34 episodes

Have you ever been brought to your knees by the challenges of life? What if you could enter the world of the therapist, be a fly on the wall, and hear their stories and insights into life’s biggest challenges; a place to learn from the experiences of others who have tried to find dignity in their suffering. That’s what we do each week on The Dignity of Suffering. Hosted by Mitchell Smolkin –– registered psychotherapist, author, and speaker – every episode is a candid look at the trials and tribulations of being alive, and how slowing down and becoming curious about our human experience can enrich our perspectives and plant our feet more firmly on the ground

The Dignity of Suffering Podcast: Exploring the Art, Science and Challenges of Relationships, Life Transitions and Parenting Mitchell Smolkin

    • Health & Fitness
    • 5.0 • 6 Ratings

Have you ever been brought to your knees by the challenges of life? What if you could enter the world of the therapist, be a fly on the wall, and hear their stories and insights into life’s biggest challenges; a place to learn from the experiences of others who have tried to find dignity in their suffering. That’s what we do each week on The Dignity of Suffering. Hosted by Mitchell Smolkin –– registered psychotherapist, author, and speaker – every episode is a candid look at the trials and tribulations of being alive, and how slowing down and becoming curious about our human experience can enrich our perspectives and plant our feet more firmly on the ground

    Beginnings, Middles, and Ends: The End Is Often the Hardest Part, So Let’s Make It Beautiful

    Beginnings, Middles, and Ends: The End Is Often the Hardest Part, So Let’s Make It Beautiful

    I once had the opportunity to meet the mayor of Alsace, a region in eastern France where the Alsatian language is pretty well dead. The mayor spoke to me about a book that he had written which talked about endings. He wanted to explore the idea of a beautiful end. 
     
    This idea of a beautiful end never left me. It has guided me in many parts of my life when I have decided to end certain careers or move on from certain jobs. It has always felt important to really pay attention to what was driving me and in many ways to block out other people's perceptions and any kind of normative or collective ideas of what I should or shouldn't do. 
     
    Today's podcast in some ways will be about me deciding to pause the podcast, potentially end it for a while, and take some time to restore my creative energies. 
     
    Many of you will have heard of the quite famous Canadian analyst Marion Woodman. She passed away a few years ago but she was iconic. I was once sitting in one of her lectures and she said, “The greatest affront to the ego is the self.” In that sentence, she's referring to the capital “S” self which was a concept of Carl Gustav Jung. The concept described the complete and whole repository of a human being. This included the unconscious parts of us that we can't consciously access. The ego was often tethered to the self but could at various points in our life move away from or become dissociated from the self so that we sometimes come out of contact with this rich repository of who we are. 
     
    For me, this always connects with the Greek idea of Chronos and Kairos, Chronos being the time that we are aware of (such as looking at one's watch and knowing that it is one in the afternoon) and Kairos representing a kind of other time that we are unaware of. 
     
    It also makes me think of Wolfgang Giegerich’s concept of the soul’s logical life: there is a kind of logic in our lives that confronts our conscious awareness. We may make decisions to do something, to go somewhere, to plan a trip, or to study a subject. We may think everything is going to go in a particular way and, as we know, life intervenes. There is that very cute expression that exists in many languages: “One thinks and God laughs.” 
     
    I know that in terms of building this podcast, bringing on guests that have really touched me, reaching out to you, and delving into subject areas that are very close to my heart, this is something that I have done out of love. But I can also tell that it has come to a natural end for now. There's been a conflict there between an expectation that I set for myself and that others have had for me and an internal rhythm that is certainly demanding that I take a break. These moments (moments when you build something or have a particular architecture and other voices that are swimming around begin to grow in power and clarity and go against a conscious attempt in life) are quite unnerving.
     
    So welcome to this year's last installment as we head into the holiday season. Welcome to a podcast where I'll take some time to open up with you, explore what it means to end things, and share some of my thoughts on why this is often the hardest thing but a very important thing that we must do.
     
    Show Highlights:
    What happens when we don’t listen to the little voice inside of us. Why we resent in-depth processes of healing. How capitalism has pervaded holidays. What individuation is. How the noise of the collective drowns out our individual subjectivity. The tension between what we feel as individuals and what the collective wants. Why endings can be beautiful. How to withstand and even celebrate endings. Why there doesn’t always have to be a new beginning to every end. Why endings aren’t failures. Subscribe and Review
    We’d appreciate you subscribing to this podcast and leaving an Apple Podcasts review. Reviews help others discover and learn what The Dignity of Suffering is all about. It only takes a second

    • 26 min
    It Takes Two to Tango: How to Find Compassion and Empathy with your Partner this Holiday with Couples Therapist Louise Wästlund

    It Takes Two to Tango: How to Find Compassion and Empathy with your Partner this Holiday with Couples Therapist Louise Wästlund

    Welcome to episode 32. In today's episode, I have a meaningful chat with psychotherapist, couples therapist, and certified emotionally focused therapist Louise Wästlund. 
     
    One of the reasons that I love this interview is that, if you're not familiar with the research that looks into the neurobiology of attachment, Louise's way of talking about relationships (and a kind of democracy in relationships when it comes to our emotional needs) is clear, compassionate, and just very thoughtful. 
     
    I wanted to do a series before I break for the holidays on looking at how we deal with all of the different challenges and opportunities of meeting with family and of spending time together. I wanted to consider some of the more superficial ways that we might respond to the complications that family and other important relationships can often provoke in our emotional and interpersonal lives. It's very easy to put people and in particular our partners into boxes around some of the frustrations or sensitivities that get evoked when it comes to family. 
     
    I think Louise does an amazing job at what we call in therapy “attachifying” certain phenomena that come up. What that means in simple terms is that when somebody perhaps becomes irritated or tired or maybe somebody freezes because of a certain emotional response, it brings up discomfort in us. But when we look at things through an attachment lens (meaning what is the need and longing that is driving someone to behave in a particular way), then the whole lens shifts. As you'll hear Louise explain, even when somebody is seemingly minimizing somebody's feelings (as in, “Why are you making a big deal about this?”), on the surface that looks like someone is being uncaring. But Louise goes in and talks about how, at the end of the day, even when someone is trying to turn down emotion in that way, it's coming from a very sensitive place in them. 
     
    Perhaps they don't want their partner to be upset. Maybe they just want the night to go well. Possibly they're just feeling nervous about their own emotions. These are altruistic and somewhat benign sensations from the point of view that on the surface it might look like somebody’s being irritable but, when you actually dig deep, you can see that there's a real attempt at caring about their partner. 
     
    This is the bread and butter of healing relationships and of looking at what on the surface may look like someone being somewhat malicious when, in fact, they're really just trying to settle themselves. These kinds of reframes are at the heart of deepening our close relationships with others and really scrutinizing why we get our backs up, which I think can just make us closer. 
     
    I hope you enjoy my conversation with Louise, looking at how we should think about our relationships and some tips to help us get through the holidays in a more collaborative and loving way. 
     
    Show Highlights:
    How visiting family can make one partner feel left out. The importance of getting that team feeling back in our relationships. How our love and care for each other can ironically spiral into conflict. Why we minimize our partner’s negative emotions in family situations. How cultural differences can trigger arguments and make us question our compatibility. What happens when we tell our partners that their emotions aren’t our problem vs. when we open the door and show them we care. Why we need to find the root of our discomfort and anxiety. How to prepare for the holidays with your partner. Subscribe and Review
    We’d appreciate you subscribing to this podcast and leaving an Apple Podcasts review. Reviews help others discover and learn what The Dignity of Suffering is all about. It only takes a second and helps us out a lot!
    If you enjoyed this episode, we've also created a PDF that has all of the key information for you from it. Just go to the episode page at https://mitchellsmolkin.com/podcast/ to download it.
    Supporting R

    • 33 min
    Relationships and the Holidays: Making Sense Out of Couples Under Pressure

    Relationships and the Holidays: Making Sense Out of Couples Under Pressure

    Welcome to episode 31. I feel quite inspired as we all realize that the holidays are soon upon us. For those of us that live in parts of the world that get colder at this time of year, things really start to change. As we get into late November, things are getting ready for this time of the year that is quite special. No matter how you celebrate, you can't avoid the ways that people start to get ready to hibernate with each other. 
     
    The interesting thing about family and relationships is that it can be a very stressful time for many people to be home and to face relationships that don't get a lot of attention when we're working throughout the year. So I want to dig deep with you all and prepare us emotionally to go into some of these opportunities to get closer. 
     
    To do that, I'm going to talk about intimacy. I’m also going to have a number of couples therapists and guests to share from their perspective why it's hard to stay close and to get close and also some ideas about what we can do to get ourselves ready. 
     
    I wanted to address a kind of misconception that a lot of couples come to even when they come to couples therapy. There can be a very superficial notion that couples therapy is about the relationship. That may seem like a very strange thing to say. Of course, it's about the relationship. What I mean is that couples will come and say, “Oh, our problems are about this relationship,” as if there's another relationship the person is in which is better. Of course, if that is the case, then there are bigger problems in that relationship, but that's a subject area for another podcast. 
     
    The issue is that what is so profoundly important when it comes to thinking about intimacy is that, in so many ways, it doesn't have to do with the other person at all. If we're evacuating something that we want for ourselves (for instance, if somebody else is outgoing, and we're like, “Oh, I love how you are at parties” or “how you can schmooze or how social you can be”), often that represents our biggest fears. Or, the other way around. Maybe we see someone who's quiet and pensive and it just seems so refreshing to meet somebody who's not always talking all the time and it's hard for us to slow down. 
     
    Eventually, shit hits the fan. Period; full stop. That's what I mean that couples therapy is not really about this relationship. Often, it's about the cross that somebody has to bear in their own life. 
     
    This is what I discuss throughout today’s podcast. I hope you benefit from this introductory episode to the upcoming series on deepening our relationships over the holidays.
    Show Highlights:
    What Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, demonstrates about relationships and intimacy. Why hyper-focusing on somebody else fulfilling our needs is a problem. Why we can’t expect someone to make our problems go away but have every right to expect our relationships to be playgrounds for vulnerability. Why it’s so important to put language to our distress, especially in relationships. The anxiety that leads us to pull away from our partners. Why notions of compatibility aren’t sustainable. Why we need to explore vulnerability and intimacy to deepen our connections. Subscribe and Review
    We’d appreciate you subscribing to this podcast and leaving an Apple Podcasts review. Reviews help others discover and learn what The Dignity of Suffering is all about. It only takes a second and helps us out a lot!
    If you enjoyed this episode, we've also created a PDF that has all of the key information for you from it. Just go to the episode page at https://mitchellsmolkin.com/podcast/ to download it.
    Supporting Resources:
    Get “The Intimacy Problem” eBook: https://mitchellsmolkin.com/
    Mitchell Smolkin is a sought-after clinician, speaker, and author. For media and interview requests please contact his publicist Randy Phipps at randy@rpcommunications.net. For all other inquiries, please send mail

    • 24 min
    Shame Part 3: The Tight Rope Act of Healing, How to Walk With the Dragons

    Shame Part 3: The Tight Rope Act of Healing, How to Walk With the Dragons

    This episode is the third in a series of podcasts that I have been recording on the subject of shame. I think it's a really important area of investigation because, as the neurologist Stephen Porges pointed out, the strong emotions that human beings contain drive our actions, our thoughts, our behaviors, and our decision-making. There was a huge shift in the classic notion of mind over matter when, around the turn of the last century, there really was an emphasis on investigating how emotions influence human beings’ behaviors. 
     
    I think that what I'd like to focus on today, since I've gone into the elements of shame and what it looks like, is perhaps to give some insights from my clinical practice on how shame can be addressed. I'm reminded in thinking about this of the late Jaak Panksepp, who wrote a seminal book called The Archaeology of Mind. Jaak was once quoted as saying that he could not develop any pharmaceutical solutions for depression and other forms of mental illness that could replicate human connection. He could never synthetically create a solution that is as powerful as the way that another human being can affect you. Of course, he was referring to that in the positive sense as in the comfort and solace and soothing that we receive when things go well in human interactions. 
     
    That is a segue to basically articulate that what inevitably helps soothe views of self that are based in shame, such as I am not deserving of affection, comfort, love, or validation, in simple terms is the opposite. If a human being can allow in a view of themselves that can temper or begin to shift some of these hard and deeply established negative views of self, that can start to create change. 
     
    Now of course, if it was that easy to simply hear that we are different than what we believe, then we would just have a very quick mechanism to fix some of these more intransigent emotional states. So obviously, it's not as simple as just hearing this. 
     
    In this episode, I open up with you and give you some insight into what this looks like in my office. Often this happens in couples therapy because, in couples therapy, we can leverage the affection and desire that someone has for the other to get into some of these more difficult emotional places that people guard. The process in individual therapy is somewhat different. There needs to be a very strong alliance. The relationship that a therapist has to their patient or client obviously has different psychodynamics and emotional reverberations than a couple.
     
    I hope you enjoy some of my musings around the landscape of healing from shame and injuries. Don't be disheartened if, when you make the decision to heal or find yourself exposed, you start to feel different (either softer or you have anxiety for the first time in your life) because you've been working so hard to keep these things at bay. Unfortunately, as is the case, we must go through. There's no real way to circumvent or shortcut the strong emotions that one has been keeping hidden.
     
    Show Highlights:
    Why safe containers and “good enough parenting” are so important. What the dragons of shame are. The fear of humilitation and shame that drives many successful people. What leads to midlife crises. Why we build veils around our personalities. How unrepresented emotion shows up in our body. Different examples of what healing can look like. Why relationships should go through challenging times. Why healing needs to start with validating and having empathy with ourselves.  Subscribe and Review
    We’d appreciate you subscribing to this podcast and leaving an Apple Podcasts review. Reviews help others discover and learn what The Dignity of Suffering is all about. It only takes a second and helps us out a lot!
    If you enjoyed this episode, we've also created a PDF that has all of the key information for you from it. Just go to the episode page at https://mitchellsmolkin.com/ to download it.
    Supporting Re

    • 20 min
    Shame Part 2: Learning to Play the Notes of Our Emotions, the Importance of Filling the Silence

    Shame Part 2: Learning to Play the Notes of Our Emotions, the Importance of Filling the Silence

    More and more people who walk into my office are sharing with me that they get to know me here in this space and feel in some ways that they already know a bit about me before they walk through my door. It's an interesting feeling. In some ways, it's kind of nice to have this forum to go into aspects of what I love and what I do. It's also a space that's quite personal and I'm trying not to push myself to perform or create something that doesn't feel germane to my mission.
     
    On that note, I'm in the middle of what I've conceived as a kind of three-part series looking at shame. In thinking about today's episode, I thought about conveying some very clear ideas that come from the science of emotion. 
     
    I was reflecting on the last podcast and realized that I went in many directions and circumambulated around the idea of shame. But for today I thought of zeroing in on some concepts that are extremely helpful when I'm working with others and perhaps even when I'm reflecting on myself. Specifically what I'm referring to is the notion of the way that emotions get organized in the human being. 
     
    One idea that we often talk about is the notion of action tendencies. An action tendency is something that someone might do in response to an emotional signal in their body. How one responds to those basic emotions, first of all, varies quite dramatically. Second of all, whether moments are going to feel repaired and whether they have the potential to even bring two people closer together is highly dependent on one's ability to be able to be present with and understand one's emotional response. 
     
    An action tendency can look like somebody trying to fix it. Somebody might feel like they're letting their partner down or letting somebody down at work and they go into a hurried response to fix it because they're worried something bad will happen. 
     
    When we talk about notions such as shame, which many people carry from having felt like they let others down going all the way back to childhood, those experiences will color how overwhelming a particular moment is for somebody. Join me for this episode as I get further into this idea and explain many facets of shame in this arena.
     
    Show Highlights:
    Why our ancestry is so important in how we respond to our emotions. How our responses to emotion manifest in our relationships and at work. How our intrapersonal relationship with ourselves affects our interpersonal relationships. A piano-playing metaphor to help explain this concept. What a lack of information does to our relationships. Why we need to learn how to tolerate vulnerability to have a conscious relationship. What dissociation from shame can look like. The ways our bodies attempt to protect us. How we embody shame and why it’s so destructive. Why life is a never-ending process of discovering and learning. Subscribe and Review
    We’d appreciate you subscribing to this podcast and leaving an Apple Podcasts review. Reviews help others discover and learn what The Dignity of Suffering is all about. It only takes a second and helps us out a lot!
    If you enjoyed this episode, we've also created a PDF that has all of the key information for you from it. Just go to the episode page at https://mitchellsmolkin.com/ to download it.
    Supporting Resources:
    https://mitchellsmolkin.com/
    Mitchell Smolkin is a sought-after clinician, speaker, and author. For media and interview requests please contact his publicist Randy Phipps at randy@rpcommunications.net. For all other inquiries, please send mail to info@mitchellsmolkin.com.
    ***
    Episode Credits
    If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer, Danny Ozment.
    He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, HR professionals, recruiters, lawyers, realtors, bloggers, coaches, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and impact the world.
    Find out more at https://emeraldcitypro.com

    • 35 min
    Shame: The Quiet, Absent, Destroyer

    Shame: The Quiet, Absent, Destroyer

    Welcome to episode 28. As many of you who listen to the podcast know, I just came off of a really intense, creative journey with some colleagues and friends from a number of different countries. We all met in Sweden to work on a project which is tentatively called the Boris Project or Boris's map. We explored material that goes back to the 1940s during World War 2, letters that were written by my great-grandmother to my grandfather. Unbeknownst to my great-grandmother, these would be the last letters that she ever wrote to him. 
     
    To be honest with you, the energy required to go through this material took me to the core of my being but it also left me bereft of a lot of creative energy because I gave it everything I had. Over the last 72 hours or so I was seriously thinking about pausing the podcast just to recoup and to collect my creative energies. But, after speaking with my producer, my assistant, and some other people that collaborate with me to help support the podcast, I'm going to consider this chapter two. I’m going to change the format a little bit and focus in on areas that are very close to my heart. Today, I would like to focus on shame. 
     
    As a close friend who very lovingly listens to the podcast recently told me, for him, the way that I've talked about shame before on this podcast is very foreign. That makes sense to me because how we experience others and ourselves and the world is very specific to the individual. At the same time (and today in my work was a great example of this), certain feeling states can be difficult to survive. 
     
    Nothing for me is more powerful than being with people when they take the risk to articulate profoundly difficult emotions. I think that one of the most difficult things about negative feeling states such as shame and guilt and humiliation is that we want to move as far away from feeling this way as we can. The reason that this is such a focus of mine is because I believe very strongly in human relationships. I know, personally and professionally, what it means for people to be able to stay in their own bodies, to have a language for how they feel, and to be able to communicate that to somebody else, particularly if that other person is someone that they are close to. 
     
    I spent hours today in my office with many beautiful souls, brave individuals who, on multiple occasions throughout the day, dug so deep to talk about how broken they feel. I don't mean perpetually broken. These are people that go to work, have kids, and are enjoying life. This isn't a kind of brokenness that arrests people in their tracks. No, I'm referring to setting a very high bar when it comes to the level at which we connect with other people. 
     
    So, over the next three podcasts or so, I would like to open up and talk to you about what it means to put language to some of the hardest emotions that human beings have to face. I hope you will join me and benefit from digging deeper into your own difficult emotions.
     
    Show Highlights:
    Why it’s so difficult for humans, in general, to talk about hard emotions. How understanding ourselves and our world gives us a sense of order. The difference between shame and guilt. How shame attacks our perceptions of ourselves and our relationships. Why it’s so difficult to rid ourselves of shame. Why radical authenticity just isn’t possible. Emotions aren’t dangerous; what we think and feel about our emotions is. The danger of hiding or stuffing our emotions. Why it’s so crucial to open up and dig deep in relationship with others. The difference between emotions and feelings. Subscribe and Review
    We’d appreciate you subscribing to this podcast and leaving an Apple Podcasts review. Reviews help others discover and learn what The Dignity of Suffering is all about. It only takes a second and helps us out a lot!
    If you enjoyed this episode, we've also created a PDF that has all of the key information for you from it. Just go to the epi

    • 27 min

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