s not just a free lunch. A friendly mind is, well, okay, what am I really capable of? What’s possible for me in the next hour?
Now if I’m doing what’s possible for the next hour, that’s realistic, realistically possible. Sometimes it’s lie down. That’s my highest possibility. Sometimes it’s take a walk. Sometimes it’s put my hand on my heart. Sometimes it’s call a friend. Sometimes it’s go to a doctor.
If you guide yourself to what’s possible for you in the state you’re in and you build that up, that allows your mind to really trust you so you develop a mind that can be saying, “You know what? I really like that you rested when you needed to rest. I liked when you worked out when you needed to work out,” that the mind becomes your best friend when you are listening to yourself.
It’s kind of a partner with, how can I best take care of myself? and then listening to that sincere question. It sounds intuitively obvious. Well, who wouldn’t ask that question: how do I best take care of myself? Well, the answer is almost everybody.
That’s one of the facets of the capacities that we have, is to ask that inquiry. I have one chapter that’s called Inquiry From the Heart. That’s really asking questions in a positive way. They’re saying, “What can I really do?”
You mentioned impossible standards. Well, the standards don’t take into consideration that you may… If you’re 50 and you want to be younger than 50, well, that’s an impossible standard. If you’re not married and you want to be married at that moment, that’s an impossible standard.
What can you do? Well, I could take good care of myself and my health when I’m 50. What I could do is make myself available. What I could do is grow and do my best to become a sensitive person to increase the chances of being in a good relationship.
Friendly mind is really something that when you’re really particularly in a crisis, it’s gold because you can be nice to yourself and not be afraid to look. It can encourage you to keep staying in the next hour, the next minutes, the next day at the most, maybe. Occasionally you have to plan a week or two ahead of time.
The part of the friendly mind is staying with what’s possible, doing the best you can to follow that guidance, and to keep being realistic about the potential. After a while, you start to realize, “Wow, my friend is an ally,” instead of it saying, “What’s wrong with you?”
You say things like, “You know what? This would be difficult for anyone to be feeling what I’m feeling, to be going to a doctor and worried about X, Y, or Z.” This would be difficult for anyone, so how can you best take care of yourself now? Is this the time where you need to write a letter to somebody? What’s this hour about?
When you really start to take it sincerely, that the next hour, really even the next breath or the next thought… You sort of start with wherever you are. Maybe you’re living four years from now, and maybe you’re living a year from now. You’re gradually coming closer and closer to the present and the next week because that’s possible.
Realistically, what can I do? How can I be toward myself, toward others in my next thought process and the way that… in my tone of voice. How can I be the best me according to me? Even asking the question is a sign that you’ll recognize you’re on the right track because you’re caring. You’re caring about yourself, and you’re caring about those important to you. Sometimes it’s, how can I best take care of myself? When the self is in suffering that much, it’s, how can I best take care of the moment? How can I best take care of somebody else that I might not notice in great need?
Alyssa Scolari [28:18]:
Right, right. I think that also helps, especially, people who have endured extensive types of trauma like abuse, physical, sexual, emotional. We often have feelings of guilt and shame, right? Guilt, shame, almost always, with any type of trauma. I think that trying to do that and trying to, as you say, cultivate a friendly mind also will help tame those god-awful feelings of guilt and shame because they are crippling.
Robert Strock [29:00]:
I think there’s a paradox that’s also very important, which is that the response to the shame and the guilt is what’s really important because it’s really hard to get in an eraser out and just erase the guilt and the shame. Early in my life, one of my teachers said something very wise that, really, I’ve remembered ever since that time, which is, “Don’t feel ashamed for feeling ashamed. Don’t feel guilty for feeling guilty. Don’t be afraid of being frightened.”
The alternative is see the innocence in the guilt. For example, I feel guilty because I did something that I regret. The way you can deal with that is, okay, I feel guilty or I feel ashamed. I probably can’t erase that. Is there anything I can do in addition to caring for myself while I feel ashamed? Is there anything required for me to heal that?
Maybe I need to resolve a conversation with somebody, and go back, and redo it. Maybe I really was just a victim, and I realized that I need to just stand in myself and say, “You know what? I was completely victimized for me to blame myself. It’s completely ridiculous.” However, I’m still going to be victimized.
These feelings are a sign of the remainder of the victimization. I don’t have to feed it because I can counter it with a friendly mind instead of a mind that’s going to keep going, “I’m ashamed. God, maybe I was really flirting, or maybe I really did go into a dangerous area.” Or maybe I said, “Well, you know that wasn’t your intention. You know that wasn’t the case. I’m sorry you have to go through the shame. I’m here with you. I am an empathic voice. Assuming that it’s not completely overwhelming, I do care about you. It’s okay that you have feelings of shame.”
I know that sounds almost like a terrible thing to say, but it’s a kindness. Trying to get over feelings is a futile endeavor. Trying to respond to feelings with warmth… The feelings will go away when they’re ready to go away, but when you have a mind and a quality that’s caring for you, that’s the medicine.
Trying to get rid of shame, trying to get rid of guilt, trying to get rid of anger… It’s more like, okay, I’m angry. How can I best take care of myself when I’m angry? Well, what is it that I really need? If I’m angry, it means it’s something I don’t like that happened or something I don’t like that didn’t happen. Is there anything I can do, any way I can speak, any way I can be that’s going to allow me to take care of that original need? If the answer is yes, I want to go for it. If the answer is no, I want to come to some kind of acceptance, but I don’t want to compound the injury.
Alyssa Scolari [31:58]:
I love that. What a phenomenal quote of… I can’t remember exactly what you said. I think it’s something like trying to get rid of feelings is a futile endeavor. I mean, the power behind that, because, right? We’re not shaming ourselves for having shame. We’re not guilting ourselves for having guilt. We’re not beating ourselves up for being angry.
It’s like the more you try to get rid of the feelings, the worse the feelings become. You can’t stop the feelings. You can just console yourself through the feelings. You can, as you write about in the book, move from this place of self-rejection to self-compassion.
Robert Strock [32:45]:
I’m very careful about saying things like moving towards self-compassion because just as you can’t change feelings, I don’t think any of us are ever going to ride that, a permanent state of self-compassion. It’s like, I want to move in that direction. I want to take my baby steps in this way. Maybe I can take a full girl or a full-boy step in that direction.
I don’t want to get too demanding of myself. I want to move toward caring for myself. Oh, I’m being judgemental toward myself. I really don’t want to continue that. I want to see that I’m doing that. I want to do my best to respond each time with, are you actually going to be able to learn anything by judging yourself?
Now occasionally, the answer is yes. For example, let’s say you’ve abused your health. You say, “Oh, you’re such an idiot. You’ve been abusing your health.” Well, you still don’t want to be negative and judgmental, but you do want to face the fact that, you know what? I do need to eat a little bit better. I do need to work out a little bit more.
I don’t want to do it, but listen to the difference in tone. One is a tone where it’s really punishing you. The other one is a tone that’s rooting for you, that’s behind you. It’s looking at what you really can and can’t do, what’s really possible, what’s impossible.
Again, that’s one of the questions that’s really important to ask whenever there’s any self-judgment of, is it really possible that I can do anything about this right now? If so, can I gather the strength of character to face it and to make some steps toward it?
If you can’t or more accurately, if you don’t, the judgment is going to stay there. You can try to stop at the judgment, but the wound of not taking care of yourself is still going to be there. The real thing is, oh, I see a wound, or I see a limitation, or I see a place where I’m not taking good care of myself.
The real I, as far as I’m concerned, is the one that wants to take care of ourselves and everyone else. It’s the caregiver of ourselves and those around us. The more we’re with that, it might be a, first, ourselves, and then it might be ourself, and our partner, and our friends. Then it might be our community.
It’s kind of a gradual evolution toward caring about more and more people without that being another standard, like getting ahead of yourself. It’s so important to start with where you are and then to just be honest and aware of whatever it is that’s most hurting or most causing the suffering, and then having that continuous question of, how can I best realistically take care of myself, especially in the near future?
Alyssa Scolari [35:48]:
Yes, absolutely. All of that, for the listeners out there, I will absolutely link the book, the Awareness That Heals, on the show notes so that you can access it very easily. Robert breaks down all of these themes into very specific sections of his book. He also gives critical-thinking questions to help you practice these different types of concepts. They’re very, very healing.
My favorite, favorite part of the book is the one on anger, transforming anger. Anger is something that comes into my office and into my personal life as a disguise, typically in the form of high anxiety, people pleasing, depression, addiction, because we don’t know how to deal with our anger. For me, I developed… For the listeners out there, I know you all have heard me say this. I had battled an eating disorder for the first 25 years of my life because I’ve been in recovery for about four years or so.
All of that was to push down my anger. As I continued to go to therapy and then I started to have my repressed memories, because I had repressed memories of sexual abuse that came to the forefront, I became aware of them. I eventually just felt rage and had no concept of the word, containment, which is, one of, I think, the hardest things to do, personally, and one of the hardest things to help people with professionally. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Robert Strock [37:59]:
Sure. I would say if anybody really is taken in by this, this is something that requires months, if not years, if not decades, of practice.
Alyssa Scolari [38:12]:
Robert Strock [38:14]:
I’m going to give it the… The understanding version is definitely inadequate for practice because this requires practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.
Alyssa Scolari [38:24]:
Months, years, yes.
Robert Strock [38:27]:
Depending upon which version I’m doing, there’s seven or eight steps, and really transforming anger toward intimacy and peace. The first step is being aware of anger, that as you said very eloquently, that you had all kinds of side doors the way anger came out. The awareness that, “Gee, I’m angry. Oh, I’m angry. Oh, good. I’m finally aware that I’m angry… ” Notice the good, that you don’t say, “Oh shit. I’m angry. What’s my problem?”
Then that’s kind of a cutoff switch. That’s when it goes sideways. It’s like, congratulate yourself that at least I’m aware of my anger. Then right behind that is you realize, “You know what? This has caused me all kinds of hell in my life. I want to make it better. I want to learn how to care for myself,” which I call an intention to heal, or you could call it wanting to care for yourself, or you could call it wanting to care for everyone that’s involved in this situation. Now if it’s somebody that has abused you from your past, that may not apply and probably does not apply.
Alyssa Scolari [39:36]:
Robert Strock [39:36]:
In general, if it’s not that situation, if it’s a live, current situation, it would be that. Then the third step after being aware of your anger and then recognizing you want to care for yourself is what I would call containment. Containment does not mean suppression. Containment means you’re not acting it out. You’re not suppressing it, but you’re allowing yourself to fully experience the raw aliveness of anger in an environment, backyard, your car, a close friend, a therapist.
You’re really allowing yourself to feel the aliveness of the energy with no holding back. If anything, you exaggerate it. You can really support yourself not to suppress it. Then the next two steps are kind of blended, which is, as you’re doing that, you’re asking yourself the question: what are the vulnerable feelings underneath this? Also, what is it I’m really needing that made me mad in the first place? That’s step, really, four and five.
For example, when you look at the anger at any kind of abuse, there’s obviously fear. There’s grief. You allow yourself to feel that as part of the containment period where you’re letting yourself feel the fear and the grief. Then when you say, “Well, what do I need?” that’s a complicated question if it’s about abuse of the past.
First need is going to be the need to not blame yourself. That’s the need. You’re, “Oh, I’ve been blaming yourself.” It’s not even so much the abuse as much as the self-torture. Maybe I did this, or maybe I did that. Or maybe I was a little bit aroused, or maybe I was this.
It’s like, no. The need is to not blame myself. It’s to accept myself, to accept the fact that I really was attacked unfairly, whether it’s a verbal attack, or a sexual attack, or a physical attack. Or if you’re in a relationship and the anger is there, what is it I really needed, and what are the vulnerable feelings?
Well, I feel hurt because my husband, or my wife, or my partner isn’t communicating with me, or they’re not warm in their tone of voice, or they’re not empathic. They don’t care about how my day is. Ah, that’s what my need is. I want to feel connected. I want to feel like we can talk. I want to feel like they’re interested in my day, in my inner experience, in who I am. What if I learn how to communicate what it is that I need rather than being angry that I didn’t get what I need? That’s where the pivoting… The major, major step is is you-
Alyssa Scolari [42:17]:
That’s the transformation.
Robert Strock [42:18]:
That’s the transformation. That’s almost there. That’s part of the 75 qualities where you say, “Ah, communication is one of them.” It may be a tone of voice that’s a caring tone of voice. It may be a curiosity. It could be any one of 75 things, and more than 75. This list isn’t meant to be the list. It’s just a list. It’s a comprehensive list.
Then after you discover what you need, how do I communicate the need? Let’s assume it’s a present circumstance. How do I communicate this need? In what tone of voice do I communicate this need? Because there’s all kinds of possibilities and likelihoods that, ah, I’m aware of what I need. I’m going to say, “I need to communicate. I need to communicate. How many times do I have to tell you that I need to communicate?”
No, no, no, no. That’s just letting anger sneak back in while you’re aware of what you need. The sixth step is communicating what you need with a tone of voice that’s playable, that’s reaching, that’s sincere, that’s earnest. That’s very important because just expressing our needs while we’re dumping isn’t any better. It’s a little bit better because it gives it chance that the other person might get it, but it’s pretty unlikely if you’re dumping on them, they’re going to get it.
Alyssa Scolari [43:37]:
Yes. It’s not very productive.
Robert Strock [43:39]:
No, it’s not very productive. It’s a little bit better because you give them some information as to what was missing for you. To be able to discover what you need and then express it in a tone of voice that’s relational, that’s caring, that’s encouraging, that’s not sabotaging is the sixth step.
Then the seventh step, which is a little bit of my… Let’s say, hopefully not just mine, is perseverance, is do it at least three to five times. Don’t assume that your partner, or your friend, or your family member can get it the first time. Give it a few chances. The only exception to that is if you’re really with an abuser, if you realized you’re only taking the step to try to communicate, if you think there’s a chance.
If you’re with a really abusive person, then the sixth and the seventh step become acceptance that it’s impossible to get that need met, but at least you know it. Now you need to work with accepting that inside yourself. You know what? My partner is not into communication, is never going to get into communication. If I mention it one more time, they’re going to smack one.
Alyssa Scolari [44:45]:
A very, very important discernment. Very important.
Robert Strock [44:49]:
In that sixth step, you’re asking yourself, is there any realistic chance I could express my need and have even the wildest possibility, if I do it really well, that it may benefit the relationship? If the answer is yes, then that’s that way. If not, then it’s working with yourself to say, “Okay. Is this so bad that I need to cut off the relationship? Is this so bad that I need to boundary the relationship and just see them once every three months instead of once a week? Does this mean that we need to separate if we’re in a relationship, or is this just one aspect that I’m overreacting to? When I look at the whole picture, it’s still worthwhile. I just have to have the maturity to accept it inside myself and realize, every relationship is going to have some weaknesses.” Now if it’s something like being abused, that’s very serious.
Alyssa Scolari [45:43]:
That’s a deal-breaker. Yes, that’s a non-negotiable.
Robert Strock [45:47]:
Right, right. Or disloyalties or severe dishonesty… Those kind of things aren’t playable, but if somebody is not good at communication… My father was probably the most decent human being I knew my whole childhood, but he was not a communicator. He didn’t communicate his feelings. He just would put his hand on my shoulder, my mother’s shoulder, or my brother’s shoulder and give us a light hug, not the kind of hug that we have these days. He was a great man, but he was a non-communicator.
For him, I could say to him, “I have the need to communicate,” and he would just say something like, “Well, what do you want to communicate about?” It wouldn’t matter what I said. It wasn’t going to work, but it wasn’t the deal-breaker.
That discernment of whether it’s really a deal-breaker, or a boundary-setter, or our whole relationship’s over… That’s for us to really work with when we’re at that stage of dealing with our anger. One of the key turning points is it’s got to be, “Oh good, I’m aware of my anger,” rather than, “Oh damn. I’m angry again.”
Alyssa Scolari [46:56]:
Yes, I was going to circle back to that. I appreciate that you said that because the clients that come into my office… When I see them get angry, when I start to see it after working with them for so long, and seeing no anger, and they finally get angry, there’s always a little glimmer in my eye. A lot of them who know me well enough are like, “What? You’re happy I’m angry?” I’m like, “Well, I’m not mad about it.” I do feel that way. Oh, good, good.
I think it’s very, very important to discern and to make clear to the listeners out there that what you’re not saying is that anger is bad. It’s like, oh good, anger. Transforming anger is not about suppressing anger. It’s not about saying go away to the anger. It’s about literally transforming it in order to get our needs met because if not, then we kind of just become time bombs and erupt over and over again without ever getting our needs met. I love that part of the… I mean, obviously, the whole book is wonderful. I really resonated with that because I’m an angry person. I’m somebody who’s very in touch with my anger. I’m learning currently, the ways to transform it and make it productive.
Robert Strock [48:31]:
Of course, we’re saying don’t suppress it and don’t dump it. Most people will go, “Well, then, what am I supposed to do?” Feel it fully in a safe setting.
Alyssa Scolari [48:42]:
Yes, stick with it.
Robert Strock [48:44]:
With another person, if possible, that is mature enough to help support you not to justify the anger, but to ask the question, how can you best deal with it? When you recognize that anger itself is a need that is not being met, you need to discover what that need is. You need to be very curious while you’re in that containment period to discover what it is.
You said when a client shows up in your office, you have a glimmer. I have a glimmer too. When they ask me the question, “You look like you’re happy I’m angry,” I said, “Well, I’m happy you’re aware you’re angry. I’m happy that you’re angry, not that I want it to stay disabling you. Now that it’s come above the surface, you have a chance to discover what you need. Otherwise, it was going to come out sideways. You’re not going to want to make love. You’re going to forget things that your partner had asked for.”
Alyssa Scolari [49:44]:
You’re going to stay in your addiction. You know what I mean? Now you’re fully in touch with your feelings. Now we’re going to recover from addiction, and depression or crippling depression, and crippling anxiety. It’s like, yes, all right. We’re moving here.
Robert Strock [50:04]:
Yes, for sure. For sure.
Alyssa Scolari [50:07]:
I guess one of the last questions I wanted to ask you is, if it weren’t for your sudden, the 180, right, the curveball that life threw you 30 years into the game-
Robert Strock [50:21]:
Alyssa Scolari [50:21]:
Do you think this book would have existed?
Robert Strock [50:24]:
Not in its current form. I’m a terrible writer by nature, so it took me 45 years to write it. I had six people that didn’t help me on the content but helped me actually have one sentence follow the next ones. It would have had similar concepts, but they wouldn’t have a depth understanding of primal suffering. It wouldn’t have had some of the subtleties.
Friendly mind came out of that experience. That was not a concept that I was using. I didn’t also deeply understand. I superficially understood that your response to your feeling was more important than your feeling. I realize all I had was my response to my feeling.
That gave it a whole bunch more contrast. Being able to have a relationship with clients where I knew no matter what they felt, I could feel. I did feel for many, many years. Every morning, I still have a period when I wake up where I still have the reaction to the transplant medication. I have to take five sleeping medications at night. The book would have maybe happened, but there’s zero chance it would have been the same book.
Alyssa Scolari [51:46]:
I mean, it gives a sense of purpose and meaning to what you endured, not that… Obviously, of course, we would prefer if it hadn’t happened, but it certainly gives it a sense of purpose because there’s so much to this book that is really helpful for moving away from primal suffering. That might be the title of this episode because I think that that’s just the topic of this conversation, is ways to move away from primal suffering.
Robert Strock [52:20]:
I would tweak that a little, and I would say how to be with primal suffering because I’d be a little concerned that people would see that maybe as moving away, like withdrawing a little bit from it. Whereas it’s really being with because the suffering, for example, during this, especially for six years, I was not able to move away from the suffering. The suffering stayed exactly the way it was. What I did was I didn’t compound it by thinking about it, by projecting in the future, and by compounding it. It’s really being with the primal suffering in a different way and responding to it in a different way.
Alyssa Scolari [53:00]:
Touché. You got me there. I’m very, very thankful that you pointed that out because that is one of my weak points. In my own recovery from complex PTSD is is I want to move away. I want to be done with the suffering. Touché, and thank you for pointing that out because that’s something that is a work in progress for me as well.
Robert Strock [53:25]:
Again, I just want to really honor your sincerity, and your willingness to be in the moment, and just to acknowledge whatever is true because I think all of us… It’s so hard when we feel like, oh, maybe we didn’t get something or whatever. Not to hide from it requires such courage. I really support you there. Moving away is what, instinctively, we all want to do.
Alyssa Scolari [53:52]:
Yes, it’s self-protective.
Robert Strock [53:55]:
Well, again, I would tweak the word, protective, which is it’s delusionally self-protective. It’s actually self-harming.
Alyssa Scolari [54:05]:
Ends up being self-harming.
Robert Strock [54:06]:
Yes, because moving away leaves us incapable of working with, being with, skillfully, how we actually still are. Because we think how we feel is how we are, we don’t want to see it, but if we realize everyone’s human in the planet, the key is, can we be human and learn a more caring and skillful way to respond to it? We don’t have to stop being human, and we can’t stop being human.
Alyssa Scolari [54:43]:
We cannot, absolutely not. You have lots of different websites. Could you talk about some of the websites? because I can’t remember which one is which. You have guided meditations, which, to the listeners out there, they are phenomenal. I have listened to them. They are really, really great. I call them active meditations because you’re not sitting in silence. It has your mind. You’re processing and you’re thinking about the things that are being said. Could you just share where people can reach you, can find those things?
Robert Strock [55:22]:
Sure. I’ll briefly mention. About 12 years ago, I have a website called Humanistic Spirituality that has 250 videos. The videos are all the same theme, which is, be aware of your challenging emotions, and learn how to respond in a way that’s caring from your own question. 250 different ways… That’s separated into relationships and sexuality in eight different categories.
The second one is Awareness That Heals, which is the book, bringing heart and wisdom to life challenges. It’s awarenessthatheals.org. The other one is humanisticspirituality.org. Then there’s the Global Bridge Foundation, which is theglobalbridge.org. Then finally, there’s robertstrock.org, which is pretty much a composite. Any one of them will refer to any of the others. Really, all that’s necessary is to find any one, and it kind of interlinks.
Alyssa Scolari [56:25]:
I will link those websites in the show notes for everybody. Then you have two podcasts. Do you have the dates for when they’re going to launch?
Robert Strock [56:34]:
It’s going to be in April. As I’m sure you know better than I, Apple podcast takes them from a day to two weeks to… Once you submit them, you don’t know exactly when they’re going to launch. You can’t give it an exact launch date.
What I do know is we’ve done about 25 shows. Between the two different ones, one being on awareness that heals, and the other one being that, really, pit the issues of homelessness and regenerative agriculture, which probably a lot of people don’t know about, and immigration reform. Those two will be both launching somewhere in April, but we’ll be turning them in first of April.
Alyssa Scolari [57:12]:
Love it. Love it, love it, love it. So happy for you. Can’t wait for those podcasts to come out. Thank you so much for being on the show today. I appreciate you reaching out to me. I appreciate all of the hard work that went into this book. I appreciate all of the self-exploration that you had to do in order to be able to bring us this book that is now allowing so many other people to engage in self-exploration. Thank you.
Robert Strock [57:43]:
Well, thank you so much. Your humility, and your courage, and sincerity… I appreciate very much, you inviting me to be on this show.
Alyssa Scolari [57:52]:
Thanks for listening, everyone. For more information about today’s episode and to sign up for the Light After Trauma newsletter, head over to my website at alyssascolari.com. The really great thing about being a part of this newsletter is that not only do you get weekly updates on new podcast episodes and blog posts, but you also get access to the private Facebook community as well as access to all sorts of insider tips, resources, and infographs that supplement what we talk about on the show. You also can connect with me and other trauma warriors. I’m super active on the Facebook community. I look forward to talking with you.