Episode 8: Pain Avoidance and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy with Andrew Kerbs

therapist andrew kerbs of @deconstruct_everything

lindsey lockett standing in the woods with her eyes closed and her hands over her heart

In this episode, I connect with Andrew Kerbs about pain avoidance, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and the use of psychiatric medications. We also touch briefly on religious trauma. Andrew is a therapist, writer, and social activist. A former evangelical Christian, or exvangelical as the hashtag goes, much of his focus is on religious trauma and the toxic stress that often results from high-demand religious environments. Andrew is also an expert in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

therapist andrew kerbs of @deconstruct_everything

Show Notes

In our conversation, Andrew and I…

  • reveal that most people live from a place of pain avoidance
  • discuss the limiting paradigm of symptom reduction as a measure of success in mental health treatment
  • discuss the over-prescribing of psychiatric medication, especially to young boys, and how meds potentially prevent us from feeling the very things we want to feel
  • speculate on humans’ reduced ability to cope with trauma and discomfort
  • discuss the weaknesses of popular therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • talk about target fixation
  • discuss how we can do what we want, stay aligned with our values, AND simultaneously feel like shit
  • speak to toxic positivity and how we cannot think our way out of discomfort
  • touch on religious trauma and how religion perpetuates pain avoidance
  • reveal the “miracle question” every person can ask themselves to stay aligned with their values even in the midst of discomfort



[INTRO MUSIC] LINDSEY: This is episode eight. In this episode, I interview therapist Andrew Kerbs, and we talk about pain avoidance and acceptance and commitment therapy. We talked about values driven action versus avoidance driven action. We also discussed target fixation and how we very often end up exactly where we don’t want to be because of where we’re focused. We talk about toxic positivity. We touched on religious trauma as an overlooked type of trauma, and Andrew revealed his miracle question that every person can ask themselves to stay aligned with their values, even in the midst of discomfort. Andrew is a therapist writer and social activist. A former evangelical Christian or “exvangelical” as hashtag goes, much of his focus is on religious trauma and the toxic stress that often results from high demand religious environments. Andrew was also an expert in acceptance and commitment therapy and uses this approach to help his clients build meaningful lives based on the things that matter most to them. In addition to writing counseling and coaching andrew enjoys motorcycles, Brazilian jujitsu, and psychological thriller movies he lives outside of Chicago with his fiancee. I hope you enjoy this amazing interview with Andrew Kerbs. Hello, Andrew, thank you for joining me on the holistic trauma healing podcast. I’m happy to have you. ANDREW: Hello. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here. LINDSEY: Yeah. Can you please tell us, I mean, other than what I’ve just read about you is your, your background obviously, but can you speak specifically to how you got into becoming a therapist and sort of what your story is behind that? ANDREW: Yeah, absolutely. it’s probably not as glamorous as, you know, most of us as therapists would like for it to be, but the reality is, is that a lot of the stuff that happened in my own childhood, you know, my own crap that I’m dealing with basically. So I had a professor in grad school that his joke was a lot of people go to grad school for therapy not because they’re gonna make good therapists, but because they need therapy. And that was true of me very much. So, It took me a while to admit that and come to terms with that, but very true. So I definitely came into the field, due to my own baggage. Kind of that quote, be who you needed when you were younger was definitely one of those inspirational mantras that I kept with me throughout much of graduate school. I could certainly go more in depth on it, but, that’s what led me to grad school for counseling specifically. Originally I wanted to be a school therapist in a high school. That’s where a lot of things happened in my life was in those high school years, I went to a tiny Christian private school that did not have any social worker counseling support whatsoever. The mental health support you had, there was a chaplain. Cause depression is the sign that you don’t have enough Jesus in your life. So there’s something to that effect. LINDSEY: You need to have the demons cast out of you. ANDREW: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. LINDSEY: So, you mentioned a lot of people who go to graduate school, some therapists, they actually just need their own therapy. I wonder if you would have saved money in the long run, just going to therapy and not graduate school. ANDREW: Definitely would have saved money. I suppose I wouldn’t have been as qualified to speak on some of the things that I speak on now, but, I suppose if you just, research and read, it’s like, you can kind of do whatever you want to really. So yes, I would have saved an infinite amount of money. trying to look at it through a positive lens though, and be like, Hey, I mean, I’m here now. I have these licenses now and these certifications and the training that I have. So they make the best of it. LINDSEY: Yeah, for sure. So, in the chats that we’ve had on Instagram, prior to coming on this podcast, we talked a lot about trauma in our own stories with religious deconstruction and coming out of Christianity. I know you came out of the Seventh Day Adventist church and I came out of the first Southern Baptist and then non-denominational, but still very evangelical, . And I’m wondering if you can just elaborate some more on what we’ve talked about in our own conversations about trauma and healing trauma. And I think specifically we wanted to talk about pain avoidance today. ANDREW: Oh, absolutely. Well, yeah, I’m very passionate in this. It’s more of I’m thinking, how can I articulately get started on this cause it’s such a big topic. So, I guess I’ll just kind of start at the beginning, especially for those listening who maybe haven’t really heard this approach before. So my training background predominantly is in, acceptance and commitment therapy. So if a therapist is listening, they probably will recognize some of the terms that I use. you don’t have to be a therapist to understand what I’m talking about. but acceptance and commitment therapy is my background. for those who like to geek out on therapy, it’s a third wave behavioral therapy closely related to DBT and some of those other mindfulness based practices. And one of the big ideas and acceptance and commitment therapy, is called experiential avoidance, pain avoidance, I think would still be an accurate term for it to use interchangeably. The idea being though that most of us spend most of our energy and most of our lives, trying to avoid uncomfortable experiences, whether those be physical, emotional, whatever. As human beings, the way our biology is designed, we want to seek comfort and we want to get away from discomfort. But then the thing is that, you know, the catch there is the, most of us live out our entire lives, spending all of our energy, trying to just not feel shitty rather than actually pursuing what we care about. What makes us come alive. What makes us passionate about living. so I mean, that’s, that’s the basic premise. It definitely pulls a lot from, I would say from Buddhism. Really the idea that I mean to live is to suffer, to be a human being who is actually engaged in this world and actually cares about something there’s going to be suffering. you can’t really get away from suffering. Viktor Frankl, he was a psychotherapist, mid 20th century. He actually was Jewish. He survived the Holocaust and Auschwitz, he wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning. And he spoke on this too, a little bit, the idea of unavoidable suffering. I feel like the medical model for the most part, and this includes all current therapies, usually focus on getting rid of symptoms. So I go to a doctor or a psychiatrist, even a therapist, I’m presenting with depression symptoms. So, you know, Oh, I’m feeling hopeless, low mood. I feel fatigued. I just feel sad a lot. I just, you know, you checked off the boxes. They’re probably going to come back with a treatment plan, maybe medication, depending on who the provider is of let’s make those symptoms go away. Let’s get you feeling better. Let’s try to decrease the depressive episodes you have per month. And the symptom reduction is their benchmark. That’s how they measure success, you know, but the difference between acceptance and commitment therapy, which is my whole framework is that, we’re looking at not, what are you trying to get away from, but what if the depression wasn’t there? What would you be doing in life? Like what is it getting in the way of? That’s one of my values questions, basically when I try to, you know, tease out what is it that you really care about in life? Most people have never really thought about it. They’ve spent their whole life trying to just feel better. And you ask them like, what do you care about? What do you want to do? And most people, you know, most people don’t really the, the values piece really can take several sessions, like as a therapist when I’m working with folks that it takes a while, because we’re so oriented to just be looking at it from a lens of pain avoidance, getting away from those uncomfortable experiences. And then that’s where I think if you have folks who get to the end of their lives and get it, like they haven’t lived, you know? LINDSEY: Yeah, that’s so interesting this morning, actually I was reading, I’ve been reading the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, and I hope I’m saying his name right. And literally like the spot that I read today was talking about the Buddha and his quest to, realize that the root of the human condition and suffering is about everyone craving whatever it is, they don’t have. So when they’re in a moment of depression, they crave to feel happy. When they’re in a moment of happiness, they crave to feel happy longer. They don’t want it to stop. And when they’re in a moment, you know, whatever the feeling is is there’s a craving that prohibits them from just enjoying the moment and whatever it is, even if it’s a negative experience. And I use air quotes there because I really, I try not to judge feelings. They’re just feelings. They’re not positive or negative. They’re just feelings. Some of them are more fun than others, but they’re just feelings. Right. So you’ve seen my post about how I’ve intentionally put myself in discomfort in order to retrain my brain and my body to build up that resiliency, to be able to handle uncomfortable situations so I don’t feel like I have to avoid pain so that I can go through hard times. And it’s interesting that you mentioned symptom reduction because the episode of the podcast it’s going to go live tomorrow is about using psychiatric meds as a tool in your toolbox for trauma healing and how they can be a beneficial tool. But the hope is that if you’re using them with intention, it’s, I’m going to use these meds as a tool to make it easier while I address the thing that made me need the meds in the first place. Because medication doesn’t cure depression or anxiety, you know, it suppresses symptoms, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. but again, are we getting to the root of what made us need the medications to begin with? I’m wondering if you could speak on that just a little bit? ANDREW: Yeah, it’s a very good point. I’m not an anti-medication provider but with that being said, it’s it’s really, and I also to speak to what you said about not really feeling like it was good or bad emotions, not judging them. I agree with that too. The way I always look at things, and this includes medication is asking the question, what’s the function of this? In light of what your values are, the meaning, what are you wanting to do in life? What’s this? What are you about, what are you pursuing and how has this either serving or hindering that in the long run? So what’s the function. It’s, it’s not a judgmental. It’s very much just a pragmatic looking at how is this serving the life I want to live? Is it, or is it not? and so I do think that, medications are useful. And I also think that at times, they can be over prescribed and I hate to say, become a crutch because I, I don’t mean to speak to anybody’s specific experience. There are some folks, certain people with certain, you know, conditions and things that they are dealing with that they might realistically never be able to function independently of medication and therapy. You know, it’s a case by case basis, but I can certainly say both in the mental health field as well as medical field in general, there are a lot of medications that are over prescribed. I mean, for example, one that I know firsthand, I currently work as a school therapist. I work with a lot of young energetic boys. You know, I think other professionals I’ve spoken on this piece long before I ever had, but, things like Adderall, Ritalin, the ADHD diagnoses, those have been handed out abundantly and disproportionately to the boys for doing things that are developmentally normal for their age and their energy levels. I could probably think of some others, but that’s, that’s the biggest example. I absolutely think that it’s, it’s very easy to get focused on diminishing symptoms to getting rid of symptoms and that being the measuring post of success in treatment. And all the, while you’re not actually addressing why you got there in the first place. You’re not really learning how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations or distress tolerance as DBT therapy would call it. Medications have their place, but they also run the risk of not teaching somebody how to navigate those uncomfortable experiences. They’re just taking the edge off of those uncomfortable experiences. So you’re not completely feeling them. Right. And, and with that being said, I guess I should add, I don’t think that feeling pain for its own sake. I don’t necessarily think there’s a virtue in that. So obviously someone’s thinking, well, why the hell would, I want to feel it? If I can take the edge off of it? Wouldn’t I? Well, yeah, I mean, I don’t blame anybody for feeling that way. But I always tell folks is that pain and joy are basically two sides to the same coin. If you’re diminishing your ability to feel one, you’re diminishing your ability to feel the other. Yeah. And so that’s, that is the piece that is so pivotal, so important. Yeah, you can take the edge off of the pain, the depression, the negative stuff, so to speak that you don’t want to feel, but you’re also taking away from your ability to embrace and feel the joy and the goodness and the happiness and all those other things that you do want. But you’re also taking away your ability to fill those. LINDSEY: Yeah. Cause we just want to feel again, what we have judged will be positive and that’s the happiness and the joy and the fun and all that without realizing that, if it was not for pain, we would not know joy. If it was not for grief, like they are two sides of the same coin and. All are necessary components of the human existence. I’m wondering if you could, you know, this is going to be complete, guessing here, I guess. I’m wondering if you could maybe explain what your thoughts are on like how we have evolved as humans to want to take a pill to sort of like just turn it off. Like, we don’t want to deal with it. We just want to turn it off. I mean, like, you know, because having the advantage, I guess, or the luxury of psychiatric medications, this is a pretty new thing in our existence as humans. Right? So, I mean, of course before we had things like benzos and SSRIs and stuff, you know, we’ve had people who’ve been using opium and laudanum and alcohol, and of course people have been self-medicating for a really long time, but I’m wondering if you could even, speaking to those people 200 years ago, what do you see as sort of in our evolution why humans seem to be less and less tolerant to pain and discomfort and even trauma? ANDREW: Yeah. I mean, that’s a good question. One of the things that came into my mind when we were first starting to talk about this, this piece was I had a professor. I have a lot of anecdotes from professors. one of my professors said, you know, as far as like evolutionary biology is concerned, right? Humans are very social creatures, very social creatures. A lone monkey is a dead monkey was the phrase he always used. Even though being socially outcast or not feeling like you’re okay to fit in with a group, isn’t really a survival issue today in our DNA. It is a survival issue. Evolutionarily speaking, that is life and death. But more to the issue of why we’re less tolerant of uncomfortable experiences now. Yeah. I mean, Oh gosh, I think there’s lots of things that contribute to it. I do think generally just the Western medical model in general has contributed to that a lot. I’m not trying to blame that solely, but it is very much just that emphasis on again, like I was saying, just making the symptoms go away. So it’s like, Oh, you feel bad or you feel this negative type of way. Well, let’s make that feeling go away rather than asking what was bringing that up in the first place for one and how was it impacting your life? You know, is it getting in the way of other things that matter? Like which a lot of times it is severe depression is, can be debilitating, but I feel like oftentimes the wrong questions are being asked. Even as a therapist, I can say personally, I think some of the largest bounds of personal growth and knowledge comes not through the traditional Western means, but have been through like, well, like studying Buddhism, for example, or, well, this is kind of funny, but like the book Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance like that, that’s actually a big one for me. I love that book. And I, and I feel like that those all kind of hit on those pieces. but yeah, so, I feel like I’ve been rambling. Those that kind of touched on the question or is there more specific, more specific? LINDSEY: Again, that was a very speculative question. there wasn’t a right or wrong answer there. I’ve been reading this book sapiens, and I’m about two thirds of the way through, so I can tell he’s beginning to hint at some things at the end that I know are going to make my skin crawl like trans humanism and stuff like that and the evolution of sapiens. I’m one of those people that I want to read things that challenge my paradigms and that do make me uncomfortable and sit with it, you know, cause I wouldn’t be where I am today. If I hadn’t been willing to get uncomfortable with what I believed at the time, which is how I started out as an evangelical pastor’s wife and now, am no longer an evangelical or an evangelical pastor’s wife. So, so yeah, I do think that. It still goes back to though putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations because really we don’t grow when we’re just like comfortable and happy all the time, you know, like happiness as great as it is, doesn’t really produce a lot of personal development and evolution. It’s like the pain. So. Could you talk about that? You want to, if you want to weave in acceptance and commitment therapy, because honestly, before I started talking to you, I had never heard of acceptance and commitment therapy. I had done DBT and CBT with my therapist. In addition to EMDR, EMDR was fantastic. recommend EMDR to everyone, but DBT and CBT were not great for me because I’m a pretty smart person. And if I could have logic my way or reasoned my way or thought my way out of debilitating anxiety and insomnia and all of that, like I would have done that by now. You know? So for me, the DBT and the CBT was like, trying to think your way out of this whole you’re in or whatever you want to call it. For me, it was like a prison, but, you know, I couldn’t think my way out of the prison. So, acceptance commitment therapy is a new term for me. And I’m wondering if you can talk more about that and what that looks like when you’re working with people. ANDREW: Yeah, absolutely. So maybe this is a good time for this metaphor, a metaphor that really helped me specifically with acceptance and commitment therapy when I’m explaining to people values and value driven action versus avoidance driven action or, you know, pain, avoidance. so, okay. So most of my life, I’ve ridden motorcycles. So any motorcycle riders out there, go give this metaphor, but anybody can understand it. When it comes to motorcycle riding, and you have a new inexperienced rider, one of the most common reasons and new and experienced rider crashes is it’s probably going to be on a corner. They probably came into the turn too fast. And instead of maintaining their focus on where they were wanting to go looking through the turn, they probably saw the guard rail, saw the light pole, saw the ditch hyper fixated on what they didn’t want to hit, panic braked, and they probably nailed whatever it was they were trying to not hit. That’s actually a phenomenon called target fixation that that’s not a clinical term. That’s like for riding motorcycles you get so fixated on what you’re trying to avoid, that you ended up hitting that thing. like I actually had a friend who was same thing. It was, I was on a corner and he went into the corner a little too fast and, It was a light pole. It just one light pole. He could have gone on either side of it, missed it. There was an open field, not even a ditch. He would have been fine. And somehow he managed to smack that light pole. It was like the only object within a hundred yards of either direction, but he was so fixated on not hitting the light pole. He hit the light pole and broke his leg. And, I think that that applies perfectly on a mental, emotional, spiritual level when we’re so focused on avoiding stuff, that stuff rules us, it guides us, it’s controlling our every decision. and so then of course the natural up question is, okay, fine, how do I avoid it or how do I not get derailed? And the answer is it’s the, it’s where your focus is. That’s what your attention is. If your attention is on symptom reduction, if your attention is focused on feeling better, not feeling like shit, even happiness, flip it. If your attention is even well, I want to feel happy. Okay. Well, how do you know happy? Well, I know I’m happy when I don’t feel like shit. Okay, well, you’re still oriented on not feeling like shit. You’re just doing mental gymnastics and you think you’re fooling yourself, but your body’s not fool. Saying I’m pursuing happiness actually. And you’re measuring that by happiness is. Oh, the same thing as trying to avoid the shit. And so the key though is, and this is where the value driven action comes in. But the key is like in motorcycle riding, if you go into a corner, the instinctual thing to do is to hit the brakes, but act with motorcycles. If you’re doing a turn and you heavily hit the brakes, it actually makes your bike go straight strangely. It takes away your ability to keep turning and keep going in the direction you want to go. What you actually need to do is maintain a steady throttle. And keep your gaze on wherever it is you’re going, you’re looking through the turn towards what you want and you’re pursuing that. It might be kind of scary and yeah, there’s going to be some other objects around you that if you hit them, that might hurt, but the question is what’s your orientation? What are you fixated on? And if you’re looking in the direction you want to go and you keep pursuing that, you will probably get through that turn just fine. and so then applying that to, you know, mental health, spiritual health, that’s the real question is, is, is knowing what your values are. And even when things might feel scary like that, that’s kinda like your North star, so to speak. Because yeah, I know people think sometimes I’ve worked with clients who think that they’ve. I don’t mean this to make fun, but like they they’ve reached enlightenment or they’ve, I’ve figured it out. I’m going after happiness now. Yeah. But you’re still doing the same thing. You’re like, you know, like you think you’re pursuing happiness, but you’re still orienting everything about the absence of pain. Yeah. I suppose that’s another tangent, I suppose that’s kind of what a lot of this toxic positivity culture is. LINDSEY: I would say like toxic positivity. ANDREW: So, you know, that function question I said earlier, what’s the function of this same damn function. Just put a different spin on it. It’s no different, it’s no different. LINDSEY: Yeah. I have a hard time. I find myself, You know, struggling with one of the books that really was pivotal for me. I actually read in the early 2020, and it was, dr. Joe Dispenza’s breaking the habit of being yourself. And that book was so eye opening for me because I realized that staying in the same mindset that I had always been in was literally just keeping me locked into the same patterns of behavior and thought and reaction and everything that I’d always been locked into. And then he talks a lot in there about like, you know, the quantum field and quantum possibilities and quantum entanglement and like how every possibility exists. And you just have to align yourself with the frequency of the possibility that you’re going after. And so that really has been transformational for me because as a person who is traumatized, my bent is sort of in a negative direction, like at my nervous system and my life experiences have taught me to expect bad things to happen and to expect that things won’t work out because especially in childhood, that’s what I learned. Right. So, so yeah, obviously it doesn’t serve like what function does not serve? Well, that’s keeping me stuck, but then on the flip side of that, I found myself sort of going down the toxic positivity route after I read Dr. Dispenza’s book, because he talks about aligning yourself with the best possible outcome, you know, fixating your energy on that. And that’s the direction you’re going ahead. And, but if I was feeling like shit, one day, it was like, Oh, I’m not supposed to feel this way. Or, Oh my gosh, if I stay stuck in this space, I’m going to start attracting all the negative back to me again. I’m glad I read the book and it’s one that I recommend to people even today because it does challenge, especially those who are in a victim mentality. And I know a lot of traumatized people live in a sort of victim mentality and it really is the mentality of. This is how it’s always been. Bad things happen to me. I expect that things will not work out. I’m just doing the best I can to survive. Like that is a victim mentality, plain and simple. So it challenged my victim mentality, the book. But I’ve also had to check myself on the toxic positivity because it’s like, if that’s all I’m thinking about is the happiness and attracting the positive things to me and all of that, then when I do have a human moment Or a human emotion or whatever that I have judged as not being positive. Then it sort of makes my traumatized brain, you know, want to take down the whole house of cards because I had a bad moment because I think I’m not doing it right. It’s that perfectionistic thing that a lot of traumatized people have is they’re trying to be perfect at everything even, even perfect at fixing their trauma. So I’m wondering just what your thoughts are on that. ANDREW: Yeah. yeah, there’s actually a few things I can say to that. First thing, I’ll say when it comes to treatment of trauma, healing of trauma, I do think very highly of EMDR. For those who don’t know the eye movement, desensitization, reprocessing. I’m not personally trained in EMDR, but I’ve worked with a lot of clinicians who are, I’ve heard that it’s not necessarily about eye movement anymore, but bilateral reprocessing. So sometimes there’s different ways to do that. But yeah. So in the healing of trauma, like the whole bilateral reprocessing piece is huge and I’ve, I’ve heard many, many, many success stories. and there’s other types of modalities that can work with trauma. But I do think EMDR is one of the best. I know EMDR specifically was what was spoken of quite frequently and, the book, The Body Keeps the Score. A lot of folks know about that book deals very much with trauma. so yeah, I just want to put that plug in there. I And I’m sorry, I’m losing my train of thought. What was the, there was like, there was like a two part to that. LINDSEY: It’s fine. the second part of the question was, we were talking about toxic positivity. ANDREW: Oh, that’s right. Toxic positivity. Yeah. Something that you said earlier did kind of stick in my mind. Being focused on what you wanted in life and kind of being aligned with that and pursuing that, but then say that there comes a day when you do feel like shit. And then that kind of just things start to derail anything. Well, crap, I need to change this because I keep feeling this way. It’s going to be manifesting the things I don’t want, rather than the things I want. And that’s something that I see a lot with folks. Especially when it comes to focusing on values and doing value driven action, I’ve even had a client tell me that their value is feeling better. I’m like, well, that’s not a value because you can’t value things that you can’t control and this is a hard pill for a lot of people to swallow, but you can’t control those. Right. I’m just going to say it. You can’t control those. I know people who are doing CBT and DBT are like, well, you know, you can’t fucking control those. You just can’t. You can do all of your coping skills and try to suppress them, try to reframe them, try to redirect them. You can’t straight up control those. LINDSEY: That’s why I didn’t like DBT and CBT because like trying to reason my way or think my way out of something that I was experiencing anyway. And not, again, going back to pain avoidance, not being able to just sit with it and just be with it. I’m wondering if you can just speak more to encouraging people, how to sit with pain and how to not avoid it whenever our instinctive reaction is hit the brakes, turn around Distract ourselves, repress change, modify, like when that’s the nervous systems, you know, the survival brains response. I’m wondering if you can encourage people how to sit with it. ANDREW: Yeah. You know, I do think that the key is learning to just be present, present mindedness. That probably does sound a little cliche because that is kind of being present minded and mindful and, You know, all of those types of phrases are really big right now. Especially for folks who like practice yoga or do have any kind of a meditation practice, and I’m not saying that that cures everything, but the reality is that does help because for the most part, anxiety is, and I have struggled with debilitating anxiety off and on in my life. So I am speaking both as a clinician and as someone who’s experienced it, it, yeah, anxiety is this phenomenon that very much does take you out of the present. and depression kind of as to they kind of like to, at least for me, they always ebbed and flowed and played off of each other. I think that the key is mindfulness and learning to be present mind to. Now that can look different for so many people. It can be yoga, it can be meditation, mindfulness classes. Jujitsu did it for me actually. Brazilian jujitsu is, it is a martial art. It’s anyone who’s interested, it’s not a striking martial arts, so you’re not going to get punched or kicked in the face but a lot of like the warmups they do, for example, are all yoga poses. It’s great for flexibility and stuff and you just, for me, it really helped me to learn to, I don’t know, just focus my energy on what I had control over. In other words, the thing of Brazilian jujitsu is, You definitely can be sparring with or rolling with, as they say with a much larger opponent and you can still have the advantage over that opponent. And you’re kind of just using their own momentum and their weight against them. You’re not muscling through stuff. You’re not forcing things that you don’t actually have control over. You’re learning your own strengths and just kind of rolling with the energy that they give you. So there’s like some really interesting life lessons I feel like from doing that. So that was more of a personal example. That’s something that worked for me. I think the biggest piece, and this is just sort of a paradigm shift. It doesn’t mean that your days are going to all feel okay. Obviously, because your goal is still just to have the uncomfortable shit go away, it’s kind of one of those hard pills to swallow. Like it’s not going to, and the more you fixate on it, the harder it’s going to get. The key really is learning that these thoughts can exist and they don’t have to pull you off course and they can still exist. It’s not one of those things where you’re trying to ignore it and then hoping by ignoring it, it goes away. It might not go away. But the key difference is you’re calling the shots on your life rather than this thing over here that you’re trying to avoid. And acceptance and commitment therapy, we’ll talk about thoughts, being hooked by thoughts. I honestly don’t have a practice that teaches you how to stop these thoughts or how to get rid of these thoughts. The key is to just learn that you’re not being controlled by them. And acknowledging the negative thoughts is important. So like if someone’s going into a mindfulness practice and their intention and their goal, and that mindfulness practice is to get rid of these negative thoughts. Yeah. Good fucking luck. You’re not, you’re going to probably intensify them. I’m sorry to tell you. And I’ve honestly had some, some clients I’ve worked with that. I don’t say this the first session, but once who I knew pretty well, that we’re a little deflated because we would be like six months into working on stuff and they would kind of say something like that. And then they would ask me, well, what do you think I’m like, do you really want to hear straight? I mean, exactly what I think, because I’m like, you’re, you’re being hooked by your thoughts again, like your negative thoughts you’re being pulled around by these negative thoughts, wherever they take you. If you’re not fixated on just getting rid of the uncomfortable stuff, It does actually tend to diminish because you’re not focusing on it because you are focusing on what you want, what you care about. One of the big questions that I always ask people, because a lot of times when we’re having the whole conversation of values, A lot of times people do get hung up in the idea that will I value feeling better. I value being happy. I, your value in things that you can’t control those, so values are some is a, is a life trajectory that you can’t control. And so what I then ask them when they’re getting hung up on some of those conversations, I’ll ask them. Okay, so you have a debilitating depression. I hear you. Let’s just say hypothetically, it didn’t exist tomorrow morning. What would you do differently tomorrow? What would you be able to do tomorrow that you’re not able to do when the depression is here? And that usually helps switch it because like, so like for example, like someone might say, well, I love writing. I mean, I’m a creator, I’m an artist, I’m a writer. I want to write. if I didn’t have this happening tomorrow, I would get up and I might start journaling. I might start working on an outline for that draft of that one project that I want to do. For example, then they start talking about actually doing things that are value driven rather than, well, I feel like shit. So I’m going to sleep in until noon, and then I’m going to do this, this, and then I’m, you know, and then all these things of trying to feel better or feeling like that they’re not able to, or allowed to do what they want because they don’t feel good. You know, it’s possible to do the things that you want to do in life and simultaneously not feel good. Right? A lot of people don’t want to hear that. I know. But the more you understand that and start moving in that direction, the negative does start to have less of an intense hold on you. But if you’re going into it with the ulterior motive of, I want to make these uncomfortable thoughts, not have as much power over me. That’s the catch 22. Well, that’s like that target fixation thing with the motorcycle. If your fixation is to not hit that light pole, and that’s all you’re focusing on. You’re probably going to hit it. I’m sorry. You just are. LINDSEY: Well, I did an Instastory the other day, about growth goes where your energy flows and if your energy is flowing into avoid, avoid, avoid, don’t think about the uncomfortable stuff. Suppress it, modify it, change it, guilt myself into not feeling that way. Distract myself from it. Like if that’s where the energy is going, you’re actually still putting energy into the thing that you actually don’t want to feel you’re feeding it. I used to think when I was brand new on this journey, my husband has always been I mean, I hate to use the word ahead, but I mean, really my husband kind of, his awakenings have happened before mine have. And one of the big things that he’s really good at doing is letting go. Like, he just is great at letting go and just flowing with life. And me, I’m the opposite. I just want to hold on to everything and white knuckles and control, control control. And, you know, I know it’s a trauma response. Like he doesn’t have the complex childhood trauma that I have. So, his nervous system reacts differently than mine, but. Whenever I first started this, I thought that if I could just figure out how to let go and accept what is then that meant it would go away. So I still had the ulterior motive that acceptance equals pain has gone. Acceptance equals anxiety has gone. Acceptance equals discomfort has gone. And you know, it turns out as you know, it turns out that that’s not really actually how it works. Right, but isn’t it weird? How are they try to do those mental gymnastics to, again, we’re trying to logic and reason our way through something that is not logical or reasonable. ANDREW: Yeah. I’ve done so much of that in my own life. So I personally relate as well because yeah, I mean, I have, Oh my gosh. Quite a background of debilliating, depression, anxiety, myself. So like I have so much empathy for people who continue to struggle with it and just can’t quite figure out how it works. I guess, if you want to say it that way, Yeah, I can’t tell you how many, like mindfulness practices or whatever different types of self-help books that I, you know, these journeys that I embarked upon and at, at the core of it, my goal was to feel a little less shitty. Some of them might’ve worked better than others, but ultimately did any of them work well? No, because at the end of the day, I’m hyper focused on what I didn’t want. LINDSEY: Yeah. Yeah. So for people who may be listening to this and are where you and I have been in the past, which is if I can just figure out how to let go of this and accepted, then it’s gonna go away, or I’m going to try to change it or whatever, and it’s going to go away. Whenever I talk about sitting with hard things, being comfortable, being uncomfortable, letting go of control and all of that, I inevitably get DMs from people who are like, I just don’t think that’s possible for me. And it seems like, and I used to be the same way. It was like, I was a special case, like, yeah, that works for you, but it’s not going to work for me because I already tried that. My doctor says this, this is my diagnosis, and that’s why it won’t work for me. And I’m talking about mental health diagnoses as well as physical health things. Cause I, I run into, I have a lot of health and wellness background. I’m a certified health coach. And so I’ve worked with a lot of people who have chronic illness and chronic pain and autoimmune disease. And a lot of those people, I mean, you know, like you, I feel empathy for them, but at the same time, it’s like, They’re so focused on the pain that they might feel if they go outside for a walk. And they’ve convinced themselves like, well, because I have this diagnosis, then I get a free pass for going outside for a walk, even though I’m capable of doing that, I’m not going to do it because it might cause me pain and I might flare up for a week or whatever else, you know what I mean? And so there’s always this special circumstance of like, that might work for everybody else, but it’s not going to work for me. And here’s why, I’m wondering if you can speak to that sort of mindset. And maybe if you’ve run into that with your clients, how you’ve dealt with it. ANDREW: Yeah. I definitely see that happen quite a bit. yeah. So acceptance commitment therapy works great with people who have chronic pain and things like that. I have not personally worked with that particular demographic much, but I do know that they’ve definitely done trials with that particular niche and it actually has been pretty effective. I still feel like at the root of it, and I’m not trying to discount anybody’s experience, but usually at the root of it, it’s still coming back to I want to feel better. And so this thing that you’re suggesting I try to do. Okay. I’ll do that. Oh. But I don’t feel better, so fuck it. It doesn’t work. I realize it’s not as easy as flipping a switch. And so I will also say, I guess depending upon the history that somebody has with a particular issue or situation and how deeply engrained it is for them. Like, you know, I, I do think actually doing therapy or some type of therapy. I mean, I don’t care who you see as a therapist or whatever, but doing something like that I do think is hugely important. You know? obviously I have a presence on Instagram and I think Instagram is great for community and support and whatnot, but you know, it’s not therapy, so it’s not a replacement for therapy, a self-help books, even the good clinically based ones. It’s not a replacement for therapy. I’m a therapist, obviously I’m biased, but I do think that that’s so, so, so, so important because in my own family I know people who, you know, that they bounce from one thing to another, like from this cleanse to this diet, to this lifestyle, to this self-help book and I’m not saying therapy is the answer when all those other things aren’t, but it’s like the underlying function of all of those behaviors is I want to feel better. I want to feel better. I want to feel better. I really do feel that the biggest thing is the paradigm shift of thinking where learning to really orient yourself after what you want, rather than what you’re afraid of. And I will also add to that a lot of people who have lived their whole lives, dealing with depression, chronic pain, anxiety, even more, you know, substantial diagnoses like bipolar or of some of the personality disorders. Like I know borderline gets over-diagnosed a lot, but I do think working with a therapist can help a lot with teasing out what you do actually care about because when you have been so focused on just survival, it’s hard to break out of that on your own. And that’s not a moral, moral failure. If you’ve never known anything different, like, I can’t really blame you for not knowing how to, you know, change the life trajectory. Like why would you know how to do that? But I do think that the therapy piece is super important. You know, it’s the idea that you can do something that matters to you and you can do it with the presence of discomfort. perfectionism and procrastination is part of this. A lot of us, we don’t want to start on whatever it is that we’re putting off until we feel better until we’re happy until we’re at that certain place where we feel like we can handle it. And the thing that he pointed out is like, you know, your mind is telling you that there’s these thoughts that you’re having, that you’re being hooked by. And part of, you know, a simple example like, tell yourself, I cannot lift my arms. And you say it, you say it, you say it. But then towards the end you’re still saying, I can’t, I can’t lift my arms as you’re lifting your arms. And you know, it’s a silly example maybe, but the reality is it’s the same idea. Your mind is telling you, you can’t do something and it can be telling you that as you’re actually doing it. Yeah. Point being you don’t have to wait for those thoughts to not be there, to do the thing. LINDSEY: Yeah. You can still do the thing, even if it’s in perfectly, that’s fine. Because I know like with procrastination and perfectionism, I’m a perfectionist. So, you know, I don’t want, I don’t want to do the thing until I can do it perfectly. It was like, okay, well, that’s, that’s just a form of anxiety. ANDREW: It’s not that you don’t want to do the thing. You just don’t want to fuck up the thing and then feel shame for it. Right. You’re just avoiding shame. That’s all you’re doing. LINDSEY: Yeah. So that can help people. you know, even that practical example of like lifting your arms, as you’re telling yourself, I can’t lift my arms. If somebody were to start doing that, could they even with a silly thing like that, could they not begin to retrain their brain, that they can do the things that they think they can’t do? And then that takes them out of victim and into empowered, conscious creator of a new reality. ANDREW: Yeah. And I think so. I just use the example of raising your arms. You could insert any behavior. Yeah, I think that that could work. LINDSEY: Yeah. I know one of your big passions is talking about religious deconstruction and religious trauma. So I don’t want to have this interview and without us, at least getting into a little bit of that. I’m curious if you can share your perspective on religious trauma and pain avoidance and acceptance and commitment therapy and how those go together. ANDREW: Yeah, so religious trauma, I think that it’s an often overlooked type of trauma. Clinical professionals, maybe either they don’t recognize it or they don’t view it as being a legitimate form of trauma. I mean, there’s many reasons for this. A couple of the reasons for one, when you actually go by the DSM-V is the diagnostic and statistical manual for a mental health illness. I mean, it’s kind of like the Bible of all things, mental health diagnoses, and it does kind of have a fairly rigid definition of trauma. It’s not the only definition of trauma in the world. But it’s the one that, you know, insurance panels care about. There’s a lot of varying opinions of what is actually trauma. There’s some people that they think if you don’t actually have a PTSD diagnosis, you don’t have trauma, which is complete bullshit. That’s not accurate at all. that’s just a particular manifestation of certain types of symptoms that yes are caused by trauma, but just because you have trauma doesn’t mean you’re going to have a PTSD diagnosis. You can have tons of other diagnoses or no diagnosis at all. The thing with religious trauma is it’s predominantly psychological it’s mental, it’s emotional, spiritual. So even things like the ACE questionnaire, the ACE questionnaire is that, questionnaire for adverse childhood events or adverse childhood experiences it’s a very commonly used trauma questionnaire and oftentimes you can have substantial religious trauma. And score a zero or maybe a one on the ACE questionnaire. And so on paper clinically, it looks like, Oh, well, this person has not really gone through too much or they’re probably okay. And yet you have still gone through the religious trauma and are still exhibiting symptoms that are consistent with maybe a PTSD diagnosis or something else. The point being, you still have some real negative ways that that is impacting your life. And yet it’s not popping up on some of these clinical diagnostic tools. And so I think there’s a lot of therapists and licensed clinicians who, unless they’ve lived it themselves, they’re kind of like, eh, that’s yeah, that might’ve sucked, but I don’t really see it. That’s not really trauma. That’s kind of like just, I don’t know, some anxiety and maybe some issues with your parents. I don’t know. LINDSEY: Yeah. I think too though, I mean, at least in my experience only recently has it come to the surface that religion is harmful. For the past 6,000 years, religion was seen as a good thing because especially Christianity, because it gave you something to put your trust and hope in outside of yourself. But at the same time, like I remember doing an adverse childhood experiences questionnaire, and I don’t remember a single religious question being asked on that. ANDREW: There’s not one. LINDSEY: No. Okay. So we have a society or culture who for most of our recent history has seen religion as a good thing, because if you can believe in God and that sort of implies like a moral understanding, like people who are Christians sort of have this moral upstanding, this of, you know, they, they don’t kill people and they don’t lie and they don’t, you know, have sex outside of marriage and, things like that. So there’s just like moral stigma, I guess. I know plenty of Christians who are very immoral, you know? But it’s just the way that our culture sees it. You know, it’s a stereotypical christian of being a good person and how that’s good for you to have a God that you can pray to and put your trust in and your faith in and ask forgiveness for your sins. And of course you have the Bible, that’s like your roadmap to how to live this moral upstanding life. But what a lot of people don’t realize is actually how damaging that is. And I think that fundamentalist Christianity particularly, but I mean, I would say religion in general, especially the, you know, the big major ones like Judaism and Islam and, and Christianity, I think there’s a huge amount of pain avoidance. And like, they teach it as a, it’s like a doctrine. I feel like. Like it’s an unspoken doctrine. I’m wondering if you can elaborate on that a little bit more if you, if you’ve seen that for yourself. ANDREW: Yeah, definitely. I do think that’s actually one of the biggest reasons I definitely don’t really identify with the church anymore and have kind of like just stuck away from all that. Everything’s oriented around pain avoidance. it really is. And so some examples of that, it’s like the idea that, you’re looking forward to this afterlife where everything will be perfect. Or you’re praying to God to heal this disease or take this pain away and cause not only is it avoidant, but it’s also taking all burden of responsibility off of yourself for your own life. I’m not saying you have control over other people’s illnesses and whatnot, but, but even for your own life, you know, here’s a very concrete example. I’ve known folks who have stayed in toxic, dysfunctional marriages, their entire life. They were miserable their entire life. And the reason they did it is because God doesn’t like divorce. So what you in essence have is somebody who is taking their own dreams, their own health, their own autonomy, and placing it upon the altar of self sacrifice because if they didn’t, I mean, they would have been, I suppose, especially if they didn’t have a good reason ostracized by their church, which, you know, social community, I get it. but also the fear that if they’re not in favor with God, they’re going to hell after they die. You know? So it’s very much, again, pain avoidance, even in the afterlife. So, yeah, I do very much feel that most of religion, especially evangelical Christianity, which of course is what I’m most familiar with. I do think it’s almost completely oriented around pain avoidance. LINDSEY: Okay, Andrew, last question for you. What are three practical in the moment tips you could give someone who’s struggling with feeling the hard things, struggling with being comfortable, being uncomfortable and lets their fluxing emotions run the show. How would you help them to in that moment, identify it. Sit with it, you know, whatever. How would you help them do that? ANDREW: Yeah. I think one of the primary pieces that I spend a lot of time working on with, well with clients or other people who asked me that type of question is just reminding them of the idea that, well, it’s okay for this thing, this thought, this feeling, this emotion it’s okay for it to exist. And you can still be okay with it existing. I know a lot of times people will equate the progress they’re making with how often or how infrequently they feel these things. And that’s the one big thing I’m always redirecting, just because you’re feeling this thought creeping up in the back of your mind is not evidence of your journey not working. In fact, I would say the opposite, the fact that you’re aware of it at all, and you’re sitting here identifying it and exploring it is evidence to the contrary. It’s evidence that what you’re doing, what you’re working on. It is working because you noticed it before you were pulled away off of center, you know, and just reminding them of that you can be doing, people often will use the phrase doing the work, you can be doing the work and feel like shit, but still be doing the work and doing it exactly how you need to be. I think that oftentimes we do, we get so focused on making the bad go away, that we’re losing sight of what it is we actually want what we care about. The question again, that kind of got miracle question is what I always use to help reorient people to the focus on values. And that miracle question is if you were to wake up tomorrow and all of this negative shit was just magically gone, it didn’t exist in your life what would you be doing? Like, what would you be doing? What is it, what is your depression getting in the way of today? What is your anxiety, not letting you accomplish that that’s like your dream in life. That’s what you would love more than anything to be in life, but your anxiety is not letting you do it? That kind of miracle question is kind of a good reframe that helps people then actually tap into what their values are. and then the other one is, I really think that just working with somebody’s therapist, of course, you know, I, again, I know that’s not in the moment, but I do think that a lot of folks try to do this alone. They try to go out on their own and with self help books with Instagram pages, and it’s hard because if you, if you’re not working with like some kind of a professional again, the therapist is what comes to mind. Cause I’m a therapist. It doesn’t have to be a therapist. It can literally just be a mentor. Someone who’s walked this path. I don’t care. Like just somebody having that additional support, having that accountability, having that sounding wall, that confidant. I really think that’s huge because you know, I, I think that addiction, I think mental illness. I think all of these things thrive in isolation and in secrecy. And it may be no one’s deliberately keeping it secret, but you get what I’m saying? Like the isolation piece that’s big. And if we can eliminate that, I think that that’s a big piece of that struggle. LINDSEY: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for sharing all this today. I’m really happy that you joined. Can you tell people where they can find you? ANDREW: Yeah, absolutely. So, at the moment, I am on I’m only on Instagram. That’ll be changing soon, hopefully, but at the moment I’m on Instagram. My tag is, at deconstruct underscore everything. So deconstruct everything. And that’s where I’m at currently. So. LINDSEY: Nice with more to come in the future? ANDREW: Much more to come. LINDSEY: That’s exciting. Well, I’m having you back to talk about religious trauma more, cause I know that that’s a passion of yours and certainly as a passion of mine. So, we’ll talk more about that in the future, but thank you so much for joining and, I look forward to talking to you again soon. ANDREW: Thank you for having me. LINDSEY: All right. Wasn’t that such an insightful interview? I really hope you glean a lot from what Andrew shared today, and that helps you in your own personal journey of learning to sit with discomfort and not live your life trying to avoid pain. Something for all of us to think about. You can find the links to the books that Andrew and I talked about as well as how to follow him on Instagram in the show notes of the podcast Show notes are at lindseylockett/podcast. And as always, you can find me on Instagram @iamlindseylockett. [OUTRO MUSIC]