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ERP 101: How To Move Into Wholeness With Jeff Howard [Transcript]

ERP 101: How To Move Into Wholeness, with Jeff Howard

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Welcome to The Empowered Relationship Podcast, helping you turn relationship challenges into opportunities and setting you up for relationship success. Your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach who shares valuable tips, tools and resources for you to dramatically improve your relationship.

This podcast is 100% ad-free. To support this show, please subscribe and write a review today. Here is your host.

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Dr. Jessica Higgins: Hi, thanks for listening… Today’s episode is episode 101, titled How To Move Into Wholeness, with Jeff Howard. Before I share the interview with Jeff, I want to take a moment and just share with you a little bit about the purpose of the Empowered Relationship podcast.

The main intention on this show is to help you feel more equipped to handle the ups and the downs of intimacy, to help you feel more skillful, to help you feel more resilient in tolerating some of the discomfort, as well as feeling supported to open to the beautiful connection and depth of intimacy that’s available, to experience that joy, that connection. Sometimes we can feel challenged in opening up to that. We’re talking about both how to expand in the beauty and the joy, as well as how to navigate and tolerate some of the lows.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been sharing with you an opportunity to engage in this work more deeply. I was telling you about a webinar presentation – Build Happy, Lasting Love. This was originally scheduled for last Wednesday, 15th March, and due to a myriad of technical difficulties, I had to unfortunately cancel the webinar presentation. I actually just virtually could not do it.

It was anything from the site crashing several days ahead, and there were several things even before this; these were just the three main big things: the site crashed (finally hustled to get that up and running), then there’s something called an SSL Certificate, and that’s to make the site really secure… The hosting company that I work with – there was some mix-up and it took hours and hours to resolve. Then that was resolved, and then the webinar platform that I use was having broadcasting issues. I hopped on 30 minutes before the call last Wednesday and had everything set up and was ready to start the call, and I was not able to access — it uses Google Hangouts as the video conferencing software; the technology I use is called WebinarJam, and I was chatting with a tech support person, she was going back and forth with me… Her “fix it” recommendations were gonna take hours, and she was like “There’s no way you’ll be able to do the webinar.”

That’s when I e-mailed you all – I think it was right at the top of that hour – and basically explained that there was gonna be technical issues. For those of you that did register for the webinar, I am so sorry to have missed you! I was really looking forward to sharing the time with you live. I was looking forward to offering you valuable information, leading through an exercise, sharing with you a system, and just inviting you into deeper practice.

If you registered, you’ll be automatically registered for the rescheduled webinar, which will be happening on 5th April (Wednesday). If you would like to join the webinar, you can access the link by clicking on the show notes, which can be found on my website, which is DrJessicaHiggins.com, click on Podcast, and you can find the most recent episode at the top. Today’s episode is episode 101. Click on the webinar link that’s in the Mentioned section down at the bottom, or if you’re on your smart device, just touch and tap the Empowered Relationship logo and I believe the show notes will pop up there.

I look forward to joining you in the rescheduled time for the Build Happy, Lasting Love on 5th April. If you have any questions, you can reach out to me. Also, if you cannot make that time, there will be a replay. That replay will be available, I believe, for a couple days. If you want to be a part of the presentation, but can’t make that window, do sign up; you’ll have access for the replay.

Let’s get started with today’s interview.

Jeff Howard is a Reichian/Somatic Psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado who works with men, women, couples, Men’s groups, and members of the LGBTQ community in an emotion-focused, body-centered way. His work centers on relationship — both with self and others — and the ways that unacknowledged trauma can inform how we are in relationship. He also works in the realms of soul and shadow, while using awareness practices as a means to clarify our unique purpose in life.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Thank you for joining us today, thank you for being on the show.

Jeff Howard: You’re welcome, and thank you.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I had Christiane Pelmas (your partner) on in episode 83, and that was titled How Vibrant Community Helps Support Healthy Relationship. I had a listener who was like “I really want you to interview her partner, Jeff. I think it’d be great!” So that’s what really sparked this idea, and just knowing that you work with men, and as you mentioned in your bio, men’s groups, also women, couples, relationship, the LGBT community… So can you tell us a little bit more of an overview of what you’re up to?

Jeff Howard: Yeah, these days really my focus is moving more towards men and men’s work, and also working with couples… Because relationships, like you and I talked about just a minute ago, we’re always in relationship – we’re constantly in relationship with the world, and helping to break down the old stereotype that our intimate relationship/partnership/marriage is the most important relationship and maybe is the only one, which I think is really dangerous.

Esther Perel talks in her book Mating In Captivity about the fact that there’s too much pressure on the modern relationship, to expect our partners to fulfill every need that we have… So part of what I’m working to do is help men explore what intimacy means, what connection means, explore relationship, explore sexuality, so they can actually build community with men, or women, for that matter, as friends. I help them develop more of themselves outside of their intimate partnership.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes, and I guess this is ringing a bell in that conversation with Christiane, of how recognizing what’s available holistically si generative. There’s resource in being able to attend and be mindful of relationship in all these various capacities… That can be generative and resourceful.

Jeff Howard: Yes, I agree. One of the tricky parts seems to be when generativity can nudge us up against our edges… Like with the gender line – me as a man having a female friend often, in my relational history, has been threatening to my female partner. I think that’s part of the challenge – how to be relational, generative, creative, without it threatening our primary connection. I think it’s tricky, and it takes a lot of work.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: It is tricky, yeah. I know you’re open to sharing just some of the pillars or nuggets there that have helped navigate that.

Jeff Howard: Yes, sure. It’s certainly an ongoing process, and I think that’s one of the most important things that I work to help people embody – process over product. It sounds like you do something similar… Because we get pretty caught up, like “Okay, I’m gonna get to my goal, I’m gonna have the perfect relationship, I’m gonna climb the mountain and be done. And I’m good.” That also feels pretty dangerous.
In terms of this process that I’m pretty deeply in with myself and my partner, Christiane, the concept of sovereignty and the practice of sovereignty and whatever that looks like for each person. We can call it individuation, we can call it healthy differentiation, and some of the terms that are kind of at the opposite end of the spectrum would be “undifferentiated as a couple”, or the big one from [unintelligible 00:10:43.20] “codependent”, or “emotionally fused.” It feel important to name the different places we can be.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: For listeners, is that kind of not being able to stand on your own two feet, not being defined in what your own maybe desires, needs, requests are, and being so wrapped up in the other person not knowing who you are and who’s your partner?

Jeff Howard: I think yeah, you’re absolutely onto it.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I love your language, I’m just giving other language for people that maybe aren’t familiar with the terms.

Jeff Howard: Yeah, that’s great. The lay terms are really helpful, even to me. It’s good reminders to put it however it works. What comes up for me is thinking “My okayness over here as a man, as Jeff, doesn’t rely on my partner, her approval or her…”

Dr. Jessica Higgins: [unintelligible 00:11:50.29]

Jeff Howard: Yeah, so basically the intrinsic versus extrinsic. And it’s not that simple… It’s important to get this concept out there and start to let our brains wrap themselves around it, because it’s not something we’re handed. In fact, we’re often handed the opposite model, that our okayness is what does our mom say – are we good or are we not good? – what does our dad say – did I do a good job, or did I screw that up?

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yeah, and I think typically we tend to get into a relationship and we like that feeling of affirmation, being told how amazing we are. We want that affection and that mirror, but if [unintelligible 00:12:35.19] if we’re sourcing our power or our okayness from our partner’s opinion of us, especially when we run up into longer intimacy, they’re gonna have their own stuff, and that can get so entangled. I love what you’re saying.

Jeff Howard: I appreciate that. Our source of power, yeah, it’s super precarious. Like “Oh my god, I’ve gotta get back and feel like a superhero that runs on a particular gem or crystal, and has got to return to the cave to find more of this crystal”, but you can be in pretty rough shape if something goes wrong that day, if your partner’s in a funk, or your partner’s gone – what do you do then? Good gravy… So over-relying on other people for our wellness is one version of it.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yeah, and Jeff, thank you for naming that this is not absolute. I think you’re exactly right, sometimes when we’re trying to identify, conceptualize, and even researchers – we try to get really pure and defined with this to talk about it, but I think it does run the risk of not giving credence to that this is such a nuancy thing, and it can be blended (it’s not always one or the other) and helping people… I love your attention to helping people be connected to their process, because I think that that is helping people hone their inner intelligence system – it’s probably one of the things that, at least for me, I get most excited about having people be able to have that similar internal guidance with some of this.

Jeff Howard: Yeah, and it feels really valuable. One of the things I work to help people understand and embrace and work with is that it’s actually being seen in our shadowy places, in our ugly places, in our shameful places that is the process, that is the work. So often we get in this trap as individuals, and certainly as couples – and I’m guessing you see this often as well in your work – that we need to show up perfectly, and we need to just be good. That’s one of the biggest crimes in relationship, or even just within an individual, that we’re held to some mythical standard.

One of the biggest things I wanna help people do and practice is to show up a little messy, to show up with care and to take risks, and to learn how to show up messy and then to repair – because there’s gonna be damage; it’s just a matter of minimizing the damage and flexing the muscles of “Ugh, that’s hard to hear that feedback from my partner… Ugh, gosh… I wanna run away, or I wanna tell her she’s wrong, and that she’s being mean”, and to both have that experience and then be able to stay present in whatever dialogue or conflict that you’re having.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I love it. Jeff, I’m just even appreciating how I can feel your presence as we’re talking, and it’s really wonderful. I’m appreciating the space that I imagine you hold for the people that you work with, and how powerful that is. And to ground this in maybe an example – because I’m loving what you’re saying – and for people that are still maybe paying attention to the fact that you’re like, “Okay, like, relationship, and expanding the definition of that”, and not seeing relationship from this tight result mindset, but more being in the process of it, and inviting people to be messy, and how does that work with connecting with someone of the opposite — with that example, and is there any… Like, to bring this into more of an example…? Whether or not it’s that or something else, for people listening…

Jeff Howard: Yeah, that makes so much sense… That’s one of my favorite things to do actually, because it has so much value, which is to ground it — typically, I’ll just turn to people and say “What’s an example from your life?” and we’ll work it right there… Which is great to watch most folks squirm a little bit… [laughter] Or we can do a role-play, which is even better, because most folks are like, “Oh, really…? What… What do you mean?” “What do you mean what do I mean? I’m gonna play your wife, and you’re gonna be you.”

So yeah, we can choose any example. We’ll do the typical husband/wife. Wife comes home from work, has had a hard day, husband has had a great day, and husband asks wife, “So, how are you doing?” and she snaps at him. He takes it personally, pouts a little bit, and goes off in the other room. That’s probably a classic example of one of the things I see often, and I imagine you do, too… Which is people taking things really personally. This goes back to the over-relying on our primary partner for our wellness.

In that example, it might be “Hey, why are you being so mean to me? What’s your problem?”, where it makes it all about the husband, when it probably has almost nothing to do with him, except that he just made it about him, which most likely has the wife feeling like “God, you are so selfish! What’s your problem? I had a hard day, and now it’s all about you… I could use a little love over here, because I’ve had a hard day; now you’re throwing a fit over there”, and you can see how that takes them down the rabbit hole that doesn’t lead to much good.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: No kidding… Yeah, thank you.

Jeff Howard: Yeah, so to continue the example of what we might be able to do differently – when our partner snaps at us, I don’t think it ever feels good, so here I really want to work with the [unintelligible 00:19:11.20] internal dialogue for the husband, “That doesn’t feel good. I haven’t seen my wife the whole day and I was excited to see her, I ask her how she’s doing and she snaps at me.” So I can work to hold, like “Ouch, that hurts!” and I can also be in relationship with her in this way, in a more generous way, in a generous spirit, to then wonder and get curious “Gosh, I wonder what’s happening for her?”, which is in some ways advanced work, even though it’s a pretty simple concept, to be able to then take a breath, manage myself and go “Gosh, honey… What’s going on? It seems like you had a hard day.” You’ve got an edge to you over there… Which is kind of like magic when you see it work in person, or you’re part of an interaction like that, and it gives enough of a relief in the other person’s nervous system for them to go “Gosh, thanks for asking… I’ve just realized I snapped at you, honey, and I’m sorry about that.”

Then you can be caring for one another there, but I think it takes real effort and intention at that initial phase, whatever your point of conflict is – or several points of conflict, as the case may be, in a couple – to slow down and take a breath and consider another alternative, another option to how to interact.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yeah, I love that. I’m also thinking, Jeff, do you give people guidance around how, let’s say — because I love in your bio you talk about unresolved trauma, and if somebody doesn’t have the imprint of their okayness to reference, that taking a breath and really breathing into the solidarity of like “I’m okay… Yes, that did not feel good, I don’t enjoy that, AND I’m not crumbling…” How do you help people with that?

Jeff Howard: It’s a great question, thanks for asking it. A lot of what I work to help folks do is really be aware of their own wound – like you said, some version of that… Like, where are your slippery places, where are your darkest places? Then what are your most tender places? Doing that for oneself, and then – this is critical – to get to know your partner’s wound is huge. In order to do that, it’s a proactive process; you don’t typically just stumble into “What’s your core wound?” in casual conversation about your day, or “How was the movie you went to?” It’s this beautiful, ultimately integrative process of being proactive.

One of the things I encourage folks to do is set a time every single week and ultimately every day – even if it’s for ten minutes – to check in, whether that’s “Hey, babe. How are you today? Give me the two-minute version.” And there’s an exchange there. You’re moving deliberately to communicate about what’s going on. Then when you have a weekly check-in, that’s specifically designed, really deliberate, about “What’s hard for you this week?” or “What’s hard in our relationship?” or “What’s living in you in relation to me?”, especially coupled with therapy, where they get to bring the heavy-hitting topics to me…

That’s one of my favorite things, when couples come in and say, “We started talking about this, and then I said we should really save this for our session with Jeff.” That’s beautiful… That’s like “Alright, I’m really gonna care for both us here, because I don’t think we have the resources to not go into our same old conflict.” So that’s maybe one or two of the big ones: get to know your wound, let your partner know about it.

The interaction in the example I referenced earlier starts to be an opportunity, not a place of just like “Well, screw her… I’m out of here”, so much as “Oh, something’s up for her. Gosh… What might that be? I know something about her wound, I know something about what happens for her when she’s not resourced”, or vice versa.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Nice. Yeah, that’s so important, for people to just have that ability to notice what their pattern, what they’re running at the moment, the “Okay, this is something we’ve done before, that we don’t enjoy… Let’s do this differently, like we’re learning.” Anytime we’re learning, it’s a learning curve to get that support, even riding a bike with training wheels – we want assistance and guidance to stay balanced, and that’s not easy.

I have clients that I work with, they don’t know that they’re good. Unfortunately, they haven’t had the experience in their past of a parent or caregiver reflecting back their worthiness, so there’s the insecurity there, when we’re talking about knowing one’s okayness – that’s hard when somebody doesn’t have an internal structure for that. That can make this even that much more tender and sensitive, and even traumatic, so to have somebody to help guide in that landscape is critical, I would say.

Jeff Howard: Yeah, I so appreciate that… Analogies are something I use often, just to ground people in a lived experience, and bike riding is a beautiful one. What happens when you get on a bike? You fall down, you eat shit… [laughter] That’s what happens; then you get up and go “Ouch!”, and your parents come to you and maybe they put a Band-Aid on your knee and you feel okay. Then you get back on, you wobble, and you actually end up riding; you feel agency, you feel empowered.

In terms of relationship, I really like what you said – it’s often like we’re just supposed to be good at it. “Oh, look, our parents are great!”, depending on the kind of model we had in our parents’ relationship. For me, my parents – most everything was sort of behind closed doors. If anything, there were rare instances where I saw intimacy. There were rare instances where I saw a big fight, and in between it was just a mystery.

It’s a little bit like, if you learn nothing about banking or balancing your checkbook or budgeting, but your parents just sort of worked, and then you’re supposed to be an expert when you turn 18 and move out on your own… If we can ground people in an example like that, that says, “Okay, so do you think you should be an expert at 18 on banking and finances?” “Well, no.” “Right! Of course! Because you haven’t been trained in it”, so what makes you think you should be an expert in relationship?

Dr. Jessica Higgins: No kidding… Even no exposure, right? No example to witness.

Jeff Howard: Right, no knowing the inner workings.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. Can you share more about what you’re offering for men? The masculine intimacy… Anything you wanna talk about there, I just would love to get some space for that.

Jeff Howard: Yeah, thank you. It’s really a growing passion of mine, especially in the kind of relationship that I am in with Christiane, who’s a powerful woman, doing really powerful work in the world. The question has come up often in our connection around the masculine, the feminine, and “How do I show up as a man in relationship?” It’s definitely been probably the most uncomfortable thing that I’ve ever done, really trying to show up with all of my parts. I think Brené Brown – her talk about shame, which I think is essential for most men… There’s some elements of shame – either “I’m not good enough, I’m not man enough, I’m not big enough, I’m not enough of a badass, enough of a stud”, all these messages that we get…

So what I’m working to do with men these days is really looking at what are all the constituent parts of being a man? This certainly relates to individual work or couples work with men or women, going so far as to give names to our different parts: our little boy, our wounded boy, our arrogant man, our cocky bastard, our tender one, our collapsed one, our confused and wounded, hurt one, or whatever it is for each individual man. Because I think we get such a narrow script to work with…

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes, I love that you help people redefine masculinity and what that would look like.

Jeff Howard: Yeah, because good God, it’s a setup for both men and women. You know, unwittingly we go into a relationship where I am supposed to be the savior and you’re supposed to be the maiden, and I save you and we’re [unintelligible 00:29:40.28] which is just terrible.

There’s a group I’m putting together now that I’m gonna offer in late spring, early summer, that focuses on sexuality, that focuses on the masculine, that focuses on intimacy and it looks at wound, all within the framework of truth telling. Because I think as men we get pretty hammered into submission around not telling our whole truth, and I don’t think this is specific to men over women… It’s just a particular version of men, which kind of has this invulnerability, this “I’m invincible, I can take it, whatever it is” and “Might is right!”

And good god, the more I get to know men and the more I get to know myself, we are really sensitive, tender creatures, and I think it could be argued we’re more tender and sensitive than women tend to be, generally. I’m speaking in generalizations, I know, and I’m sure a lot of folks would wanna take me to task or debate me on that point, and I feel like it’s a necessary thing to put out into the world… To actually look at men differently, and help men look at themselves differently.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yeah, no kidding. No kidding, and just the permission I think is something I’m feeling from you, to welcome all aspects, even if you’ve gotten messages… You know, Christiane and Mike talk with her… She really talked a lot about in a heterosexual relationship, marriage, long-term partnership, that often times – and this is one of the major issues; I think there’s even people that say women are the ones that initiate divorce more, but women stereotypically are wanting their man to be emotionally intelligent, to be emotionally responsive, to be emotionally attuned… And yet, like you said, they might have very little training, being that culture and society often is like — you know, I can tell you, all of my work with teens and kids in the past… These young boys are getting messages day after day after day of like “Don’t cry! It’s not okay. Contain it, contain it, hold it”, and there’s really not outlet. So for you to welcome those parts that maybe have been disowned or separated, and to welcome that conversation and that exploration is so valuable.

Jeff Howard: Yeah, that’s wonderful to hear. I appreciated hearing your hands slapping in the background… [laughter] It’s important, because that is so often the experience. We sort of become, as boys, galvanized into an either/or, which is either we’re a good little boy, or we’re a man. This is where I think one of the origins of entitlement is – this either/or. We just come to know that as men we need to be strong, and then it gets twisted into “we deserve to get what we want’, which as you probably know, doesn’t fly into a partnership very well. “Do this because I say so”, that’s a relationship killer, ultimately, both directions, I think.

So yeah, it is about permission, and it’s tricky, it’s not an easy thing, because anger has a place. As men, that’s a primary emotion for us. How do we both acknowledge and move some of it, while also not making it someone else’s problem, or directing it at someone in a violent way? That takes work… I’m a big man in terms of my stature, and I can be big physically and energetically, and I didn’t have room for that, so that energy has to go somewhere… And I think it often goes in and comes out in distortions and in twisted ways that end up leading to all manner of challenges, both physically and emotionally, as well as relationally.

I think that’s a big part of where men’s challenges around sex and sexuality come from. I think that’s a big part of where challenges around expressing emotion come from, and risk in relationship, because we don’t have permission to be sad and cry, nor do we have permission to rage… Understandably in some ways, because that is scary. It’s important that we have some venue, some vehicle to let this move, that also is not in our primary partnership.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes. If there’s a safe space to do this individual exploration, then it can feed and nurture the intimacy in partnership, but it doesn’t actually have to all happen within the container of an intimate relationship. I’m still so stuck on what you’ve just said, and I’m like “Oh, I’ve never heard it said like that!” I’m having an a-ha around anger, because I know that men typically, even in sports, a lot of men have had experience on some team sport — you know, anger is a little more of an appropriate, acceptable emotion culturally, stereotypically speaking, for men…. But what you were describing personally, of your stature and not feeling the space to really occupy that in a very embodied, full way, that it has to go somewhere, and I’m like “Oh, wow…”

I’m thinking about my husband, he is 6’3″, but he is a sensitive guy, absolutely… I think he is probably even a highly sensitive person – maybe not fully, but somewhere in that neighborhood. He is very attentive to these cultural issues, and sensitive to wanting to be safe to women, and being just mindful of all these things. But I think that has a side effect, if we don’t know how to own – like you’re describing, if there’s no place to really own the power, embody it… I’m just still stuck on what you said. That’s so helpful to see, that so much can be channeled and so much could be going on behind the scenes with the expression of anger. It’s so important to see…

Maybe the process isn’t what we would say it is ultimately ideal, but that it makes sense, right? There’s a reason.

Jeff Howard: Well, I really like how you put the side effects, which points me to one of the things I work a lot with, which is the way we come to ill/poor health – whether that’s emotionally or mentally or physiologically or all of the above – for most folks it’s insidious, it’s pervasive, it’s incremental. Being able to slow down and identify the steps – sort of like you just ended up in a bus station in New York and you’re like “How the hell did I get here? Jesus, I have no idea…”, like you blacked out for three weeks, because you were started in California and now you’re in this bus station in Hoboken, New Jersey, or something. But that’s often how it works in terms of this really insidious subtlety around — like you said, your husband, he’s really sensitive, and he really is mindful, and usually there’s [unintelligible 00:38:13.08] that’s probably a superpower of your husband’s, being really aware. And the dark side of that [unintelligible 00:38:18.08] and that becomes habituated and suddenly he is habituated to not express maybe discontent, disappointment, discomfort, disease, you name it, and then that shows up somewhere else, whether that’s an angry outburst or it’s some physical element, or some challenges in the bedroom, or whatever.

I think for all of us it’s so vital to look at those side effects. Likewise, incremental change can go the other direction; these small victories or small wins, as I often call them, in the aggregate, start to become real health, because we’re also paying attention. So it’s sort of a bonus.

It’s hard to pay attention to “Ugh, gosh… I was really sensitive with my wife today because I know she has a hard time when she’s having a hard time, so I wanna not be more of her problem here. And gosh, I’m realizing that’s actually not so good, because it ends up being all about her, which she doesn’t actually like, but I don’t know how to stop it.” You can see where this goes.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yeah, so is it kind of like you’re saying, like inviting people to look at the long-term effect, right? You might not even be awake to what the result of ignoring or suppressing… Or even that you’re even doing it, but the long-term impact of that is maybe not really serving you or your relationship. But if you can confront and on the short term maybe tolerate some discomfort, the long-term impact of that is incredibly healthy – is that kind of what you’re saying?

Jeff Howard: Yeah, I think that’s a great way to put it, and it has me remembering part of — you know, being able to name our challenges, or the different ones of us has that effect of being able to zoom out; think of yourself like you’re in a helicopter and you’re zooming out above your own life, and looking like “God, I’m pretty pissed off. I’m kind of being a jerk right now. What might be going on there for me?” And it also is a way to remember there are other options available.

I think you probably know this because you talk about the nervous system – when we’re triggered, it’s game off; it’s sort of like game over, because my nervous system has me in survival mode, where I’m only seeing one inch of the world. We’re seeing red, or however you wanna put that. And no work’s gonna get done there. That’s part of the practice of every day like “Okay, right… Whenever you say I’m looking frumpy, that triggers me, pisses me off and has me feel distant, and I go into some kind of a habituated response.”

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes… So Jeff, in your upcoming group – is that local, or is that something that people all over can access?

Jeff Howard: Good question. It is local, and it’s gonna be held here in Boulder.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Boulder… I do have listeners, so hopefully they will reach out to you. Can you share a little bit about when men are beginning this work? What are some of the things that flag them or alert them, like “Oh, maybe this is something to look at”, for men listening that might be resonating with what you’re saying, how to find that this is possibly something that could benefit them? Probably any man and any woman can benefit from this — I mean, obviously I’m gonna say that because I see the value, but I’m curious from your angle what you see men coming in and what their pain point is.

Jeff Howard: Yeah, well the pain point is a really important focus. So often  – and this makes so much sense – when we’re in pain, we wanna stop being in pain. That’s about as elemental as it gets, and what I work to help people do is take the areas where they’re most frustrated, where they’re most indignant, where they’re most defensive, where they’re most wounded, and work to turn them into points of curiosity, where there are actually flags for “Oh, here’s an opportunity for work… Something that I can look at, instead of just being averse to it and wanting to get away from it”, whether that’s through drugs and alcohol, or sex, or porn, or food, a latte, or one of the handy sweet things that we go for, helping them turn that into an opportunity for looking at their life differently and having a different experience.

If feels like just taking stocks… If a man takes stock of his life and says, “God, I feel really small in my relationship with my partner”, or “I’m really frustrated that I’m not getting my needs met.” Even if it’s like “What the hell does that mean? I’ve never even asked that question”, if there’s a man listening that’s like “What do you mean, needs met? What the hell does that mean?” Okay, well, that’s a good place to start. Identifying you have needs outside of food, water, beer and sex, or whatever it is for each particular man. I’m not sure if that answers your question.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yeah, absolutely. I think what you’re saying is that it can be expressed either in total numbness, or in lots of different ways, and that just to recognize that that doesn’t have to be blamed or ignored, but that it could be turned into a point of reference to then get curious about it, and that then supports the process, I imagine.

Jeff Howard: Yeah, I appreciate that language, and that’s one of the fundamental pillars of my philosophy and my practice as a therapist and as someone who works with men and with couples – it’s not to get away from our “problems” or our weaknesses (weakness is a big term, especially with men), but to actually hold them close, because they’re valuable allies, like Bill Plotkin talks about in his work. They’re loyal soldiers, and we all have them, man or woman.

It’s so important to get to know our loyal soldiers, because they’re just following orders that they got when we were two, or seven, or twelve, or fifteen, and they’re going to keep following those orders for the rest of our lives, until we get into a relationship with them and give them a new job, which is to move towards health, which is to actually spot the trouble spots earlier, so we can then bring our adult self to this conversation, to this interaction, and really cultivate a different experience in ourselves and with our loved ones.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Yes, nice. Well, I know we’re kind of getting towards the end of our call, and I’m wondering if there’s anything you wanna underscore or add into the conversation…

Jeff Howard: Yes, I just really love working with folks and I love watching them come alive when they get permission to be in contact with all of themselves, especially the parts that they have maybe unconsciously – typically unconsciously – and habitually deemed unworthy, shameful, ugly, worthless, and begin to understand that those parts are actually essential aspects of them. Being in a different relationship is truly transformative, and I don’t think I’m over-reaching or over-speaking here. So that’s what I want to invite and encourage in people; it’s a powerful, powerful intimate process that I love to be a part of, in myself and others.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Nice. If people are interested in what you’re up to and what you’re doing, what would you recommend as far as how they can connect with you or your work?

Jeff Howard: Well, certainly my website, which is the midst of being redone… My website should be up within a month – ThreeLeavesCounseling.com That’s probably the best way.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Nice. I will put the link on the show notes for people. Just out of curiosity – I mean, people can explore, but as of now, it sounds like most of your work is local… Do you do phone or video conferencing?

Jeff Howard: I do, yeah. Actually, that’s a significant part of my work, meeting folks over the web. I found we can actually get some things accomplished and do good work.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Nice. Okay, so you don’t need to be a local to connect with Jeff. That’s great.

Jeff Howard: Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Excellent. Alright, well I will have that link available on today’s show notes. This is episode 101.

Jeff Howard: Wonderful.

Dr. Jessica Higgins: Thank you for being on the show, Jeff. Again, I really mean what I am saying about just the presence you’re holding and the guidance that you’re offering… I’m really so grateful for what you’re doing.

Jeff Howard: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Jessica. It’s been lovely to talk with you today.

*   *   *

Dr. Jessica Higgins: I hope you have enjoyed this episode. I believe the conversation is full of nuggets of wisdom, as Jeff also really gives specific pointers to ways to transform and shift our dynamics, especially as we run up against friction points, tension points in ourself and within our relationship.

If you wanna access anything mentioned on the show today, you can find that on the show notes, which can be found either by tapping the Empowered Relationship logo on your device if you’re using a smartphone or tablet of some sort, or if you’re on your desktop, you can also go to  DrJessicaHiggins.com, click on Podcast and you can find this episode, if you’re listening to it sooner rather than later, up at the top. Again, this is episode 101, How To Move Into Wholeness, with Jeff Howard.

Also, stay tuned… I would love for you to join the webinar Build Happy, Lasting Love. Again, you can register by clicking on the link at the bottom section of the show notes, which says “Build Happy, Lasting Love webinar link”, and then you can access the registration page there.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. I can be contacted via e-mail, jessica@drjessicahiggins.com.

Until next time, I hope you take great care.

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