Marketing is the Product Podcast
Podcast: Shelli Tripp-Norvell on Mental Health, Identity, and Mindfulness
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Shelli Tripp-Norvell is a Psychotherapist in Nashville, Tennessee. In this episode, Shelli walks us through her journey to becoming a therapist, as well as detailing various aspects of the journey that we go through to get “un-stuck”. 

The year 2020 left so many of us realizing the importance of our own mental health. There is no better time to talk about what that journey looks like than now, and from someone who has done the work herself, and has the tools to help you grow into the fullest version of yourself!

Her website: https://www.shellinorvell.com

Her phone number: (615) 716-9902

0:55 – Shelli’s introduction … What she does
2:00 – What got you into this field?
6:45 – Getting deeper into Shelli’s story
14:50 – Understanding your own identity
17:00 – Sitting in the experiences that you’ve had
21:00 – Why do we avoid facing things head-on?
28:50 – 2020 and mental health… What changed for you last year?
32:00 – Taking care of yourself
34:00 – Mindfulness discussion 
40:00 – What is “re-processing & EMDR”?
47:00 – Getting “un-stuck”
50:00 – Finding balance in such a heavy field 
56:00 – Wounded healers and empaths 
1:00:00 – What SHELLI is passionate about…

Pierson: Hello, everybody. This is Pierson here with the Marketing is the Product podcast. I’m here with Brandon Rollins.

Brandon: Hey, everybody.

Pierson: And today, we have Shelli Tripp-Norvell. Shelli, how are you?

Shelli: Hey, I’m great. How are you guys?

Pierson: I am fantastic. It is great outside today, haven’t got to be outside at all, but I am enjoying looking at this weather through my window. [chuckle]

Shelli: Well, I will… I’ll probably rub it in then that I got to be outside a little bit on a hike today, so… It’s beautiful here in Nashville.

Pierson: Yeah? So to get things started today, Shelli, why don’t you tell everybody what you do for work?

Shelli’s introduction … What she does

Shelli: Well, I am a psychotherapist. I work primarily with women, but I do have a little bit of a… Probably 10% of my clientele are also men. Working with women who are in recovery, and men who are in recovery from some sort of trauma that is a result from psychological or pathological love relationships, or any kind of narcissistic abuse, emotional abuse, anything like that, which is a very, is actually very broad. I work in private practice here in Nashville, I’ve built that up. Probably took me about two years to get to a full-time, and just absolutely love what I do, helping people get free, just finding freedom within themselves, whatever that freedom might look like.

Pierson: That’s an incredibly powerful thing to do, and it’s a very rewarding path, I would imagine, for you, emotionally. But to get to the place that you’re at, I know that you just said that it took you a couple years to get to the full-time status. What, initially, got you going in this field and put you on the path that led to where you’re on, where you’re at right now?

What got you into this field?

Shelli: Well, geez, how much time do you have? [chuckle]

Brandon: We’ve got as long as you need.

Shelli: Goodness gracious! You know, I think that I’ve always known that I wanted to be… I feel like the Ms. America girl running for Ms. America pageant. I wanna help people. I’ve always wanted to help people in some way, bring joy, add a spark of love to people’s lives. Since I was a little girl, that has always been in me. I just didn’t know, obviously, what that would look like. But what brought me here would probably be my own healing from my trauma. I’ve had psychological, physical, sexual trauma in my past, and even spiritual abuse trauma that just kind of… I fell apart. It led me to a place of having an utter nervous breakdown 10 years ago. And in that, healing of that and actually finally picking myself up and going, “Something’s gotta change, I’ve gotta get off this path. I am a train wreck. I’ve gotta do something different.”

Shelli: And how I did that something different was a very intuitive, a little led by a counselor that I was going to, but very intuitive journey. And I wasn’t even a counselor at that time. I was going through a divorce. I was cleaning houses, and substitute teaching, and tutoring, and doing all kinds of odd jobs just to work while I was going through the divorce and in the divorce. And then I became a health coach, loved that. But what I found was I wanted to go deeper with my clients than just helping my clients figure out how to lose weight, feel autoimmune. There’s always something so much deeper that I didn’t have that training to take them through any kind of healing with integrity I felt so then, I went back to graduate school and got my Master’s in Counseling.

Shelli: So I’ve been graduated now for almost two years and started working on building that private practice two years ago. And now, here I am with a full schedule, and it’s like, I just feel like I wanna make a t-shirt that says, “I have the roadmap. Follow me. I can get you there. We can do this, I promise, trust me, because I did it.” And I’m really, really passionate about helping people see that people do change. People change. They can change if they wanna do the work. And it doesn’t matter how old you are, it doesn’t matter what you’ve been through. You can change. Once a cheater, always a cheater? Not always true. Once this, you name the dysfunction. People can change if they want to. It just takes an awful lot of work. And I sit here on the other side of that, completely passionate about helping people get to that point and taking that journey with them and in the process. Everybody’s process is just a little bit different, but it’s… I just love it. I love it.

Pierson: And so going back just a second to what you said a minute ago, what really got you going in this was going through your own healing process and kind of being in the trenches, so to speak, of going through the lows and overcoming them. What, if you don’t mind and if you’re comfortable with it, would you mind walking us through how those steps led you to where you’re at?

Shelli: Gosh, there are so many steps, Pierson. [chuckle] How, which… Do you want me to start from childhood? Do you want me to…

Pierson: Let’s see, so you said that you were cleaning houses, you were in a divorce, you were going, trying to do a mismatch array of jobs to kinda get through. And then with that healing process started a new journey of you following a completely different path that has led to you having your own successful private practice, correct?

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Getting deeper into Shelli’s story

Shelli: Correct. And I think that the beginning of that was actually, it was, I finally got… For the beginning of this journey, I had to get to the end of the other journey. And I came to the, literally, the end of my rope. I was so deep in a pit, like I… You look up and all I saw was dark. I had a nervous breakdown. I had spent a week in a psychiatric hospital because of it, and I think what led to that for me was as I was going through the divorce, and there was so much dysfunction and the abandonment of people in the church not understanding, ’cause I was very involved in church, not understanding what was going on, no one was really there to hold me up. And my pain of all of that, there was so much judgement. And for me, that was my end. That was where I hit bottom because growing up, my greatest fear, this was a thread throughout my life, was going to hell. My greatest fear was separation from God. That had been pounded into me at such a young age that I was always bad and I had to do all the things.

Shelli: And so here I am, I’m 40 years old. I teach Sunday school. I have women in my house and lead Bible studies. I visit the sick. I take meals to people who are sick. I serve on these committees. I work in children’s church. I serve the youth. If you could have had a gold sticker and a star chart on the refrigerator for being the best Christian woman ever out there, I would have had all the gold stickers, right? So here I go, I come into this midlife correction kind of crisis, and I start asking questions. What’s really going on? Started questioning, not my faith, but just the legality of how the Western church operates. Started asking a lot of questions and expanding my mind and thoughts, and then going through the divorce and the entire… Everything that I’d spent my life serving abandoned me. And at that point, where does one turn who has grown up and is at 40 years old and has nowhere to turn? And that just is where… It just broke me.

Shelli: So coming out of that, I had an awful lot of what’s called cognitive dissonance about people, a lot of… Two things going on, a lot of rigid thinking. I just couldn’t understand… I didn’t even know who I was. There was co-dependency. I was just an absolute trainwreck. And so I remember being given an assignment by the counselor that I was seeing at the time, and the assignment was to start writing a letter to myself. Now, however I get to that letter, he didn’t care, he just… He gave me an assignment and I had to carry it out however I felt necessary. And as a therapist now, I know that what that was doing was that was kind of aligning up my conscientious part of my soul and healing some of that cognitive dissonance and learning to call out my own beauty and my own worth, and I was all I had. I had to learn how to advocate for myself and do some really deep trauma work, and I didn’t even know what I was doing. I just did it intuitively.

Shelli: And after doing that deep work, I came out of it, I felt like a brand new person. I felt like, “Oh, my gosh! I’m awesome! I’m worthy!” I was able to really see myself in a different light than I had grown up seeing myself. And that was the beginning for me. I’m still at 40, and here I am today, I’m 51. And still lots of work to do. Still had to go through a divorce, still had to be in a lot of hard situations, still made some pretty bad choices along the way that caused consequences. But I kept moving, and I kept going, and I kept looking up. And by looking up, I meant just not looking behind me and looking at the past and shaming myself, but looking ahead, looking at the goal, and just trying to embrace that journey. And I was still choosing unhealthy relationships. It just, you just don’t get from point A to Z right away, right? And so in all of that learning, I finally came to a place where someone said, “I’ll listen to you talk to your clients.” I was health coaching at the time and, “And I listen and I hear you and you, I think you ought to really consider going back to school to get your Master’s.”

Shelli: I had also written a book, and this person knew, and I’d been… Had a writing mentor, and I was working really hard, and the book is my story, and it’s my healing journey, and everything that I’ve been through in childhood and reconciling that. And I knew that at the end of that, I really wanted to publish and help other women and use my story as a way to inspire. Never had I had the notion that I was gonna actually become a psychotherapist and help people that way, too. So in doing that, in writing the book, that was narrative therapy at its finest. And I did all of this before grad school. So then, I went to grad school and I started learning about all the different models of therapy, trauma work, all kind, attachment theory. And I would literally, in my head, as I learned about these different models of therapy, go, “Oh, my gosh! I did that already. Oh, my gosh! I did that. I’ve done that on myself.” So…

Brandon: So in a way, a lot of the terrifying and awful things you experienced helped bring life and a sort of context to psychotherapy techniques. Is that accurate?

Shelli: Yes, very accurate. And I feel like it’s not that I’m trying to toot my own horn, but I feel like it’s what makes me good at what I do.

Brandon: I was just thinking this. I was going to ask you if you felt like the things that you had experienced on your own, difficult as they were, if that helped you to relate to clients that you speak with.

Shelli: It really does. Brandon, one of the things with therapy is, especially in the very beginning phases of meeting with a new client, they just really need to be seen and heard and understood because chances are, they probably haven’t been. And one of the books I, and I’m gonna get… One of the books I read in grad school was the very first paper I wrote in grad school and the first book I read in grad school, was called The General Theory of Love, and I had to write a paper on that. And it was, one of the quotes in it, I actually ended up going back and putting in my book, but it’s like, “Everyone has a desire to be known and to know and to see and be seen and to be heard and hear.” Those things are just, we deserve those and we need those things and so often, my clients come in to me in the very beginning. And just to sit with them and go, “Oh, my gosh! I hear you, I see you.” And I can really empathize because honestly, there’s not a whole lot I haven’t experienced in my life. And that has, it’s allowed me to give that gift back to my clients and really show up for them in a way that most of the time, they haven’t been showed up for. So almost like a re-parenting in the beginning phases. I don’t know, what do you think about that?

Understanding your own identity

Pierson: I think that’s likely. I’ve been in therapy myself, and I know, Brandon, as we’ve also talked about that as well, but you go through this process of kind of searching for your own identity and recognizing how much of your identity is from you and how much of your identity comes from the people around you in your life. And I think one of the things that I’ve recognized, and it is how much your early childhood can really shape who you turn into as an adult.

Shelli: Yeah, there’s a quote from that book. I actually wrote it down ’cause I just love this book so much, that the author said, “Who we are and who we become depends on who we love.” And so also, it depends on who has loved us from our primary caregivers and our attachments. And that is one of the things. I didn’t have the greatest childhood. I didn’t come into this world with the greatest of situations. And there was a lot of abandonment, there was… At a very young age, my little baby brain conceptualized that I wasn’t worthy and that I was abandoned and didn’t have even an attachment figure to even hold me or love on me until after I was eight weeks old. And so if that’s already set up, and then you’re set up with a parent who really had no idea how to navigate their own emotions, they had their… My parents, my mother had her own trauma. She was, she came from all kinds of abuse and trauma from her background. And so not having any tools, how in the world was she gonna help me grow up and navigate mine? She didn’t know how to navigate hers. And so that is actually another, it’s on my website. I wanna help everyone figure out how to navigate their emotions so later, they’re gonna be able to help steward and navigate other’s emotions. But that work’s gotta start with us.

Sitting in the experiences that you’ve had

Pierson: You’re exactly right. And you know, one of the things that I always end up circling back to is that the experiences that we go through end up shaping us into who we are today. But oftentimes, we aren’t quick to learn to sit in those experiences and accept what they are, whether that be good, whether that be bad. Regardless of how you’re feeling about it, I feel like a lot of times, you end up pushing those feelings down to act like you’re okay, you know?

Shelli: Exactly. Can I speak to that?

Pierson: Yeah, go for it.

Shelli: That is actually one of my favorite things to do with clients when they… And usually, what happens when we try to push things away and not pay attention to the discomfort is we wanna block it, we wanna ignore it, we wanna tell it to go away. And we, sometimes, that’s where addictions are born, or maladaptive, poor coping skills, whatever that is, we are ignoring it. And then the anxiety comes because we get to this place where you can only sweep so many crumbs under the rug before you trip over it. Our feelings, when we ignore them, are an awful lot like a toddler. And if anybody’s ever tried to reason with a toddler when they want something and that you’re telling them no, you can probably imagine how that’s gonna go. What happens when a toddler comes and says, “I want a cookie and I want a cookie right now”? And the mom or the babysitter or the nanny is like, “No, we’re gonna have dinner. You don’t wanna spoil your dinner. You can have a cookie later.” And you just sort, you’re busy in the kitchen doing your thing, and the toddler does this toddler typically just go, “Okay,” and walk away?

Shelli: No, they get bigger and they get louder and they want you to listen to them, I said, I want a cookie, and whatever that looks like for that toddler. So what happens is, some people actually know how to deal with this and they can get eye level with that toddler, get on your knees, look them in the eye, talk to them soothing, Yes, I know, you want the cookie. I see it. They are so good. They are so yummy. I actually would love a cookie too, right now, and even just in that eye contact at eye Level, not looking down and shame at them, ’cause when we look down at something that invokes shame, eye level means I see you, I’m with you, I’m here. And then when we speak sweetly and kindly and empathetically to that toddler, usually they soothe. And that’s what we have to do with our own parts within ourselves, that part of us that gets anxious, that part of us that’s hurting or sad. I did this work with a client yesterday who had an awful lot of loneliness and abandon-ness wounds, and we did this over Zoom even, and it was an excellent session, but we kind of externalized that part and for the first time rather than trying to make it go away, numb it out with Netflix, numb it out with substances, food shopping.

Shelli: There’s all kinds of ways that we numb our emotions, we sat with it, and I actually asked it questions and had her ask that part of herself that was hurting so badly, what have you always wanted to tell me? What do you need right now? How do you need to feel supported that you’ve never felt supported? What was it like when this happened? Just getting really, really curious and externalizing it, soothes that anxiety and it was hard. It’s really, really hard. And I know Pierson you could probably attest to that if you’ve been in therapy too, it’s really hard sometimes sitting with our emotions, but it will pass if we just allow ourselves to be uncomfortable in it for a little while and be curious with it.

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Why do we avoid facing things head-on?

Pierson: Shelli, I wrote down when you were talking a second ago, Why is it in our nature to avoid facing these things? If we’re able to, in our own mind, sit and say, There’s something in my life that is bringing me discomfort, why is it almost seemingly like it’s hardwired into us to avoid facing those things head-on rather than putting band-aids on them?

Shelli: I think that’s hardwired in us because it was hardwired in us and we were conditioned at a very young age. I think that when we go to… And this is something that I went through. I would go to my mom or dad… And I grew up in a very legalistic Christian home, so everything was bad, I was shielded from everything, super protected, but I remember I would go to my dad or mom and be sad, and I would get, “Don’t be sad. Count your blessings”, and I get a Bible verse or I’m angry. Well, anger was never an okay emotion to feel. Another scripture verse would get quoted about not being angry or if I was scared, don’t be scared, the Bible says, Do not fear. So that’s the spiritual abuse component of that for me, so I know that in my hardwiring, it was taught to me at a very young age, emotions are not okay, the only emotion that is okay, ’cause you’ve got pretty much eight core emotions according to ship dot, You’ve got… Let me see if I can get all these. I don’t have it written down. Anger, hurt, sad, lonely, fear, shame, guilt.

Shelli: And I’ve already said gladness, I think I left one out. But in all of those emotions, the only one that I… Speaking for me, was ever taught that was okay, was gladness, and every client that I’ve ever had has agreed, when I say, pick out the emotion on this chart that is good. They only pick gladness, when in actuality, every single one of those emotions has a benefit, has a gift in it. But because it’s conditioned in us at such an early age that the only one that’s “good” is being happy, we learn really, really young to be little performers. And so we learn really young, we can’t trust ourselves, we learn really young to disconnect from ourself because we’re told we can’t have those feelings, and if we do have those feelings we’re bad, and at a child level that we conceptualize good and bad and that is it. And so, if I wanna be good, I gotta act this way. And so we disconnect from our soul, we disconnect from ourselves, and that’s why we have so many… Well, that’s why I stay busy in my private practice, because people come in and they’re just completely disconnected from themselves. And if we don’t learn how to navigate that, we don’t learn how to get back to ourselves, what we do is we end up getting in relationships where we take them down with us, all inadvertently, not on purpose, we just… It’s just a train wreck. It multiplies.

Brandon: It’s funny that you mentioned that, ’cause if you look at a feeling wheel, ’cause most people, when you talk about psychology they’ll have a feeling wheel somewhere, and it’s basically just for anybody listening who’s not familiar with the concept, it’s all the little… The emotions you can feel, and many of the different variants that you can feel visualized as a circle, and the ones that are happy or subset of happiness are like a quarter of it, I’m sure we’ll link this in the show notes or on our website somewhere where you can look at it so you can see what I’m talking about. And the other 75% of that feeling wheel is often ignored sometimes for spiritual reasons, but I also… I think it’s just a large part of the American culture too. One phrase that I have seen bubble up a lot lately, and this might ring some bells for you, has been toxic positivity, which is this kind of attempt to put a happy face on things when things are not happy. I feel like 2020 for a lot of people was the year that toxic positivity in particular really, really broke because you couldn’t put a happy face on last year.

Shelli: Right. Toxic positivity minimizes what we’ve been through. It’s a minimizer.

Brandon: It’s an awful feeling too.

Shelli: Have you ever sat with someone… And I know that I’ve said this before, and I just have to forgive myself for it, but someone’s come and shared a problem with you and you say, “Well, at least you haven’t had this” Or “look on the bright side, X, Y, and Z”. And those at leasts and look on the bright sides or even, “Well, you gotta hear my story ’cause I’m gonna one up you with mine”, that’s minimizing emotions. It’s minimizing. And then what that ushers in is shame. It ushers shame, “Well, I shouldn’t… Well, I guess I shouldn’t feel bad about this” rather than just… People just need to be heard, most of the time, we just need to be heard, we need our voices heard, we need to be seen and heard, and there’s so much healing even in that.

Brandon: There is a bit in Parks and Rec, I had to look this up to get this right, where they tell this very positive character, Chris Traeger, played by Rob Lowe, that he needs to not be positive all the time, and sometimes when people tell him bad things that he just needs to say, “That sucks”, to validate their feelings, and I think it’s particularly poignant because he’s the best example of this kind of thing.

Pierson: It is.

Shelli: You know, it’s just like… I can tell you, I’m a mom and I’ve got a 22-year-old and a 19-year-old. And even though I love my kids so much and I like to call myself pretty aware and at a higher level of consciousness and all of those things, I’ve still messed up and created some suffering for them, and the most healing thing for my children even is to go, “Yeah, that really sucks”. Or “how did I play a role… ” I’ll invite the conversation. “How did I play a role in that? I’m open to hearing that. How did I contribute to your suffering so I can make that right”, or “I’m sorry I contributed to that for you”, but those are all empathetic, not, “Oh, you had a charmed life. Get over it.” There’s nothing defensive in sitting with someone in their junk, whatever that is, it’s just listening and saying, “Yeah, that really sucks”.

2020 and mental health… What changed for you last year?

Pierson: It all circles back to wanting to be heard and seen. It really does. So when you think about 2020, we touched on it a second ago, 2020 was like the year of mental health and mental well-being, where people really were shining a light on how important it is to take care of your well-being and your mental health, especially given quarantine and everything going on with COVID. Is that something that you started to see a lot of in your own practice as well, was that 2020 brought out a lot of people starting to face some of this stuff for the first time?

Shelli: Oh absolutely, I just… My practice doubled in 2020 just because of… Just because of COVID and… Yeah, I don’t even know where to go with that, I just…

Pierson: Well, I feel like in a way, it’s like the quarantine, being stuck inside and having a lot of these resources taken away from us, it seems to where all of a sudden now you can’t go outside, you like to go out to eat? Too bad, you’re stuck inside now, and it really forced whether people were ready for it or not to be alone and to sit in that silence, and I think sometimes people can choose to walk into it and say, This is something that I’m ready to get better at, or I wanna start improving on this and they take gradual steps, and sometimes you get kicked off the cliff into it at full force and you’re like, Hey, so by the way, you’re by yourself all the time now, and you’ve gotta come to terms with everything that you think because it’s just you and you’re stuck inside.

Shelli: And the other part of that, Pierson is that the last statistic that I saw, at least here in Nashville, suicide rate was up 47% last year, because people couldn’t deal with the isolation and the being alone so much and good therapists… I say good therapists, they’re booked. They’ve got waiting lists. It’s hard… You can’t get in. And so there’s definitely a mental health problem going on, we’ve got to find some solutions for that for sure.

Pierson: And correct me if I’m wrong, but it honestly felt like before 2020, there was almost this kind of unspoken stigma about choosing to say “I’m going to therapy, I’m getting help, I’m working on myself”, and it’s like people kinda look down on it in some ways.

Shelli: Yeah, there’s been a stigma for a very long time about it, but it is… It’s improving. I’m seeing that improve. I’m seeing that improve with the younger generations, the 20-somethings, and 30-somethings.

Brandon: And now people joke about my therapist said the funniest thing on social media, this is a whole generation Z meme, I’m not even joking. Which is good, people are able to actually talk about this. And it’s less stigmatized.

Pierson: So in a way, do you think that COVID was one of the main reasons that it kinda made that shift from having a stigma to people prioritizing mental health and prioritizing taking care of your well-being when it’s just you. Because we’re all at a time now to where we’re forced to be alone sometimes, whether we want to or not, and we’re secluded, whether that be from your family or from your friends or from loved ones in general, sometimes we have to be away from it. And when you’re away and you don’t have these outlets that you’re able to typically go to, to alleviate stress and that anxiety. It makes people think, “Okay, well, I have to take care of myself”. And you’re seeing more and more people choose to do that.

Taking care of yourself

Shelli: I agree, I do think that that is a variable in it, for sure, I think there are other variables that play into that, but COVID has certainly ushered that internet warp speed. And I think that’s why we are seeing more memes on Instagram or… I don’t know about Facebook ’cause I’m not on Facebook, but my therapist says, And therapy memes and other therapists that are posting ask a therapist… It’s Ask a therapist Thursday and ask me any questions and things like that going on, it’s been helpful to those who can’t afford therapy, who can’t get in to see a therapist in office, and there are more apps out right now too, to where you can get… You can do a talk therapy through an app on your cell phones and new devices, so it’s becoming more readily available, which is a good thing.

Pierson: That and mindfulness?

Shelli: Yes, oh gosh yes. You’re speaking my language.

Mindfulness discussion

Pierson: Yeah, mindfulness has been catapulted into the spotlight, and I am just as guilty of it, of meditation… I started meditating in 2020, and it genuinely has changed my life, Brandon. I was literally… We have a guest coming on later this week, Shelli, I was following a guided meditation, and this guy parachutes out of the sky and lands next to me as I opened my eyes, and he’s 30 feet in front of me coming over Tennessee River, and I’m sitting in coolidge like “What is going on?” And I had my phone out ’cause I’m listening to Tara Brach Guided meditation, and this guy sees me filming and he goes, “Hey, can you send me that video?” And I go over and start talking to him and he goes, “Yeah, I jumped off of Lookout Mountain like 15 miles away from here, I’ve just been riding the air currents like a bird”, and it’s… Not every experience meditating is that wild, but at the same time, it has been something that I’ve started for the first time in 2020 prioritizing, and it’s really changed my outlook on myself and life around me, and mindfulness as a whole, It’s something that I think could benefit everybody if they take the time to just inform themselves about it and take the necessary steps they need.

Shelli: Well, and I’d be curious to know when you first started to try to practice mindfulness, I imagine it wasn’t easy at first, I imagine even sitting alone with yourself for five minutes with no distraction was torture.

Pierson: Yeah, and the crazy part about that is when… You see everybody kinda joke about that, I think, with meditation, and that’s the series of events that seemingly everybody goes through where they start and it’s like, “Wow, I can’t even do this for a minute”, and then it’s kind of like that slow burn where slowly you get better at it and better at it, to where suddenly you hit 30 minutes and then 45 and so on. But it takes like a year to get to that point. And I was really surprised at first ’cause I’m like, “I can sit down and just not do anything and think”, and I was like, “That doesn’t sound that hard, I can do that.” And then I realized I’m like 30 seconds into this and I’m already antsy to get up. And then the real question is, Well, why do I feel like I have to get up? What’s really making me feel like I can’t just sit and exist and be present, and it circles back to a bunch of different things, whether that’s your own sense of identity or whether or not you have properly sorted through your own problems.

Shelli: Right. Depending on your inner critic, whoever that is, and whatever that inner critic is saying to you, they will come out when you first start trying to be still with yourself and just be. Just be, don’t do anything, just be. And then you notice… I know for myself, I would notice… I would start thinking about something, and then I go, “Oh, I can’t do this, this is… I’m bad at this. This is awful. See, I can’t do it.” That critic comes in and shames me, and when I really started getting serious about practicing it, I was like, “Oh no, this is still mindfulness, I just get to bring my attention back to, Oh, your mind wandered, okay, I can have grace and compassion for that, now let me return my attention to my breath” and notice what it feels like when I inhale and I exhale and “Oh, there goes my mind again, it’s wandering”, and If I entertain that inner critic that wants to shame me and tell me I suck and I can’t do anything right… That’s what my inner critic likes to tell me at least, I can entertain that and go into victim mode, or I can go, “Oh, there. I did it again. Okay, let’s go back”. Turn your attention back to your breath. That’s what happens at first. I don’t know, do you agree with that Pierson? When you started it?

Pierson: Yeah, I think it definitely looks different for everybody and in what they… For me, it would look like I would start it and I would be like, “Oh man, I’ve gotta do this, I’ve gotta do that.” And it kinda would let me… It felt like it was a planning time almost, where I’d sit down and I’d be like, “Okay, I can organize my thoughts.” And then I couldn’t for a long time, but I ended up reaching a point with it to where I was comfortable enough sitting in that silence to where I could continue to do it for a long period of time and not think about what all I have going on. And it really comes down to like being okay with being in the moment and not living in the past, or not worrying about the future, but taking the steps that you can take in the here and now to take care of yourself. And I do it… Like a lot of what we talked about so far it circles back to it being kind of in our nature to avoid facing things, and whether that’s imprinted from a young age in your childhood, or whether that’s societal means that prevent you from looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking, “What do I really need to work on?” Taking that time, that intentional time to just be still with yourself is a very powerful thing, and it can really change the way that you view yourself as well as the people in your life around you.

Shelli: I agree. And also being with yourself, but doing that work, we get back to the therapy piece of this, doing that… Whatever that work looks like for you, for me, for you, Brandon or anybody that’s listening, it’s gonna look different. You might have trauma and you might need to re-process in trauma, and you might need to do like what I’ve just talked about, some parts work, or maybe you need a coach and you just need someone to help you with the here and now, but it’s always beneficial to check in with someone, and start that journey as well. We need that empathetic witness, we’ve all gotten through something in life that’s probably stuck in our little nervous systems, and it causes us to have these false beliefs about self, whatever they are, the, “I’m not… ” I hear, “I’m not enough.” I hear, “I’m not worthy,” a lot, “I’m not lovable. I can’t get support.” Those types of beliefs that carry through and shape everything we do and say.

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What is “re-processing & EMDR”?

Pierson: Shelli, you just said something a second ago that I wanna circle back to, when you say reprocessing, for those that might not have gone through any therapy or are curious as to what you might mean by that, could you elaborate a little bit on… When you say you’re reprocessing something with somebody, what is that process like? What are you referencing there?

Shelli: So reprocessing can… I’m gonna talk about EMDR, but… And I’ll tell you what that stands for, but also it can be re-telling your story, just like what I did when I wrote my book, I re-told my story over and over, I went back and I re-read it, and I wrote more, and so the reprocessing part of that is just the telling and the re-telling of your story and what’s going on. So then within a therapeutic standpoint, there is a therapy called EMDR, which just stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

Shelli: And what we do in EMDR therapy is we find stuck places, things that got stuck in your nervous system when you feel fear, when you feel sadness, when you feel anger, usually you know it’s there because it’s you feel it in your body, and we learn how to become in tune with that and listen to it, and then we pull up memories and we tell those stories within a very systemic fashion that I’m trained in to do, and in that reprocessing and retelling that story, it re-routes… It’s almost like I’ll tell the getting off the old dirt road story, it re-routes your brain, the way that the synapses and your thought processes actually route themselves in your brain will be re-routed. We instill positive cognitions, and before you know it, you go through several sessions of that, you are walking around and you feel like a different person. And it’s that. But it’s hard work. You’re blazing a new trail. And it’s like, we’re going on autopilot, we’re driving down the old dirt road, and in the old dirt road, if you can imagine that your car can drive itself, the grooves are in the… The tire grooves are in the road, and you could take your hand off the steering wheel and that car would keep going down that old dirt road.

Shelli: Well, when we have to blaze a new trail in like EMDR, and another type of therapy, we have to go off course, we have to go into the woods and navigate around the trees and the stumps and all the brush that’s built up, and it takes more than one time to blaze that new trail. We have to repeat, go down it again, it might take a while till the grass lays down and we know the trail around the trees, and it takes that practice. And before we know it, as we practice the new thought processes, the new EMDR, the new positive cognitions and all that that entails and EMDR therapy, the old dirt road’s been grown up. Things are growing over it, erosion is happening, and it’s easier to stay in the new thought and the new way of thinking than it is to go back to the old way. And anyone that’s ever done EMDR will say, “It’s almost like magic and voodoo, it’s like something just snaps and happens.

Shelli: And I know for me, when I got trained in EMDR to do it with my clients, I had to go through it, and I had to do it in a pretty intense way. I had to go to four days in a row, and then a couple of weeks later go to four days in a row and go through EMDR and take people through it, and it was exhausting, but at the end of that, I can remember people would stop me at work and go, “What’s different about you? You’ve changed in a good way. Like, we can’t put our finger on it, but it’s almost like you have more confidence,” or, “I don’t know, what’s different, what happened, what did you do?” And I couldn’t figure it out either until finally, I was like, “I wonder if it’s the EMDR, maybe that’s what it is.” And I do, I think it is that… ’cause my brain just doesn’t think the way it used to think about things, I just… And it’s the mindfulness piece in that too. So yeah, I highly recommend reprocessing.

Pierson: So when you see people go through this process, you’ve been through it yourself now, you’ve been trained in it obviously, are you able to see a shift in people’s being after they’ve gone through this process of EMDR? Are you able to sense that they’ve also had a similar experience to the one that you described?

Shelli: Absolutely, yes. I’m thankful that I have an intuitiveness about me that I can… I usually can see it going on in the room when it’s happening. I can see it in eye movements, I can see it in positioning, body positions, posturing, I look for those types of cues and I can almost tell when it’s going on right away. Sometimes it takes a couple of sessions, and then all of a sudden my client will come back and go, “Oh my gosh, I just… I feel lighter, I feel better,” and it’s not something that I could see happening in the room, but usually I see some sort of signal or a cue that it’s taking, if there’s a connection happening and…

Pierson: Now, when you say that, do you mean specifically in the process of EMDR, you see something happen?

Shelli: Yes, it’s usually something in a body, in a cue, like in a non-verbal, or and like I said, a posture or a tell… Some people have tells… There have been times, ’cause there’s different ways I can do EMDR, but my favorite way to do it is actually not using any other sensory like ears or vibrations or paddles or anything in the equipment that I can use and just using the eyes where we keep our eyes open, ’cause what EMDR does is it mimics what our brain already does in REM sleep and dream state. And so if you’ve ever watched someone in dream state, their eyeballs go back and forth when they’re dreaming, and so in EMDR… I’m doing your eyes back and forth from one side to the next to… It brings balance back without going too technical into what exactly it is, it… I just say it helps unstick your stuck. We recall a memory and we balance that memory out and kind of let the brain do what it’s supposed to do, and when your eyes are open, I can even see pupils dilating, I look for things like that, for sure.

Getting “un-stuck”

Pierson: Wow, it sounds like it’s an incredibly technical process that also sounds like it’s able to really make a difference in people’s life, if they are in a place of that stuckness that you’re talking about, or being on the dirt road, like you said, where you’re just kinda going through the motions almost, and you’re stuck in the same cycle of things. It sounds like that can be a factor that can help people, like you said, get unstuck.

Brandon: Interestingly enough, if you Google EMDR, and you pull up WebMD, it says it’s really good for helping people work through PTSD, and I guess that kind of makes sense, ’cause you would help people re-process some traumatic events in their past, which I think classically, the idea of PTSD is that people get kind of stuck in these events. There’s gotta be a better way to say it, but that’s how I understand it.

Shelli: Well I do, and I’ve talked about this before. I may have even shared this with you before, Pierson, I’m not sure, but one person can… One person’s PTSD can be another person’s not PTSD, right? I can drown in six feet of water and Pierson you can drown in three feet of water. My trauma could be different. And so the trauma isn’t actually the event, it doesn’t always have to be the event, people go straight to the war veterans in PTSD, but a trauma is really an emotion that’s not been free to process or talk about and it just gets stuck. Sometimes, I’ll use the example when I’m explaining it to my clients. Let’s just say, Brandon, you and I grew up living next door to each other, and we had a tornado run through the neighborhood and flattened both of our houses, and for whatever reason, you grew up in life, you had no fear, everything was great, you had no problems, no PTSD. But I lived right next door to you, and my house was flattened too, and I have all kinds of fear and anxiety and fear of storms and all of those things, right.

Shelli: Chances are, I was in a family system that didn’t allow me the opportunity to talk about my fear, that they just said, “Oh, don’t be scared, don’t be silly. That’s never gonna happen again.” The minimization of it all. They meant well most of the time, they just didn’t know how to help me navigate my fear, so my fear got stuck. I wasn’t able to process it in a healthy and a safe way. And maybe you grew up in a family system that your parents took you to therapy, that your parents were very attuned to you, they let… They showed up, they showed up and they were engaged, and they just were responsive and attuned. So a lot of people come in and they’re like, “I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I feel stressed about this, I feel this in my body, and I have these really nightmares and things that go on.” And I’m like, Okay, “well, there’s a stuck emotion in there. It doesn’t have to be the tornado that tore your house down, it’s probably an unresolved processing that needs to happen, and that you need to talk about and we process the meaning of that, and how you conceptualized whatever that was as a child.

Finding balance in such a heavy field

Pierson: So changing gears just a little bit, Shelli, one of the elements of this that we haven’t brought up is you are clearly working in a field where you… Whether it’s good or bad, you are taking on emotions of other people and helping them sit with that, how do you find the balance in your own life, whether that be personal work, whatever that be, to separate the heaviness of helping other people walk through their struggles?

Shelli: Yeah, that’s a great question. I didn’t use to have it, to be honest with you, especially when you sit with people and do EMDR with them, we take on their trauma. If you’re an empathetic person, you’re gonna take on people’s trauma. It’s called vicarious trauma. And there would be days that I would come home and I’d built my private practice while I worked at an agency, and so I was really working my ass off. I hope you don’t have to bleep that out… Sorry. But…

Brandon: We actually have a formal policy called if the guest swears first then we’re allowed to swear.

Shelli: Oh my gosh. So I would work my ass off. I’m gonna say it again. It just feels good to say it, and I would come home after I would take Wednesdays off and I’d worked really hard, Monday and Tuesday, and I would literally just be a puddle on Tuesday nights. I would need to cry, I would need to talk to someone and just get, I would just be super emotional. And Wednesdays, I was jello, like, “Don’t ask me to do anything. I’m just gonna lay in bed, [0:52:29.7] ____ in front of Netflix, I’m gonna be so unproductive” because I was so zapped. And that was the beginning, and I’m gonna be honest with you, what changed for me was COVID, being home more, I got more disciplined about taking care of myself ’cause I was able to start some new practices. And for me that was getting outside and going for a walk more, and we were all under a lockdown, cooking more, finding things that I enjoy doing ’cause I had to be home to nurture that creative side of me, yeah, to having a dance off by myself in the apartment, whatever that looked like for me to relieve stress.

Shelli: Working out is a big deal for me. So moving my body has always been helpful. So when COVID came, I was forced to slow down and then it allowed me to get into that habit. So now I’m so much better at disconnecting, and that sounds harsh, it sounds cold almost, like I don’t bring my work home with me, I’m fully present at work, fully. But when I leave the office, I don’t bring it with me. I don’t want to. I don’t want to be… I don’t wanna play therapist. I’m a therapist at work, I don’t wanna play one on TV. And so I just wanna enjoy. So I find places of joy, I find humor, I find laughter, I surround myself with people that, when I can, that add that to my life, I don’t wanna be weighed down. So I’ve had to make some choices, I’ve had to weed out some friendships, and I’ve just become very, very protective of my space and who I allow in that space and what I allow in that space. And that I’m gonna have more peace because of it.

Pierson: You know, I ask because I think of the times where I’m talking to a buddy or I’m talking to a friend and they’re telling me something that’s going on in their life, and I end up walking away from the conversation feeling in a way what they are feeling. And whether that’s because I’m an empathetic person or whether that’s human nature by itself, you take on what other people have going on, especially if you’re doing it so much, and I feel like having that balance between work and personal life is especially important in a career with the one that you’re on, where you really have to be present for the people when you’re there, but it’s also for your well-being, you have to be able to separate that.

Shelli: Right, it’s that filling myself up, so I’m not giving out of an empty cup. And I wanted to… I wanted to circle back to something you just said about being an empath, being empathic and most empaths, most people who are empathetic and they can take on and feel other people’s whatever it is they’re bringing to the table, their energy, there’s a reason for that, and it’s usually because you’ve been through your own trauma. And if you’ve grown up and you’ve had some sort of childhood complex trauma, any kind of emotional trauma, it doesn’t have to be anything too detrimental, ’cause again, trauma is that stuck, unprocessed feelings or emotions or events. When you grow up in a home where your parents aren’t attuned to you, they don’t sit with you, they don’t respond, they don’t engage, they don’t empathize, you learn real quick how to navigate, you learn real quick how to walk around all those eggshells, how to show up and be what you need to be to manage and get through it and to survive so you don’t feel hurt or uncomfortable, and that’s what makes empathic people. We just absorb everybody.

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Wounded healers and empaths

Shelli: So those wounded healers is what I call them, we can help heal people in a way, because we ourselves have been there and we’ve been that wounded, but we’ve gotta protect that space. So when you’re sitting with a friend Pierson, just remember how am I gonna protect that space, ’cause I feel like I’ve talked to you before, I feel like you are a wounded healer.

Pierson: Yeah, I feel like I say it to everybody, but we all go through life at different speeds, and I feel like we’re all kind of faced with stuff that whether I’ve been through it, or Brandon’s been through it, or neither of us have been through it, we all have things that lead us to where we’re at, and I feel like there are certain things that can help you be more attuned to other people’s struggles if you’ve been there or a place similar to where they’re at before.

Shelli: But you have to learn how to read a room, when you walk in it, right? If you’ve been through something really hard, especially if it was in childhood, you have to learn how to assess everything that’s going on in that room when you walk in it, so you’re gonna survive it and protect yourself. And so that makes any person that’s been through anything like that, really good at reading a room, and really good at taking or understanding and showing up for others ’cause you’ve had to do it. You know how to do it. It comes second nature.

Pierson: Right. Do you think part of that is people having a tendency to put other people before themselves? Do you think that plays a part in it?

Shelli: So you’re getting into what I call agreeableness and co-dependency, putting other people before yourself. Yeah, that’s… There’s a component in there. I don’t know if that makes… I don’t think everyone that has co-dependent issues or what’s agreeableness is someone who can attune to and read a room and be empathetic. I think that some people can be, but not everyone that has been through similar things comes out on the other side of that, tuning in and knowing how to handle things and knowing how to show up and listen, until they do their work, everyone has the ability and capability. I feel like it’s in all of us.

Brandon: Trauma can make you a wonderful empathizer if you do the hard work, and for other people it can push them very far in the other direction too.

Shelli: And unfortunately, there aren’t very many people out there who wanna do the hard work. I feel like we live in a very victim society. There’s a lot of victims that just wanna be victims, and it’s everybody else’s fault. 50% of the population is narcissistic, and most Narcissists are, “It’s not me, it’s you. I’m the victim here.” So then we get into a whole another topic, I didn’t mean to open that can of worms, but…

Brandon: No, that’s kind of interesting, ’cause I think a lot of people, when they think of narcissists, they think of like… I don’t know. Pick a politician you don’t like. And they’re really gregarious and they can really… They’re self-aggrandizing and all that stuff, but you can also be a victim narcissist too. You can think that the world’s out to get you…

What SHELLI is passionate about…

Shelli: There’s five types of narcissists; there’s the cohorts, there’s the malignant, there’s the grandiose, benign, and communal. And they all have a little… They all show up a little bit differently and present with different symptoms. So the cohort is the one that’s really victimy, “It’s everybody else’s fault. It’s not me.”

Pierson: Yeah, I had no idea that there were five different types.

Shelli: Yeah, that’s one of my niches, I would say 60% of the demographic I serve is narcissistic abuse and recovery from the pathology of that.

Pierson: Well, over the last hour, Shelli, we have talked about some pretty heavy stuff, so changing gears just one more time to a little bit lighter subject, outside of what you do, what are you really passionate about?

[chuckle]

Shelli: I knew you were gonna ask me that. [chuckle] What am I passionate about? Man, I’m really passionate about relationship. I love people, and I know that sounds so cliche, “I love people,” but I really just enjoy getting to know and talking to and learning what makes people tick, outside of the therapy room. Laughing. Getting to… My family is really important to me. I’m passionate about family time and hanging out and sitting around the fire outside with my family, I did that this weekend. And it just brought so much joy. Cooking, making a beautiful meal even if it’s just cooking for myself. Anything where I’m creating, I love to create. I started painting when I was going through a really hard time about six years ago, and I paint abstract art. So yeah, those are a couple of things.

Pierson: Yeah, well, you kind of touched on the next question, or one of the next questions I was gonna get to, which is, why do you love what you do? And it sounds like, and correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve pretty much found a way to do what you love to do in life as a career, but you have the balance that you can separate what you do for work and those relationships that you’re pursuing in your own life?

Shelli: Yes, I mean, I think you… Definitely but that… It wasn’t an easy way to get there. It’s taken practice. For sure. I think anyone who just lives to work, they’re gonna burn out, they’re gonna come to the end of themselves and it’s not gonna be pretty. Now, whether that’s in 10 years, 20 years, anything that you do where there’s not a well balance and it’s… Again, whether it’s you’re pouring yourself into your work, or you’re pouring yourself into your kids and there’s nothing else, coming to the end of yourself and not having anything else, no other arms or extensions of you, but that one thing, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Pierson: So Shelli, I know you’ve gotten a lot of really big things coming up on your horizon. Of all of the stuff that you have coming up, what are you most excited about?

Shelli: Oh wow, I am super pumped about getting… I’m really excited about… The dream of my heart for the last 10 years has been to publish a book and then write another one, I’ve always just… In my book that I’ve written, I wrote about loving to write and loving to just communicate, so I’m really excited about having the opportunity to start getting that ramped back up. I’m excited and passionate just about really helping, especially women, ’cause I just… I think that mommas play a really important role, and I wanna help mommas learn to navigate their emotions so they can help navigate their kids. Producing healthier homes, emotionally, that’s something I’m super passionate about too. I’d love to start traveling a little bit when the time comes and doing some speaking and some teaching, things like that, whether that’s like a weekend experience, retreat kind of thing, small settings, those are all things on my horizon that I’ve actually been dreaming about for quite some time that I knew I would pull… I knew I would do some day. And now the world is my oyster, and both of my kids are grown, so I’m able to kinda set my own schedule and do what I wanna do.

Pierson: Well, that’s a huge thing, you’re able to get going on this new chapter of your own life, and to keep pursuing yourself in the ways that you want to doing what you love.

Shelli: Yeah.

Pierson: Awesome, I have no other questions for you, Shelli. Brandon, do you have anything else?

Brandon: No other questions. Thank you for coming on the show.

Shelli: Oh guys, thanks for having me. I hope it was okay, I hope I didn’t talk your ear off too much.

Brandon: You’re good. Trust me, you’re good.

Shelli: Yeah, if anybody ever has any questions or needs help or any counseling or assistance and resources from me, you can go to my website, it’s Shellinorvell.com. S-H-E-L-L-I-N-O-R-V as in Victor, E-L-L.com.

Pierson: And we will have that in the show notes for you guys to easily click on and get to the page, and it will be there. So guys, check us out on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, wherever you listen to a Podcast, give us a like, leave us a review, whole nine yards of stuff for everybody on the show, Brandon, and Shelli, I’m Pierson, and we will see you guys soon.

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