I’ve been feeling nostalgic since the recent death of Dr. Joyce Brothers the other week. I grew up watching Brothers on shows like Donahue and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson while my grandmother crocheted afghans beside me.
I knew I wanted to be a therapist from a very young age, having analyzed my own familial relationships ad nauseum (I was a weird kid). Back then, I loved Dr. Brothers’ wit, grace, class and charm.
Today, I respect her as the rarity she was during her prime: an accomplished female in the field of psychology.
Dr. Brothers paved the way for women like me, and her extensive media exposure did not detract from her credibility — another rarity in the media machine known for exalting experts to guru status only to eventually chew them up and spit them out. No, Dr. Brothers had staying power because of her enduring wisdom. And I believe her wisdom endured because of its inherent simplicity.
Below are three quotes that have had the most impact on my work as a therapist:
1. “Trust your hunches. They’re usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level.”
Often clients in crisis look to me for answers, but my belief is that each of us is an expert of our own lives. I think Dr. Brothers would have agreed that nature gave us hunches for a reason: to guide us. I regularly respond to clients’ questions with another question: “What does your gut tell you?”
The answer may not readily surface because hunches are not always initially clear. Sometimes it takes a quieting of the mind and body before we can check in and feel what our “guts” are trying to tell us. Much of my work as a therapist involves first teaching clients how to slow down and get in touch with their hunches, and then offering support as they find the courage to follow those hunches.
2. “Listening — not imitation — may be the sincerest form of flattery.”
Think about the last time someone really listened to you. Do you remember how good it felt to finally be heard? That’s because when someone listens to us, we feel like we matter. And that feels better than flattery! I take Dr. Brothers’ simple wisdom into my work with couples by modeling and teaching listening skills.
Relationships often vastly improve when people begin to really listen, because it lifts the burden of emotion, decreases stress, dissolves defensiveness, increases clarity and fosters connection.
3. “Anger repressed can poison a relationship as surely as the cruelest words.”
What I’ve come to learn thanks to the work of Dr. Brothers is that repressed anger does not equal invisible anger. We may think we’re doing a good job of repressing our anger, but a closer look often reveals otherwise. If anger is not properly addressed and released, it has a way of “coming out sideways.” In other words, anger (and its underlying emotions) can seep out in behaviors such as addiction, persistent sarcasm, promiscuity or bullying — to name just a few.
Repressed anger can also manifest as physical health issues like chronic back pain or a weakened immune system. I often say it like this to my clients, “Anger will find its own way if we don’t make a way.” It’s much better for our own health and for the health of our relationships if we acknowledge our anger, identify its roots, and then create healthier outlets for that anger.
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