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Why Discouragement is a Gift || with Suzy Boyce Chriswell

perfectionism podcast Dec 13, 2020

How you can seek opportunity for resilience, growth, and clarity.



Are you a little bit tired of the "rah-rah" messages of positivity despite all circumstance messages out there? What if you could lean into growth, while acknowledging the vast array of disappointment that all of us are experiencing to some degree. In fact, the reasons we become discouraged are often appropriate and logical, so would it help you to learn why discouragement is a gift?


Suzy Boyce Chriswell is a fellow progressor, just like you, and she's currently pursuing a master's in marriage and family therapy. She shares her experience of seeing the depths of discouragement in those around her, while coming to understand its necessity. She teaches us how to be resilient, lean in to relationships, and shift our perspective. And before you think this won't work for you, she shares her same struggles with perfectionism. Ultimately she realized it was only a buffer against accepting her weakness and working through it.



About a few other things...


The Strive Hive helps Progressors who are eager to take action and strive for daily progress access LEARNING, CHANGE, AND COMMUNITY, so that they can find more and lasting personal growth and fulfillment. Join us for weekly chats, monthly masterclasses, self development book club, accountability and more!


For the final episode of 2020 I want to hear from YOU! Email me a voice memo or call in to answer this prompt: 2020 taught me... Let's make this "Dear Progressor," episode the best yet.


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Monica: Suzy Boyce Chriswell, we are so excited to have you. Thank you for joining us. 


[00:00:04] Suzy: I am so excited to be here. 


[00:00:06] Monica: It's wonderful.  I'm just genuinely excited to hear from a listener who has experiences in ways that I don't. So, we're going to be talking about. A topic that I think is so common. And I see this a lot with myself. I see it with my friends. And I also see with the clients that I work with in my coaching programs: about discouragement. It is so easy to feel. Discouraged and sad and disappointed with our growth, with the things that we want to go a certain way and didn't, with not being an overnight success, we would love to be all of us, but we honestly can't be human and not experience discouragement. 


[00:00:48] And you have a completely different take on discouragement that I would love for you to tell our listeners about like, what is your take on discouragement?


[00:00:58]Suzy:  I want to begin actually by validating discouragement. The reasons they become discouraged are often appropriate and even logical. So, I've been working in corporate sales for over 10 years at the same company and have come to know a lot of the struggles my coworkers were faced with. And at one point several years ago, I realized I could sort of go down the line of our desks and name something really challenging that every single one of them was currently facing.  Here was divorce, there was medical debt, addiction, chronic pain, suicide, cancer, family tragedies, cancer again. And I don't think my coworkers had the market on hard things.


[00:01:43]But it really opened my eyes, to how vast our experiences are related to discouragement. The good news is that despite our challenges, we don't have to stay in that depleted, emptied, discouraged, state discouragement can really be an opportunity and we can grow in the face of hard things and ways we may not be able to without experiencing discouragement.


[00:02:10]For example, there's a concept called post-traumatic growth, which identify as positive changes that can come after trauma. They include things like a deeper relationships with others, a more sure sense of self and, You know, a clearer philosophy of life. And in fact, clinicians who work with trauma survivors have reported that they themselves, after working, firsthand with these trauma survivors have reported their own clarified identity from experiencing how resilient and strong people can be. I've had a long time fascination with world war two and the stories that represent the stark contrast between good and evil, just viscerally illustrate the many different ways that people can grow and change through experiencing deep, traumatic and heartbreaking discouragement, you know, books like, Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, The Hiding Place, Broken.


[00:03:18] They really shaped me because I learned from those examples of. Perseverance in the face of such deep discouragement and, and often courage and resilience. And, the concept of resiliency is actually another benefit of working through discouragement there. I've read a recent assessment, that showed that 60% of the us population was under-prepared for COVID-19 and that's.


[00:03:49] It resonates. It feels true, right? That's not in relation to our medical infrastructure and then the number of bene ventilators available, but about the personal qualities and mental preparedness that help people be resilient during a crisis. Things like : having multiple strong relationships, having a powerful identity and sense of self and a sense of control or autonomy in your own life.


[00:04:15] Without resiliency, we're left vulnerable to life's natural challenges. And I don't just mean natural disasters or the, like the really rare and unexpected pandemic we are in, but, but also the normal developmental challenges that come with life. By practicing resilience. It helps solidify healthy, developmental patterns that we all experience. You know, and I think you've probably talked about it on your podcast, but we know that development is not linear and our growth is not a clear path. It's, it's often more like a stair-step pattern of developmental phases or chapters in our life that require adjustment. So we have these normal stair-step chapters like marriage having a child, or, you know, being an empty nester. Those stages can be prepared for an anticipated, but often we're caught off guard by life circumstances.


[00:05:13] And in those times, due to our built-in, very deep security measures, we often revert to effective protective measures. This is of course referring to like our Linda's limbic reactive fight flight freeze response. And. In that state, we avoid the cause of our distress. We become irritable and angry, maybe even aggressive, or we get stuck and feel stagnant and immoveable.


[00:05:43] And along with this, our cognitive capacity can be compromised. Our thinking becomes really rigid. What resiliency does is burning back greater plasticity and adaptability to our thinking were essentially buffered from the effects of life. Not because we're rigidly and fearfully planted where we are, but because we become flexible and able to yield to the source of our distress.


[00:06:10]Practically, that means that when we're really discouraged, it won't paralyze us and. Certainly there are situations that would paralyze any of us. And I don't want to convey in any way that if you're clinically depressed your weak or somehow inept, or just not trying hard enough, but no one is left resource-less.


[00:06:35]One of the models of marriage and family therapy that really resounds with me is called the recovery model, which posits that every person has inherent strengths and resources that can be utilized to help them recover from pain and suffering. So the tools we need to heal already exist. Sometimes those include medical  interventions, medication therapy, but you know, those tools can also include things like, going back to the stories that referenced things like the faith and the inspiring empathy of Corrie Tenboom, the hiding place or the deep willpower and grit of Louis Zamperini of Unbroken , which I think everyone should read or, or even like the comfort, comfort and support of a, support animal for veterans with PTSD, you know, all, all this to say that though, we all experienced discouragement. courage and sources of strength are available to help us face discouragement and use it to our benefit.


[00:07:40] Monica: It's such a paradigm shift. as I said, I share your fascination with world war two and you know, what has been called the greatest generation and the reason I believe they are called that is because of the level of obstacles and discouragement and, you know, good versus evil that they face. They w they were put through.


[00:08:00] A refining process that very few generations have been, but I'm seeing what we're going through now as our own generation and, you know, our kids generations and even our parents, we're all going through this together again, you know, and it seems like another moment of refining as a general population, but also within that too.


[00:08:21]I just want to comment about how you first started with validating the discouragement, that it's not about someone being. And, you know, unusually broken or not strong enough that they are facing discouragement, because that's toxic positivity. You know, the reverse of that positivity is just like, you know, just get up and just go for it and you decide how you feel.


[00:08:39] And while that can be true, it's not real. It's counterfeit. If you haven't moved through the discouragement, the low moments that come as you are growing. So I want to tie this into one other thing that you mentioned too, which I didn't fully recognize until you said it, and I've taken so many notes by the way, Suzy.


[00:09:01] So, everything you were saying there, The identity piece to the puzzle, how, when we are moving through discouragement and we are moving and, and building create more resilience in the process, we are refining and getting clarity, but our identity and our purpose and that in turn helps us better face it too.


[00:09:18] There's just that cycle there. So I wanted to hear more on, on that and how that can, you know, build this, you know, cycle of refining. 


[00:09:29] And honing in on who we are and what our purposes and how that also lends to us being able to then enter the discouragement better or the disappointments that come along the way.


[00:09:40] Suzy: Yeah. So, our identity is tied to our, our core values, which are. I'm sure you've heard before, but, and when, when those are challenged, for example, as perfectionists, if that is part of our core identity, like it was for me for a very long time. Well, and of course I'm still working through it. But that's very much the lens that you see life through.


[00:10:07] And when that's. Sort of challenged or disrupted then, if that's part of your identity, if that's the source of strength that you were leaning on, that I am a perfectionist, I can handle this because I can control it then, then all of a sudden, when that's challenged, you're, you're left without resources you're left without the strength to, to deal with things that are facing when, When you're that, that sort of identity or who you are, has been pulled apart.


[00:10:35] So, so I think, yeah, your sense of self is integral to your ability to, to face hard things when they come again, not, not to say that, that you're somehow weak or, or incapable, but that bite. By identifying how you think of yourself and how you, how you value yourself or see yourself really changes your capacities to deal with struggle.


[00:11:03] Monica: Absolutely. And I think it's because you know who you are and that the thing you are struggling with is not who you are, because I've been through many rounds of depression, but the hardest rounds were the times that I identified my value. Like I am depressed. I am a depressed person. I am hopeless. I have eating disorders that are my identity rather than this is my identity.


[00:11:28] And these are hard things and they're what I'm struggling with, but they're not who I am. And that move was earned right 


[00:11:36] through through rounds of, of learning better about having that be refined. So again, we're not. This is not another Tosic positivity, episode for people to feel even more guilty about whether what they're struggling with is just more of a way to reframe it so that you have the power to shift through it better.


[00:11:51] And so that kind of takes us to our next point. You know, you are right now, you are working on getting your master's. And can you tell us a little bit about that and then we'll go into some tips for our listeners? 


[00:12:02] Suzy: Yeah, so I, I, am in, My master's program, I'm getting a master's in marriage and family therapy and I graduate next year, 2021.


[00:12:12] Monica: So exciting. 


[00:12:13] Suzy: Yeah. And, the way that I got there, like I said earlier, I've worked, for 10 years in corporate sales and really saw how. So much suffering was tied to people's relationships and that success in business, as well as in life was tied to the quality of relationships. And, my, my sort of shift, that started this, this journey really was, through podcasts. I just started listening, listening to podcasts like yours and really saw the perfectionism within myself. I mean, I used to tout it as something that should be like as a character trait that was like, you know, admirable, aspirational.


[00:13:01] Yeah. I mean, I'd put it on resumes and thought thought as like, Protection against, against negative experiences. So I, I saw relational patterns that I was in, that were repeated in my life and noticed areas where I held resentment and, that really opened my eyes to how effective it was to see myself more clearly and how important it was to, to shift my responses to these patterns and, to change them. So, It's one of the things and maybe I'll just, 


[00:13:43] Monica: Yeah, I was going to say that's a perfect segue. Yeah. So let's dive into how to shift, you know, the patterns and how we relate to it. And when we reach these lows on the growth trajectory, we reached those little bottles of the roller coaster along the way.


[00:13:55]Suzy: So, I shifted my perspective on discouragement by. Shifting my focus and absolute truth that I see sort of repeatedly is the power of your focus. You know, there's all kinds of iterations. Like what you focus on grows or it's about the Wolf you feed. And, there's also, I mean, research that backs this up.


[00:14:17] So you, you focus on what works, not what doesn't work. You focus on the positive because it's our natural tendency to dwell on problems or to draw on the negative. I think getting something, I haven't been able to go to the gym much during COVID or haven't wanted to, I, I've been doing a lot of like kickboxing classes at home.


[00:14:33] And one of the things that, trainers will tell you is, is to focus on exhaling because the body will naturally inhale. And similarly you'll naturally focus on, what's not working. So focus instead on what is, and. In my experience of perfectionism it's, it's a lot, I spend a lot more about eliminating flaws than reaching for the best in myself and that hasn't turned out well.


[00:15:03] So instead, the recovery model that I mentioned earlier, your identify and focus on strengths and resources. And, I actually, so I have this quote by Martin Seligman, who's a pioneer in positive psychology and he just illustrates this so well. So I just wanted to read that.  He talks about he's a self-defined depressive, but says that focusing on what people are really good at buffers them against their weaknesses.


[00:15:31]so, so the quote is. So when a person finds out that they're really extraordinarily kind and they like being kind and you suggest to them, maybe in your daily life, you should take opportunities to display kindness more often when they start to do that more. It's self-reinforcing so. In my case, I don't know how to dress.


[00:15:54] This is again, Martin Seligman. I don't know how to dress. And if you tried to make me a snappy dresser, I wouldn't have any fun doing it, but even if I don't dress well, I talk well. So kind of makes up for the fact that my socks don't match. 


[00:16:09] Monica: I love that. So good. 


[00:16:11] Suzy: I do too. But again, it, it, illustrates the what, what really jumpstarts or progression is, It's utilizing our strengths in that and not sort of punishing ourselves for our weaknesses 


[00:16:24] Monica: and your take on how perfectionism was the reverse for you. That is something I haven't thought about quite in that way, but it makes complete sense to me why that's not the way to true growth. It's you have to start with the strengths of mind first, so that's fantastic. 


[00:16:41]Suzy: My sort of schema or my perspective on life as it relates to perfect perfectionism is that it was a safety net that I could use it to avoid negative feelings and avoid discouragement, which.


[00:16:55] Monica: Did it work? 


[00:16:55] Suzy: No, it left me really vulnerable. Yeah. So like growing up. So my younger sister struggled with reading, growing up in school was, you know, sometimes challenging for her, but, but I love reading and school was pretty easy, but because of her academic challenges, she learned early how to study, how to, you know, face what was hard for her and ended up doing really well in college.


[00:17:19] But when I came to college, we're headed balanced school with work and a social life. And my health, I. Easily was overwhelmed. So for two years, a row in a row, actually in the fall semester, I'd balance, you know, having fun and working and keeping up perfect grades. And then midterms came and I gave in to overwhelm and discouragement by, by winter semester, you know, I'd figured out a balance and better study habits.


[00:17:48] But the pattern repeated for my first few years of college. And I even at one point was on academic probation. So if I were to be diagnostic, looking back at myself, I'd lay out my perfectionism as anxious, withdrawing, you know, if something wasn't perfect, if I failed it just abandoned it. I just give up.


[00:18:09]and. What helped, shift my perspective was, again, shifting my focus and, one of the, one of the ways that you can do that is just by, opening your eyes and, you know, we can't change things. We can't see what's your podcast certainly helped me. And I was drawn to marriage and family therapy because it's base and relational.


[00:18:37] We don't live or function in isolation. And, One of the reasons discouragement shows up is to cue us into our feelings of being stuck, or it can, we can use it as a cue. And we, you know, often we've tried something repeatedly involving someone else usually, and it didn't work. So we feel stuck in those patterns because they're cyclical.


[00:19:00] Self-sustaining feedback loops that. You know, habits of thought and behavior. so finding ways to observe ourselves and catch ourselves in those restricting interaction patterns helps broaden our perspective.  for me, you know, journaling really helps.  So many work on mindfulness or therapy with someone who can help you see what you can see. 


[00:19:22] Monica: Yeah. Having that mirror held up to you. So you can notice the patterns because then again, that removes the identity from like a false identity, a counterfeit identity instead helps you see like, Oh, this is the real problem.


[00:19:35] I just continued to reinforce this way of viewing myself and then acting that part. And then again, reinforcing that way. And now I can analyze those feelings. Like you said, Feelings of being stuck and what that means about me and why, and then move forward and actually fixing them instead of continuing the cycle.


[00:19:55] Suzy: Exactly


[00:19:56] Monica: Fantastic. What else could they do? Like if they're just thinking, I feel like I'm at square one here. I get really bowled over easily. Every time I'm discouraged or frustrated or disappointed, I don't even know. 


[00:20:09] Suzy: Yeah. So, one of the things that I've also really noticed in my life is that, You know, one of the ways to combat discouragement is by exercising, courage and courage is contagious.


[00:20:21] It said that, that the most motivational people are not those that have already reached the goal that you're trying to reach. They're the ones, just six feet in front of you. Who've just surpassed the obstacle you're trying to overcome. For me, as I. Sought for and found those people, or even just looked for the courage exercised and those around me, it inspired my own courageous actions. 


[00:20:46] The yin and the yang of it is that discouragement is also contagious. They're oppositional and equally perpetuating. So, you know, Martin Seligman that, the, positive psychologist. I referenced earlier talks about that. If negative emotions are necessary, part of human nature, so are the positive ones, but, but there's a big difference. And that is that it's far more feasible not to mention more pleasant to expand and build up our capacity for good feelings than it is to try to eliminate the bad ones. 


[00:21:23] So, the, the underlying messages of positive psychology is that we can, to some extent, make ourselves happier, even if we can't completely rid ourselves of our miseries.  From square one, I would say, notice.


[00:21:39] Notice where people are exercising courage around you. For me, it was often, the, you know, the more that I lived in one spot and got to know my coworkers, my neighbors, because I got to know their struggles. I also got to recognize how, How much they were used to letting their, utilizing their own strengths to face them.


[00:22:03] And it was inspiring and really heartwarming to recognize that despite their challenges, that, th that they were doing some really courageous things. And, and it really, again, inspired my own courageous actions. 


[00:22:19] Monica: And that's where we go back to the greatest generation. You know, that's why I'm so been so drawn to that is because resonates with me and seeing the struggle, but also as aspirational and inspirational in helping me rise up myself and act the part I want to play.


[00:22:37] And in terms of our own generation and our own lives and the legacy that we are leaving behind us about being someone who never gave up at the end of the day. And not even, you know, in spite of, but also because of the discouragements and the low times. Any other advice for them before we sign off?


[00:22:57] Suzy: Yeah. That it's often helpful to seek support and to give support to others who are discouraged. You know, vulnerable vulnerability creates resilience. As I shared my goals with others, I was surprised by just how many others are struggling with the same things. We're all in this journey together, especially in the Progressor community.


[00:23:23] And, great comfort can be found from those who really rally rally around you. And in fact, there's research, it is said social support has been linked to increased hope and post-traumatic growth in for example, care group givers for cancer, cancer patients. Conversely studies also show that loneliness don'ts any positive growth following trauma.


[00:23:47] So loneliness can be a stronger limiter than the trauma itself. So I would say. I would say, reach out because you're not the only one struggling and, and that's okay. That's okay. And, but there's others around you that can, you can rally together. And again, courage is contagious as that, you're supported, you're taking courageous actions and maybe like you said, will become the next greatest generation.


[00:24:18] Monica: Yes, I certainly hope so. But Suzy, this has  been just so . . .  Everything. I, I I've lost my words now because I think I've spent them just, you know, keeping up with you, your intelligence and your spark and your experiences too. This has been so invaluable to me. Thank you. the census is a personal development show.


[00:24:38] I have been asking guests lately and I've been loving this question and how people respond to it. What is something with yourself and your own personal development and your growth that you are working on right now? 


[00:24:49] Suzy: Yeah, for me, it has been taking time to be still. Like I said, I've been working and doing school all through COVID for six, seven months.


[00:25:02] And, and even though life has slowed down in some ways it's been really busy. So for me, just noticing moments when I'm caught up in the motion of life and, and started. Starting to be acted upon more than taking intentional action in my life and, and using those moments to return, to, to seeking peace and contentment.


[00:25:22] Monica: Fantastic.  All right, Suzy. I know that you don't have a public profile or a business. I mean yet, because that's probably in the future for you. But if people do want to get in touch with you, where can they go? 


[00:25:35] Suzy: Yeah, Instagram is probably the best rate to reach out. My handle is Suzy, BC, and, it's, it's private, but you're welcome to DM me.


[00:25:45]I'm happy to be one of those people to support and rally around you. 


[00:25:50] Monica: That's so kind of you, Suzy, I'm so glad that you Rose up. I mean, this is. This was fantastic. Like every single sentence and word that came out of your mouth was so helpful to me personally, and know what's going to be very helpful to my listeners as well.


[00:26:05] Thank you very much for being on the show. 


[00:26:08] Suzy: You're welcome. My pleasure.


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