Me: What’s going on?

She: I have too many things to do.

Me: I get that, but what’s really going on?

She: It’s like too many people are relying and depending on me.

Me: I get that too, but what’s really going on?

She: It’s like I’m juggling all these plates and at any moment they’re all going to start falling. And I mean all of them.

Me: I know, but what’s really going on?

She: You’re not being helpful and what’s really going on is now I’m angry at you.

Me: I think I figured out what’s really going on and it’s not about having too many things to do, too many people relying on you, your being afraid of dropping plates or being angry at me. I don’t even think it’s about being criticized, judged or put down, none of which you like, but all things you can handle or else you wouldn’t have made it as far as you have. I think what’s really going on is something else you’re afraid of.

She (sticking her chin out in a defiant gesture): Yeah, okay and what the f— is that, pray tell?

Me: I think what you’re most afraid of is feeling completely and utterly, psychologically and emotionally safe and there is nothing you can be or do to earn it and nothing you can do to lose it, because if you let yourself truly feel it, the rug of your entire life and personality would lift up and everything you have swept under it to survive never feeling completely safe and then maybe even to succeed would come out and threaten to wash you away.

She: Huh?

Me: Did you hear what I said?

She (eyes quickly filling up with tears): I heard too much (and then she collapsed sideways onto the couch and just started sobbing)

Me (I knew she needed to do this and that it was long… very long… overdue, so I just quietly let it run its course for about five minutes)

She (sitting back up, with her makeup running down her face in a complete mess, her eyes bloodshot, but with a huge smile as if she had just lost twenty pounds of emotional baggage)

Me: What was that all about?

She: That’s (feeling safe) what I’ve been looking for all my life and everything I do, and I mean everything, takes me away from it.

Me: Well it seems that you’re a little clearer about what’s really going on and maybe even what you really want.

She: So true, but I’ll tell you another thing that is really going on.

Me: What’s that?

She: I can’t find my warmth or my patience, and a woman without warmth or patience is not a woman… or a very good mom.

Me: How did you figure that out?

She: Because I just felt some of that warmth as I began to finish crying. Relief first, warmth at the end.

Me: So, what do you want to do now?

She: I want to go home and look and my kids and be able to see what they’ve been wanting from me forever and where instead I’ve just been telling them to do things or impatiently telling them it’s no big deal when they’re upset.

Me: Sounds like you’re about to become a mommy.

She (crying again): I hope it’s not too late.

Me: Just as hope springs eternal, it’s never too late for your children to get the mommy they’ve always wanted and needed who was just “missing in action” inside the mother they’ve had. I have a feeling they’re more likely to forgive you than hold a grudge against you, because somewhere inside them I’m guessing they know you didn’t know any better.

She: You think so?

Me: Absolutely, but before you go and do that, you may need to prime the pump by forgiving yourself.

She: How will I do that?

Me: Did you know any better?

She: No. But I should have.

Me: Don’t go there! Put a sock in your unforgiving, perfectionistic and controlling self or else all your messed up makeup will have been a waste. And besides, you were only protecting yourself from further hurt.

She: But what do I do now when I go back into the outside world. Don’t you think I have to go back to keeping my guard up?

Me: I don’t know, maybe, you’ll have to check. On the other hand, you might show up showing more of this freer, more liberated and maybe even more approachable you, because, yes, there will be the jerks and hostile women who use it against you, but you might find an even greater number of people lining up to get some of that freedom for themselves. To kind of borrow a line from an old guy flick that you probably never heard of called, Field of Dreams, “If you become that, people will come.”


  • Mark Goulston, M.D.

    Author, speaker, podcast host, psychiatrist

    Dr. Mark Goulston is the inventor and developer of Surgical Empathy an approach that helps people to break their attachments to counterproductive modes of functioning and frees them to connect with more productive and healthier alternatives. He is the host of the “My Wakeup Call” podcast where he interviews people on the wakeup calls that changed who they are and made them better human beings and at being human and the host of the LinkedIn Live show, "No Strings Attached." He is a Founding Member of the Newsweek Expert Forum. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on deep listening, radical empathy and real influence with his book, “Just Listen,” becoming the top book on listening in the world, translated into twenty languages and a topic he speaks and teaches globally. He is an advisor, coach, mentor and confidante to CEO’s, founders and entrepreneurs helping them to unlock all their internal blocks to achieving success, fulfillment and happiness. Originally a UCLA professor of psychiatry and crisis psychiatrist for over 25 years, and former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, Dr. Goulston's expertise has been forged and proven in the crucible of real-life, high stakes situations including being a boots on the ground suicide prevention specialist and serving as an advisor in the OJ Simpson criminal trial. Including, “Just Listen,” he is the author or co-author of nine books with multiple best sellers. He writes or contributes to Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Biz Journals, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Psychology Today and has appeared as an psychological expert in the media including: CNN, Headline News, msNBC, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Psychology Today and was the subject of a PBS special. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, California.