“I Shouldn’t Feel This Way” with Dr. Alison Cook

Do you ever feel stuck in a whirlwind of conflicting emotions or negative thoughts? Dr. Alison Cook, therapist and host of “The Best of You” podcast, joins Rachael Clinton Chen to explore the intricacies of navigating emotions. 

Her latest book, I Shouldn’t Feel This Way, offers practical strategies and a transformative 3-step framework to navigate difficult emotions and find more clarity. Whether you’re grappling with past wounds, conflicting emotions, or seeking more connection with yourself and God, we hope this episode offers valuable insights and encouragement to support you on your journey towards emotional freedom.

About Our Guest:

Dr. Alison Cook is a therapist and host of the top-ranked The Best of You podcast.  Originally from Wyoming, Dr. Alison studied at Dartmouth College (BA), Denver Seminary (MA), and the University of Denver (PhD), where she specialized in integrating psychology and theology. Dr. Alison’s doctoral dissertation centered on the relationship between religion and prejudice. She is certified in Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) and is the author of the ECPA bestselling book The Best of You and coauthor of Boundaries for Your Soul, with nearly 100,000 copies sold–  based on the popular IFS therapy model.  Widely recognized as an expert at the intersection of faith and psychology, Dr. Alison empowers individuals to heal from past wounds, develop a strong sense of self, and forge healthy relationships. Connect with Dr. Alison at www.dralisoncook.com. Her new book,  I Shouldn’t Feel This Way: Name What’s Hard, Tame Your Guilt, and Transform Self-Sabotage into Brave Action is now available nationwide.

Episode Transcript:

Rachael: Good people. Do you ever find yourself feeling stuck in the chaos and swirl of conflicting emotions or defeating thoughts and longing for a way to move through them that doesn’t require avoidance or mastery or even magic? I hope you’ll make time to listen today because you are in for a true gift. I am so thrilled to be joined by a esteemed psychologist, bestselling author, popular podcast host, Dr. Alison Cook. Thank you so much for joining us.

Alison: Oh, Rachael, I was looking forward to this conversation. Thank you for having me.

Rachael: Yeah, I am… it’s just such a thrill to meet you and I am so looking forward to this and I’m really looking forward to our listeners being able to hear from you as well. If you’ve not had the privilege of encountering Dr. Cook and her incredible work, either on her podcast called the Best of You, or through her writing, she is a wise, compassionate and empowering guide and a fellow sojourner at the intersection of faith and psychology, which is always fun for me to get to talk to someone who likes to hang out at this unique intersection. And she is really empowering to individuals to heal from past wounds, develop a strong sense of self, forge healthy relationships, and experience a loving God who is for them. I just love that. She’s the author of the bestselling book, the Best of You, a co-author of Boundaries for Your Soul, which is based on internal family systems and parts work, which we can talk more about. But we also, we talk about parts work on the Allender Center podcast, but I don’t know if we’ve always done a good job of connecting it to internal family systems. And a little over a week ago, you released your newest labor of love into the world, “I Shouldn’t Feel This Way: Name what’s hard, tame your guilt and transform self-sabotage into brave action”, which weaves together science, psychoeducation, practical tools, stories, and rich theological depth. I love your new book and I just love your generosity to resource us. And so I would love to hear a little bit more about how you came to this book at such a time as this and some of the journey that got you here because you have written about a few different things. And one of the things I love, and I’ll just say it again, is that there is such a holistic way in which you bring psychoeducation, spiritual formation and really practical tools which we need in these places. So tell us a little bit more about your journey to “I Shouldn’t Feel this Way”.

Alison: Yeah, thank you Rachael. Wow, that is really nice to hear. And there is a lot of synergy between what you guys do, and I’ve been so blessed by the work that you all do. And so again, it’s just an honor to be here. Gosh, I dunno where to start. It does feel like with, “I Shouldn’t Feel This Way” coming into the a little bit I was noticing as it was coming out a little bit like a trilogy that mirrors my own journey and we write about the things… I believe… I’m a teacher at heart, right? I’m a clinician, but I’m also a teacher and that’s where the practical resourcing comes in. There is a part of me that is just wants to educate, wants people to have information, wants people to have knowledge. My social media feed is filled with definition cards and words. It’s just what I love to do. And so I guess the three themes that I’ve wrestled with in my life are reflected in the three books. The first one is the inner healing, the fragmentation, feeling distant from a core sense of self and having a lot of polarizations that live inside of me. Even as an academic, I’m getting a PhD. Even my journey to academia was a secular school, undergrad, seminary for counseling, and then back to a joint PhD in religion and psychology. So there’s all these different parts of me. Am I a clinician? Am I a teacher? Where do I fit best? I’m always trying to cobble together. The thread that runs through it all is my faith is so deep and important to me. And also simultaneously I’m fascinated by human psychology. Always have been just fascinated by the human being that God made us to be. And so yeah, each one of those books is kind of the first one, “Boundaries For Your Soul”, trying to work through how do we create some sense of harmony out of the different fragments? How do we heal the parts of us from the past? The best of you getting into this idea of the self. And as a Christian woman, oh my goodness, wait, it’s okay that I have a self. And how do we understand some of these biblical phrases such as die to yourself, turn the other cheek, don’t trust yourself. And really trying to untangle this in a way that honors the self, the soul, the psyche, the unique God-bearing image that each one of us has. And so that was, “The Best of You” came out of my own journey and then “I Shouldn’t Feel This Way”, this latest book, really for me gets at the emotional life and being someone who for years has a strong intellectualizer, a strong analytical part, and those emotions are things I would love to spiritually bypass. I write a lot about spiritually bypassing emotions. I do it to myself also analyze away, logic away. And so wait a minute, what are these emotions all about and how do we honor them? Because they get knotted up. They’re complicated. And so that’s where I shouldn’t feel this. “I Shouldn’t Feel This Way” came in is this, wait a minute, how do we create, almost look at it as a sort of a mindfulness practice that also allows us to really connect with the emotions that we’re experiencing in partnership with God. So it’s a three-step practice that I have found to be so helpful in my own journey. So that’s a long-winded sort of overview. I’ll turn it back over to you here.

Rachael: No, I actually love hearing a little bit of the story of how these things came to be, and I do think the best writers who I love reading are writing out of the mess and the mystery and the journey of their life and stewarding well, the resources they’ve been given. And so it’s actually really helpful to see how they might fit together and even as a trilogy, be a great resource for people. Something I did feel the mindfulness because I had a baby two years ago, and instead of taking the normal birthing class, which in retrospect probably would’ve been a good companion to the mindfulness birthing class that I took, but I just felt like at 30, no, 37 at 40, I had my baby at 40, I felt educated enough in what happens with birthing, I felt wildly under-resourced into how to be mindful in the midst of it. Now, what’s funny is as I was reading your book, I was like, yeah, I just need a lot more practical tools because mindfulness is just not something that many of us have the luxury I don’t think anyone does. And that’s what our teachers were always talking about. This is a lifelong practice. Your babies and your toddlers will be your greatest teachers, which now that I have an almost 2-year-old, I am finding is very true that I will be trying to find a capacity to slow down and make sense. I love your language of the knots, of the knots inside and I need more tools. The reality is because in those moments I don’t have often a capacity to instantly know what’s going on. I’m not necessarily in the meaning making part of my body.

Alison: Exactly. And the thing with mindfulness, in my experience, I have a very busy mind as I think a lot of us do, and to me, I need hooks to engage what’s going on with me. And sometimes mindfulness can feel like, to be honest, a little bit of a spiritually bypass, I’m just going to empty my mind. That’s not helpful to me. I actually need to engage with what’s in my mind. And so that’s kind of what I’m trying to do. The naming aspect for me is, okay, what am I feeling? What thoughts are running through my brain often? And that’s where the title came in. Those are, oh, I should have done this better. Oh, why do I do? Why am I not do that often? It’s a raging inner critic. It’s a raging inner guilt tripper. And again, kind of that parts work of noticing that without shame, okay, this is what I’m feeling. I do feel this way. I’m in the carpool pickup lane, frustrated with someone or agitated by someone what the mindfulness component is, not just to empty my mind of that because I can’t do that, but to name it, oh, I’m really agitated by that person right now. But there is a naming in that Dan Ziegel said, naming is taming. We’re getting that other part of our brain online. But then for me, that second practice is my favorite in the book and it’s the framing practice. Now, that’s something you need a little more spaciousness to do. I mean, the naming just helps to kind of reduce the pressure. It’s okay, yes, am I worked up? Yes. But there’s just a little bit less pressure when we stop shaming ourselves, when we stop beating ourselves up, there’s just a little more with-ness with ourselves, with God. God, I am angry… God, I don’t really want to pray right now. Even that sometimes becomes, I call it prayer naming, just naming what’s hard. Even with God, the framing is where we do maybe get a moment to take a walk, to get out in nature. But again, I’m not emptying my mind when I’m framing, I’m moving into deeper reflection, kind of noticing the knot. I think about, I had a necklace on actually just as I was getting on here that had a knot in it and I was like, I don’t have time. I don’t have time to slow down and kind of do the slow work of pulling it all those threads to get that knot to loosen. And that’s the work of framing. We have to slow ourselves down enough maybe on a hike once a week. I know folks on busy lives, maybe on our commute home from work. Okay, I’m a little mad there. I can see her point there. This part’s really hard. We start to kind of pull at the thread, and I really believe that’s a spiritual practice. As we pull at those threads in partnership with God’s spirit, we slow our nervous system down and we start to find a little bit more clarity. And of course then that leads to that third step, which is we might finally be able ready to make a change or brave a different action.

Rachael: I love these categories and if it’s okay with you, I actually wanted to read a little bit for people out of the naming section just so they can hear a little bit more. What is it that you’re inviting? Because for example, the other day I was talking with my mom about motherhood. It’s something I’m just thinking about a lot in this season of my life. I’m also a stepmom, so there’s multiple layers to motherhood. I was single until I was 37, just a lot of things. And my mom was a young mom, and so she had four kids by the time she was 28. And we were talking about just her experience and my experience growing up and something happened where she got really triggered and she felt like I was making an assumption that she didn’t love mothering. And then I heard an assumption that she was saying we didn’t learn to be responsible in any way, shape or form. Again, we were both triggered in this moment. And what we were able to come to is to talk about how motherhood is the prime example of being in a knot because you love what she was wanting me to hear is I loved being a mom and what I was wanting her to hear is, and sometimes being a mom was hard and both were true at the same time. And that’s that complexity piece I feel like you’re inviting us to. So you talk about “if you don’t become a namer or someone who’s able to name, you’ll become someone who avoids distracts or worst case scenario, gaslights yourself and other people and your conflicting feelings won’t go away. Instead, they will roar through your mind, completely cut off from the ordering, organizing, and meaning-making parts that are designed to help you navigate a life that’s purposeful, clear and brave.” And then you go on just a little bit past that kind of saying, “if you can figure out a way to name even these conflicting things,” I loved this. I want people to hear it. “You begin to work with, instead of against the grain of your God made design, you start telling yourself the truth. Something happened that is hard. You wish you didn’t care so much that it didn’t affect you so deeply, but you do and it does. And naming that reality is exactly what your heart, your mind, your soul, your body and this world need for you to do. You align yourself with God’s spirit. As you spread out the truth pieces in front of you, you access the power of all that’s kind and good and wise and true. You stop fighting yourself. Instead, you start to calm yourself. You put a little bit more words. And then this peace, when you name what’s hard, you paradoxically find peace inside. You become the kind of person who brings real care to yourself and to other people, and you become an oasis of clarity and calm for a world in desperate need of it.” And I just loved that because there is a true power in becoming those kind of truth tellers and it’s really scary. And what do you think, what is some of the cost for us? What are we afraid of in naming the truth? What’s happening in our bodies? Because that language of it’s our God made design to be able to hold complexity and to be truth tellers.

Alison: Yes. Yeah. I think the thing that I noticed the most from people in the fear of naming is, but how would I fix it? We’re afraid to hold the complexity because it is complex. So here’s an example with your mom in my own life, went through a season of being very angry with someone I love very much, and I started, but here’s the paradox. I needed to really relentlessly name what I was feeling about this person, but not to this person. I didn’t actually know where the truth lie, yet. Some of this might be my own stuff from the past. Some of this is hurts that I knew I have enough cognitive awareness to go, some of this is just a misunderstanding, but this is what I feel. And I started in my journal, I call it journal naming, just saying relentlessly, this is how I feel, but I had the presence of mind to go, this is between me and God right now. God, I’m going to just give myself permission to name everything I’m feeling in the context of this relationship. Even though other parts of me know this is not all entirely the capital T truth. There’s another perspective here, but that’s why I broke this down into three steps. When I’m talking about naming, I say, name it, name what’s hard. Start with yourself. And what I mean by that is start with just naming what you’re really feeling with God. Don’t jump to action. Don’t jump to fixing. Don’t jump to, do I need to leave this relationship? Do I need to set a boundary? The memes that we see all out in culture, it’s often not always often more complicated than that. It’s going to be an untangling with the other person, but the more I can get clear, this is what I’m feeling, this is what’s hurting me, this is what I need. Then we move into framing. Man, this hurt me so much. I don’t think that’s what they meant. Right? That’s a framing. It still hurt me, but the way that I’m going to go to them, once I’m able to really honor it in myself, this hurts I’m hurting. The more I honor that, the more I let God honor that with me. Yes, that hurt. I’m not jumping to fix. I’m not jumping to empathy. I’m not jumping to whatever. I’m just honoring slowly. Again, we have to slow this down. Slowly I can start to frame it. I know this person didn’t mean to hurt me. Okay, that’s also true. That’s also true. I’m still just in myself. I haven’t even had a conversation yet. This is still just all happening inside of me. Two things can be true. I am so hurt and I know they didn’t mean to hurt me. And all of that work that’s happening internally is going to get us to a brave step at some point. But doing that work, the brave step might be very different. We might get to what this person has so much on their plate. I’m not going to have a conversation with them right now because that’s also true. Or this person actually, I’ve got to talk to ’em. I’ve got to bring this up. Because what’s true is you know what I’m saying? And so the point is we have these feelings and if we don’t learn how to name them and honor them in our spirits, in our own being with God, where the Holy Spirit does not gaslight us or the Holy Spirit goes, yeah, yeah, I get it. I see you. The Holy Spirit isn’t saying you have the truth. You are right. The Holy Spirit is saying that is true what you’re feeling, I’m with you. Take your time, slow it down. Right. As you engage that you will gain wisdom about the bigger picture. But you do have to start by honoring your own experience.

Rachael: And I love the way that you bring language of the place in between or the in-between place, which is a rich theological sense of the thin place, the liminal space, the kind of a bridge space. And you say in your book, a place in between helps you bridge from naming what’s hard to braving a new path. So it is that InBetween place. It’s where you do the work of framing. You develop a clearer understanding of your situation while naming primarily involves what’s happening in the present moment. What am I feeling? What’s happening? Framing moves into deeper reflection. How long has this been happening? Why is it happening? How do I want it to be different? Much of the work of framing unfolds beneath the surface deep within your heart where it leads to greater conviction and commitment when it comes time to take action. And then you say, framing is an art more than it’s a science. And you even put language to this reality that in-between space requires a set of skills and capacities and qualities that we really aren’t often taught. And I hear that that’s what you’re kind of saying. We’re not taught to slow down. We’re not taught to be deeply reflective with truth. And I think especially those of us who are maybe coming out of more evangelical spaces, we’re taught to actually be really afraid of our interior emotional world as if it can only be sinful and therefore deceitful. Now, that’s a kind of extreme way of articulating what people might or might not be saying, but I think it’s part of what we feel. So how do we cultivate a deeper sense for that art?

Alison: I think of the human psyche as a beautiful instrument. It’s a violin, and there are lots of different ways we have to attune to that instrument and the nervous system. What’s the nervous system? What’s the nervous system telling me? My nervous system is telling me I am in fight or flight and I’m jacked up. Okay, name it. What are my emotions? Where are my emotions? I’m attuning. What am I thinking? How am I making sense of this? You think about picking up a violin to play it, it’s discordant at first. You’re kind of tuning up it. You can’t rush it. You have to kind of take your time with it. You have to be with the instrument. Our bodies, the way God made us, there’s an instrument there. We get to learn to play. We get to learn to listen what’s coming out. There’s a lot of dissonance there. There’s some discordant melodies there. But as we listen and attune the clarity, the melody, the harmony starts to come. And that’s what happens in the framing. I have a very strong analytical part, as I’ve said. And so for me, framing used to be I’ll just sit there like a dog with a bone and get to the root of this, but that’s just one part of me. That’s just one part of me that problem solving part of me has its place. But often the work of framing is what am I actually feeling? I get the rationality of it, but I’m just really sad and I’ve got to honor that part of the instrument for a minute. And again, this is lovingly tuning to your instrument that God gave you. We’re not ready yet, maybe in this instance to take my instrument what’s going on in my psyche and bring it to this other person to figure out how we can play together. And there’s an art and a timing to that. So I try to make it practical because there is that practical part of my brain. I tried to really give people steps, but it is an art too, and it is. That chapter was so hard for me originally. I was writing it very didactic, and then I was like, oh gosh. But at the end of the day, there’s an art. There is a little bit of a flow to just taking that hike and going every day for an hour, I’m going to give myself a half an hour or an hour to contemplate this challenge, this issue, which means I might have to ask if it’s with someone else, if need some time, I’ll circle back. It ripples out into our relationships. That’s why these are practices. But I do think we’re not taught this art of framing.

Rachael: One thing I appreciate that I think you offer throughout your writing in general, but this book in particular is just imagination that part of what a season like this or a practice like this might reveal is there are different modalities of healing or opportunities for reflection you might need to pursue. I tend to be on more of the anxious edge of the mind. And so sometimes contemplation actually feels really overwhelming and scary. I’ve needed to pursue some body work or body care to grow tools to regulate, or I’ve needed to pursue therapy to make sense in some ways, to answer, to get more clarity to the question of how long have I been feeling this way or how did this come to be? And get into some stories of like, oh, this is actually the volume I feel about this experience is a little off because I have some trauma here that needs to be tended to. And what have you learned as a therapist or even in your own journey of, because I think people could hear like, oh, framing is a linear, okay, you name it, and then you frame for 30 minutes.

Alison: Right, exactly. And also they’re iterative. Sometimes when you’re kind of in that framing space, you’re doing a lot of naming. I also think it’s really brave to just do it, but I love your point. My husband is somebody, if he’s had a hard day, the first thing he wants to do is go do something physical, the body. And I’ve had to learn that sometimes the mindful practice is to be in nature and not thinking about the problem, actually just really focusing listening to music or being again, but that’s that attuning, right? That’s that attunement piece of that. What is it that I actually need in this moment? And to your point that is I have arrived at a super eclectic holistic space as a clinician because I’m also applying these to clients. It’s like, what’s really at the root of this? What are we naming here? What’s the frame? What is really going to help? Is the frame here a clinical diagnosis that maybe does need some medical intervention? Is the frame here a spiritual root? Sometimes there is a spiritual root. Is the frame here a nervous system, trauma, living in the nervous system space in which we’re going to do something a little bit different. But that’s what we’re trying to get at. In that which then leads to that braving, which is okay, based on how we work that out, then the brave step might be, I’m going to need to sign up for some specific trauma therapy or you know what I need to do. In my case, what I’m learning is the embodiment piece. I talk about that in the book. That’s the hardest one for me. I actually think the invitation for me is many times to get out of the mind and into the body. What actually is the thing that I need is to take the walk, is to do some embodied dancing, which I’m not very good at, but I find incredibly amazing at metabolizing emotions just a little. So I agree with you. That is a lot of what I’m trying to do is give people permission to genuinely attune to the uniqueness in the human design.

Rachael: Because I have to say, as someone who can be more in my body and can really talk explicitly about what do I feel, but it’s like I don’t always, I just appreciate sometimes a simple tool. And this is where people have all kinds of feelings about cognitive behavioral tools, but there is a time and a place for being able to strengthen capacities of your mind that you do have. And I love your imagery of a symphony and orchestra, something that’s working in concert. It doesn’t have to be, you’re not saying, Hey, cognitive behavioral work, and that’s why I said mastery at the beginning, is the only way, but it doesn’t need to be thrown out as a tool. That’s not really helpful in moments where we do need help slowing down or finding words. And I remember back to the mindfulness, one of the best things they gave us in the mindfulness birthing class was a similar to what you’ve offered, and I’m not going to be able to remember the name of when you have letters that give you, what is that called?

Alison: Acronym? An acronym?

Rachael: An acronym. Thank you. This is my postpartum brain. I can’t find words. It was like an acronym to help you when your birth plan wasn’t going most of us the way you wanted it to go. And it was like, here are things you could think through and ask. And it was one of the most helpful tools for me in a moment where I was in pain, there was a lot of pressure coming at me to make a quick decision, and I was like brain, brain, BR, going through it with my husband. And I just think for some of us naming or slowing down to, you’re really offering some simple tools that can be highly effective. And I’m grateful for that. I hope people find them as just a resource to that. Again, these are practices and we don’t get strengthened at anything without practicing.

Alison: The two things can be true. Reframe to your point. I had a friend say recently, and this just struck me as so true, she had gone through a painful breakup and she said, I logically understand what happened. I’m not beating and I just feel so sad. It doesn’t make the heartache go away. And I was like, exactly. Two things can be true. So we can’t logic ourselves out of, that’s to your point about the mindfulness isn’t only in the mind. Part of it is this is just really hard. And that’s also true. This is just really painful. And that’s also true. And again, there’s no quick fix. I probably say 1600 times in the book. This is not a quick fix, but that naming of, I’ve kind of figured out how to reason with myself. I’m doing the things to care for my body, and this is just really hard. That’s also true, and that’s part of this work of naming, framing and braving. It’s that, and I kind of end a little bit with, I do think this is kind of what we’re getting at with the hope, the virtuous cycle of hope. We want to get to the other side, but in my experience, there’s a little glimmers of hope that are released in each of these. Each naming, there’s a little bit of, oh wait, that’s true. Even if the thing you’re naming is so hard. Wait, that’s true. And there’s something in that kind of grounds us, even if what we’re naming is this is really confusing and it’s going to take me a while. That’s true. There’s a little bit of hope in that. And so that we start to find little glimmers of hope throughout the journey versus trying to be so fixated on getting to the other side.

Rachael: Oh, that’s hard work. But such good work. And in many ways what we’re basically told is mature faith and it’s good. It’s good. No, it is really good. Tell me a little bit more about braving and because I love the way, again, action can look like many different things, and that’s part of why you’re inviting a process that slows things down. I think to deepen our wisdom and to actually rely on some of the resourcing that we have instead of just reacting or avoiding, how did you come to name this as a brave act?

Alison: Yeah, I think so, where that came from was, I say this in the book, but I tend to be someone who loves more of a contemplative. I could live in the naming and framing…

Rachael: I think a lot of us probably could. I think a lot of us probably could. Yeah,

Alison: But did we get that done? I’m like, I just had some great ideas. And then when it comes to that, actually taking the action step, it’s hard. But I do think, again, I’m trying to balance in the book the serial with the practical, the deep inner soul work with the, okay, and now I got to have a hard conversation with someone or, and now I got to do something to get the help that I need or the support that I need in this situation or to get the resources that I need. And that’s the braving. It’s the, okay, now I got to make this real. I got to make this concrete. We are embodied creatures. We live in an embodied world. And so that’s where the braving came in. It was like, okay, now, and even in my practice clients, I personally will get a little bit if I’m in a training and we’re just so in the feelings world, it’s like, okay, but now we do have to do something and I want to honor that with clients, but now what am I supposed to do? Yeah, I get that also. And so that’s where the raving comes in. There is some concrete action and sometimes the concrete action is, I need more time. But sometimes the concrete action, and that’s where that acronym comes in. Maybe I need to set. A lot of times that has to do with boundaries. Sometimes it has to do with expanding our range of resources. Sometimes it has to do with vitality. Sometimes it has to do with identifying things that light us up when we’re going through or nourish us when we’re going through hard times. So again, there’s a whole repertoire of raving actions. There’s not a one size fits all, but it just, the whole idea of the framework is just to keep the movement, slow it down, but also keeping some movement.

Rachael: And I love some of the language you put to the frame for a brave step or a brave action is, yeah, are we fighting for something? Are we leaving something? Are we suffering it wisely? And again, that goes back to there could be various paths. And even for the same circumstance, different people might need to choose various paths based on what’s available to them. What’s the safest course of action? What’s the wisest course of action? And I could probably relate to you from, I think even at the Allender Center, part of the work we do is helping people frame how their story has shaped who they are. But what I find, and I’m sure people listening to Dan and I on the podcast a lot are like, but what do we do? And so I can relate to that piece because I think it is how we are embodied people and we are inherently relational. We are wrapped up. It’s part of us being image bearers. We are wrapped up in relationship that has impact. And I can also be a little scared at times. I’m not really afraid of conflict. It’s like I just am probably more afraid of loss than I am of conflict. And so that capacity to grieve and to honor sadness or to honor anger, I think are really brave steps to then honor what might need to be. Whether that is a really painful, hard truth-telling conversation or a decision that might drastically change some of the reality of your world leaving a certain community or leaving a toxic relationship. You talk a lot about, you give people more stories and circumstances or ideas of, I should’ve feel this way about myself, or I shouldn’t feel this way about others. And you talk about toxicity and comparison and anger or rupture in relationships.

Alison: Yeah, I apply the framework through the thoughts we have that some of our numbing, some of the internal stuff. But then I do devote, and I often find myself devoting in this book, and also in “The Best of You”, a fair amount of time to the topic of toxicity because I think it’s important to name, and I’m a big fan of naming patterns of behavior versus labeling people. I think it can be really helpful. I think we want to name a person. I think it can be, but I do think it’s important. And there’s also a spectrum. So, oh, I think this is what’s happening. And I go through, here’s what triangulation is. Here’s what gaslighting is, all these buzzwords in that chapter, let’s just name it. First of all, again, we are not framing it. We’re not taking action. We’re naming. This is what that is. I’m being triangulated in this situation, or someone is manipulating me. This is a manipulative pattern of behavior. How do I name that? So now that I’ve named it now again, I got to frame it and then based on how I frame it, and I just think, again, we’re kind of becoming detectives or students of our own psyches, but we’re also becoming observers of different things in our relationships and ourselves and in our relationships. And it is part of, I think, this movement that God is a God of healing this movement. I like to think of the passage where Paul says, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. I like what I’ve read a lot of is that that word sozo can be translated as healing, and we’re working out our healing with fear and trembling. We’re working out our healing to become more whole, which is going to work at the healing in our relationships to become more whole. It’s brave work.

Rachael: It’s really brave work.

Alison: It’s sometimes easier to stick with the status quo. Yeah.

Rachael: Well, and it’s really countercultural work, and you put some language to that, and even bringing these categories and naming them more clearly, because right now our culture is very traumatized and very reactive, and I think people are finding a lot of safety in naming things or naming people in ways that actually reduce toxicity or are a form of projection or splitting off something. We don’t liken ourselves because it’s too scary. And so yeah, because to name a relationship as toxic or a pattern, a behavior as toxic and to establish boundaries around it still leaves the door open for that other person. It doesn’t make you responsible for healing them, but it at least acknowledges that is a human being.

Alison: It’s very nuanced. The actions might look similar. It’s like, oh, this is what I’m seeing, therefore this is what I need to do to stay healthy and whole. But there’s also a release of that other person to God, and I really believe that. I think as we heal and we bring more goodness and more wholeness into our own stories, into our own as best we can, I do think that creates an invitation for the folks around us that is not our responsibility, what they do with that invitation. But there is a little bit of an openness there. Again, it’s a spectrum. Some folks really need to slam the door. That’s real too. But for many of us, there are more nuances to some of those relational challenges that I do think our culture offers us there. It’s just a lot usually more nuanced, and I am trying for that. I appreciate your reflections on it. It is a hard thing to write about nuance, right?

Rachael: I’m so sure. Yes, it is. And I think it’s the really scary thing about being a writer and laboring to find the nuance and then having to trust people to either have the capacity to really see it or not. And toward that end, one of my favorite parts of your book is just how you talk about where we feel we shouldn’t feel this way about God and just bringing forth, I mean, you weave scripture and stories and theological insights throughout the book, but this particular chapter, I mean, I think for me, because I really have a heart to work with people who are maybe coming out of spiritually toxic spaces or spiritually abusive spaces where spiritual bypassing and gas lighting are fairly normative, I really appreciated the permission you give that even God gives to wrestle with God. And what have you learned in your own wrestling with God that’s helped shape how you’re writing about this kind of God creating us with an ensemble of interconnected parts, this language you use?

Alison: Yeah, that’s something I’m grateful for. I tell a story that is all the way back from college years ago where I really kind of hit the depths of that kind of spiritual toxicity, just bumped up against it and how painful it was, how disorienting it was, and even at that young age, I just knew I couldn’t bypass or pretend it wasn’t what it was. I couldn’t fix it, so it was just painful. And I also continue to name that with God. I don’t get it. I don’t understand. This is confusing. I didn’t try, for some reason, I was able to kind of thread that needle and that became a passion of mine as a therapist, probably not unlike you, just trying to look for and create spaces where it’s okay to name what’s hard, even what’s hard about God. This doesn’t make sense why, and I do think there’s something about the power again, of God, not gaslighting us. OfvGod, just honoring the truth of, yeah, that’s really hard, and not necessarily always giving us the logical reason or giving us that this is why, just the with-ness, the presence. Yeah, I get it. I know that’s hard. That has been just such an anchoring force for me that has just that sense that God feels it too and is with us in it. I don’t know that I have great answers in terms of, but I do know that there’s a power in that, and I want to provide that spaciousness for other people.

Rachael: Yeah. Well, I felt that, and I felt a deep gratitude as we come toward the end of our time is there are more you’d want our listeners to hear that you hope that they might gain from this book, or just even your hopes for your readers that aren’t our listeners.

Alison: Yeah. Oh, no, thank you. I love that. I think that the thing I would say is with this work, right, with the practice of naming, framing and braving, I still to this day find in my own life reaching for the lowest hanging fruit. So when there’s a big knot of emotions that I don’t understand, just really naming that, oh my goodness, there’s a big knot of emotion that that is sometimes the lowest hanging fruit, if I can even just name that or the guilt, the inner guilt tripper of I shouldn’t be feeling this way. Even if I can get a little bit of, oh my gosh, I’m feeling that horrible feeling of I should not be feeling this way. That sometimes the lowest hanging fruit of naming and all it does is create just a little, sometimes a papers-width distance between this self shame and the compassion. Yes, yes. Okay. I’m experiencing something hard. That’s okay.

Rachael: Yes. I felt that throughout your book. Just an invitation for the breath, like the pause, the moment to have a little bit of grace, to not be so under the threat of like if I can’t change this. And so often that’s just happening behind the scenes and we don’t, unless we can interrupt it, we don’t even realize it’s happening, but we feel it happening. Again, I just want to say what a joy to have this conversation with you to get to meet you, so grateful for who you are and that you steward your gifts and resources so generously. If you have found this conversation just helpful and you’re intrigued and you want to connect more with Dr. Alison, you can find her at www.dralisoncook.com and her new book, I Shouldn’t Feel This Way, is available now at bookstores nationwide. So thank you so much.

Alison: Thank you, Rachael, for having me.

Rachael: Yeah. Hope we have more conversations down the road.

Alison: Me too.