The majority (roughly 80%) of people do not currently have a clinical psychological problem. In other words, they are not struggling with navigating life on a daily basis due to disease, disorder or dysfunction, but rather they are actually suffering from developmental stagnation. And simply being “more positive” is not the answer.
To discuss what this means and how it impacts the world of coaching, I interviewed Sasha Heinz, Ph.D., MAPP. Dr. Heinz is a Developmental Psychologist and Coach, and an expert in Positive Psychology, adult development, and transformational change. She shared how “toxic positivity” actually hinders lasting change, and some powerful ways we can elevate our coaching through developmental support.
“The way that you conceptualize the world isn’t sophisticated enough for the problems you’re facing. Right? So this is what most people are actually struggling with. And, to me, seeing it in that way is so hopeful, so expansive.” – Dr. Sasha Heinz
Sasha Heinz, Ph.D., MAPP, a Developmental Psychologist and Coach, is an expert in Positive Psychology, adult development, and transformational change.
She is the host of The Change Lab Podcast where she explores the burgeoning field of adult development and why personal growth isn’t a luxury, but a critical task of healthy humaning. In her private psychodevelopment practice, she works with a limited number of committed individual clients and groups.
Dr. Heinz received her BA from Harvard University, her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Columbia University, and her Master’s in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, where she has also served as a faculty member.
Dr. Heinz and her work have appeared in a variety of media outlets including Psychology Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, Goop, Inc., Town and Country, InStyle Magazine, Thrive Global, and Women’s Health.
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Intro: Welcome to the masterful coach podcast with Molly Claire. If you’re a coach who’s ready to impact more lives, make more money and create a life you love, you’re in exactly the right place. Get the support you deserve as a female entrepreneur. Master your coaching skills, grow your ideal business, and honor your priorities in your personal life.
Are you in? Let’s get started with your host, best selling author and master life and business coach, Molly Clare.
Molly Claire: Hey coaches, I cannot wait to introduce you to today’s guest, Dr. Sasha Heinz. Before I tell you a little bit about her background and our story in this interview, I want to make sure that you all are registered for the Program Powerhouse webinar. It is going to be an incredible webinar this coming Monday.
I am collaborating with Kris Jones, who does story brand copywriting. So, as you know, I offer my Create Your Killer Program, program for coaches that want to really solidify a clear program and their offer to go along with it. Well, I’ve worked closely with Kris personally, and what she does is the next step of that, where you are actually creating a polished sales page with copy that converts.
So she and I decided to come together, this coming Monday, the Program Powerhouse webinar. We will both be there sharing tips and tricks. And also, by the way, helping you to know how you can get a pretty sweet Black Friday deal, even though Black Friday is now behind us. So make sure that you go to mollyclaire.com and register there.
All right, coaches, let’s talk about Sasha Heinz. Sasha and I have known each other for quite a few years now. We met at life coach training. And what I love about Sasha’s story, as you will soon find out, is just how committed she is to giving quality coaching and a stellar experience to her clients.
So Sasha attended Harvard University for her bachelor’s degree, went on to get a master’s in applied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. And also a PhD in developmental psychology at Columbia University. And so we all know, as a coach that you don’t need that many letters behind your name in order to start a coaching business. But for Sasha, she was so interested in developing her knowledge and her skills to the highest degree possible. And every step of the way, she knew that, in the end, what she wanted to do was to be a coach.
As you will hear from Sasha, she is passionate about using psychology and all that we understand about the brain. To actually help people move forward and expand. This conversation was so much fun. We are talking about having a quality coaching practice. Having a coaching business with ethics and really being able to serve your clients at a high level. Sasha is also talking about toxic positivity and how she doesn’t believe it’s positivity at all.
I hope you love this conversation as much as I enjoyed chatting with her. All right, let’s go ahead and get started with Dr. Sasha Heinz.
All right, coaches. So here we are with Dr. Sasha Heinz. Welcome to the podcast.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Thanks, Molly. I’m so excited to be here.
Molly Claire: Yeah. So good to have you. We are just talking about, I think we’ve known each other now since 2016 or 2017.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Yep. 2016. I think it was May 2016.
Molly Claire: May. Yeah. And it’s so crazy to think about how much has changed in the coaching space, in the psychology space.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Yep.
Molly Claire: Just the world, the market, everything. So,
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Yeah. So much. I see a lot of changes, especially in coaching.
Molly Claire: Yeah, Oh, absolutely. And from a marketing perspective, right? Like, in the market, and also the way coaching is done and all of it. So we’re going to talk about toxic positivity today, but before we do tell everyone who you are, what you do,
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Alright, I mean, I think that I’m actually sort of a small, there’s a small group of us perhaps, but anyway, a psychologist and coach both. I went on this journey to get my doctorate in developmental psychology and went to UPenn to get my degree in positive psychology with the intention of being a coach. So all of my academic work was with the intention of becoming a coach.
Which, at the time, and it’s sort of hard to put this in context, but, it’s important to understand that back in early aughts coaching was not what it is today. Most people didn’t really know what a life coach was. It was, what is this thing? It was just emerging. And so when I was at, especially at Columbia, getting my doctorate, the idea, I mean, I would so devoche say that I was going to, I wanted to be a coach because like, “What are you doing here? You don’t need these credentials.”
But I felt I did because I think one of my missions, and I feel so strongly about this, is to elevate the field of coaching to elevate and what I would call it. And I, and you know, whether this sticks and takes off or not, but I’m a psycho developmentalist. I’m not a psychotherapist. I’m a psycho developmentalist.
There is just as much need to work on your growth and development. Because growth and development is hard. Most people do not have psychological wounds that they need to heal. And I know people are going to push back on this. They don’t like to hear this. Most people don’t have a clinical psychological problem. Most people, 80 percent of people, that’s the statistic. And I’m saying, in a slice of time, right? So, in a snapshot of time, 80 percent of people aren’t struggling with a clinical disorder.
That doesn’t mean that you haven’t had something in the past. But if we’re just taking a slice, like, what’s happening right now, about 80 percent of people don’t have a clinical psychological problem. 20 percent do. That’s still pretty high, right? But most, majority of people don’t. And it’s so important to me to help people understand that most of our daily problems, most of the problems that we’re having in our relationships, in work, with our kids, just with our own sense of self, are not disease, disorder, dysfunction. It’s not psychopathology. It is developmental stagnation. It is arrested development. That is what’s happening.
So you haven’t grown as, you know, your internal mental framework perhaps, has not grown as you’ve grown, as you’ve evolved. Your thinking hasn’t necessarily evolved. And so the way that you conceptualize the world, isn’t sophisticated enough for the problems you’re facing, right? So this is what most people are actually struggling with.
And to me, seeing it in that way is so hopeful. It’s so expansive because it’s so easy to get into the despair of, I’m never going to be able to heal the wounds. And we spend so much time marinating in our stories about the past, trying to unlock whatever is holding us back. But that’s not how growth happens.
We heal the past by moving forward. We heal the past actually by taking responsibility of our present and future. And that’s actually how we do it. So I get, I mean, I’m going to get, I get really intense about this, but it really matters to me. Because what we’re doing, this work of psycho developmentalist, like as a psycho developmentalist, and your psycho development.
Adult development is not flimsy, it shouldn’t be relegated to the self help aisle of like inspirational speakers and you know, spiritual gurus or whatever. It’s like, this is actually the central work of humaning. It’s deeply important and it requires that we have some theoretical knowledge and like what frameworks are we using? What are the tools? Is it grounded in research? Like all of this stuff is really important.
Molly Claire: I don’t know that this is exactly what you’re saying, but this is what this made me think of to some degree. That, first of all, this is one thing I love about you. And I feel like very much aligns with the message here, which is like, let’s raise the bar for coaches in this industry. Let’s be ethical. Let’s be safe. Let’s have integrity. Let’s have high standards. Let’s have, not only practices with our clients, but practices in our business that we’re proud of, right?
Because anything goes, we don’t have to be ethical, but maybe we should, maybe it’s a good idea, right? For our own wellbeing and others. But yeah, what I love about you is because you’ve always knew that you wanted to go into the coaching space, right? And you did a deep dive into education and research and all the things. And as you were talking, I was thinking about this idea that oftentimes people that dive deep into the education of psychology are to treat those mental disorders and problems versus, let’s grow human beings to expand, right?
And it’s a similar thing with physical health, right? All the focus on, you know, fixing disease and managing that, which is important, right? But where’s the part where more of our focus is on expanding our health and wellness physically? And it’s the same kind of thing, right?
Dr. Sasha Heinz: And I think the field of psychology and psychology as a practice. So, psychotherapy and for psychologists, et cetera, was really built out of the medical model. So it’s really a sort of an extension of the medical model. So it is, you know, you’re sick, you need to be treated by a doctor. And so in Western medicine, things are starting to change, but it’s still really largely the case that if you want to do something that isn’t necessarily in that sort of model of like, you’re sick and now you need to treat the sickness and I’m going to treat the acute problem. And by the way, I’m not going to really treat it until it becomes acute. That’s how it works. Right?
Like, you’re pre diabetic, we’re not that concerned with you, but like, now your numbers have tipped the scale and now all of a sudden, like, you’re an important person, now we need to treat you. When in fact, there probably was a lot that could have been done intervention wise earlier on, but that’s not how the medical model works.
And the same thing is true with psychology, right? That we have this, and, in the Western, medical model, it’s an alternative. Someone who’s using alternative practices that’s doing more of the prevention work. And this is changing, but it’s not there yet.
And the same is true in psychology. Like, it’s exactly the same thing. It was like, you’re a coach, you’re kind of the alternative practitioner, right?
Molly Claire: It’s an alternative and not really that substantial or that important is kind of the idea, right? And it’s so interesting because, I mean, I just think it lends itself to reinforcing unwellness. Because like, when are we going to say how important growth is even for our like wellbeing, right? My view is that I think we are designed to connect. We are beings that are wired for connection and also we crave growth and development. That’s where we find satisfaction in life.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: It’s all we do.
Molly Claire: That’s right. That is right.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: The human organism is growing and developing from cradle to grave. That’s it. That’s what’s happening. You know, if you look at like what we actually are as an organism, what we do. I mean, how could you look at the trajectory of a human organism and not think, “Hmm, maybe this growth thing is kind of central.”
Right. You know what I mean? We’re evolving and changing from the minute we’re conceived until our last breath.
Molly Claire: Yeah. So one question I have for you, kind of going back to something you mentioned, and I want to talk about toxic positivity specifically here. But, you know, you were talking about growth and development coming from focusing on the present and the future and not necessarily the past. And I guess I’m curious to know how, in your view, it fits in when people are doing trauma work.
Like, a lot of the work that I do, even in my upcoming holistic training, is really attending to emotions that are stored in the body, which is, of course, part of the past. So I’m just curious to know how you view that fitting into the development.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: In my opinion, if you’re working on somatic work to sort of regulate your nervous system and sort of retrain your nervous system to not be so activated by certain things, right? And we know that that’s possible to do. You’re giving your nervous system new information and you’re also giving your mind, because your mind is just a constant prediction machine. That’s what it’s doing, is predicting the future based on what it’s experienced in the past. That’s what your mind is doing.
So you’re giving yourself new evidence, new information that’s actually going to change the way that we predict that’s totally possible. So that’s what we’re doing. But you’re doing that in the present. The person that’s actually going and doing somatic work and working with someone to really, truly work on this stuff, like they’re doing that in the present. This is like, this is happening now.
My concern is the person is sitting in a therapist’s office that’s been sitting in a therapist’s office for 10 years talking about things that have happened to them in the past, wanting to cognitively unravel something that happened years ago, but what’s happened is they’re just, it’s like they’re bonded to the story of what’s happened. And that’s not where the healing occurs. The healing occurs in the present. I mean, you can’t go back.
If you’re injured, you break a bone, you don’t go back and unbreak the bone. The bone is broken, you have to treat it now. So much of what I do is actually referring people who are not ready to do the work that I do with people to the proper practitioner. So, someone who’s wanting to do growth work and then it becomes very clear that perhaps they’ve had some really big thing happen. You know, maybe there was sexual abuse. Maybe they were in an abusive relationship. Maybe they’re dealing with grief. They lost someone and they’ve just not really able to, haven’t processed it.
So something, whatever happened and they need to first of all, just acknowledge it, right? Because mental health is a commitment to reality at all costs. So I’m working with someone, I’m like, Oh, you haven’t committed to reality. This is what’s going on. So there’s another person who’s better and more equipped to do this than I am. So that’s what I would recommend, right? Go there first. And then we can do this work.
Because I think you have to acknowledge what’s happened. It’s like, no one’s calling for denial. And I mean, we can get- that’s related to my thoughts about toxic positivity.
Molly Claire: Yeah, exactly. That’s what I was thinking. So, and this is what I wanted to highlight because I know that oftentimes, and especially with years of training coaches and helping them use a cognitive framework. I think it’s both important to acknowledge that we’re not in the past, we are here. Look at what is possible going forward. And it’s also important that we don’t deny or close down things that need to be attended to that have been created from our past.
And I think that’s where we can get into. Yeah, some of this ways of shutting down our thoughts, our feelings, all of those things, in an effort to move forward and it doesn’t really work. We kind of come to a stopping point when we’re trying to do that. Yeah.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Totally. A cognitive solution is going to be equally as ineffective retrospectively as it is going to be prospectively. So if you’re just trying to fix things in your mind and that’s not translating into taking uncomfortable, brave actions, if the new, like “I’m going to write a new story” – that’s what we’re doing. We’re constructing a new story, a new identity from here on out, who am I going to be? Okay. That’s part of the growth work.
And if you’re committing to that new identity, new story of who you are, then that must lead to new uncomfortable actions, right? Because what you need to do is you actually need to train your unconscious processes to not be so afraid of various things. To be actually, you’re trying to change the prediction machine and predict other things. So it starts with the mind, but it can’t end with the mind. It’s necessary, but not sufficient.
Molly Claire: Yeah, so along the lines of toxic positivity. What is it? How do you define it?
Dr. Sasha Heinz: So I don’t love the phrase toxic positivity. I take umbrage with this phrase because I think it’s not accurate. Essentially what I presume people mean by toxic positivity is, when you are going through something and it’s tough. The reality is, it was something really intense and then you’re, you’re feeling feelings. You’re sad, you’re grieving, you’re devastated, you’re disappointed, whatever the feeling is. And someone’s sort of trying to say to you, “Hey, it’s not that bad. Look on the bright side.” you know, and trying to talk you out of your emotional experience. Okay.
But why I don’t love this phrase is that it’s not positivity. That’s actually not. That’s not ,by definition, that’s not positivity. Toxic positivity is just emotional dismissal. It’s emotional denial. So that’s all it is. So let’s just call it what it actually is, right? Which is, I am uncomfortable with your feelings. So I’m going to try to talk you out of your feelings because I don’t want to deal with them because it’s too much for me. That’s what someone’s doing, but that’s not positive.
And the reason I actually care about this is because I think that given our, the negativity bias, like, given our sort of propensity to see things in a more catastrophic, negative way, – which is the way that the brain is, the biases, it’s heuristic of the mind, it’s how we work – to come from a place of genuine positivity where you’re trying to see something in a more expansive way. You’re trying to bring joy, light, whatever to a situation. You’re hunting the good stuff. It takes a ton of courage and it’s hard. It’s hard.
So I think that from the beginning, like, from the beginning of, you know, positive psychology movement, when this began in the early aughts, Seligman, it really began like 1999, 2000. In that time when he was president of the APA the field of positive psychology really took off. It was then to address an imbalance, the imbalance of research, which was so much more was attending to disease, disorder, dysfunction. And so very little research was attending to what’s right with us. What makes life worth living? What makes people thrive? How do people become incredibly successful, talented? You know, what’s a peak human experience?
There was very little research and that was kind of sidelined because triage is more important, right? The person who’s sick is more important than the person who’s okay. Right. So that’s what was happening.
And then, but it’s interesting because very early on, even like 2005, 2006, there were articles like The Science of Happiness with like a yellow smiley face, right? Which is so pejorative, like, because it’s happiness or because we’re talking about positivity and thriving and flourishing, somehow it’s less important. It’s less, you know, there’s less gravity to this topic.
It’s like, why? If you ask anyone what their goals are for themselves or their kids, what’s the number one goal? I want to be happy. I want my kids to be happy. I want them to thrive. Like, it’s the most important
Molly Claire: Yes, right. It’s so true.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: I mean, find me a parent who’s like, I just want my kids not to be depressed.
Molly Claire: Right
Dr. Sasha Heinz: You’re never going to hear parents say that.
Molly Claire: No, no. So when you were talking, because there’s toxic positivity, or like you said, not really positivity at all, where we’re trying to just dismiss and minimize and shut down feelings because we want, we feel uncomfortable. And also I know I have for sure seen this with my clients as they understand more about how the way we think impacts the way that we feel. And suddenly, now I have this awareness and now I’m going to use it against myself to shut down and dismiss my own feelings.
So I think it can come from outside, but it can come from inside, right? And I think especially, okay, let’s talk about the relationship space. Where it is a good idea to be realistic about who your partner is, and what expectations you have that you may or may not want to keep or let go. And I’ve also seen it where coaches are kind of using this work, whether it’s, this idea of the manual, or letting go of expectations, and what it actually turns into is I’m going to let go of anything I want, anything I care about. I’m going to minimize all of my needs and thoughts about this and say that they don’t matter.
Which is very different than letting go of expectations.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Yeah. It’s classic codependency.
Molly Claire: Yeah. Yeah. Right. So I think in a way, this idea of being positive, when it goes toward the toxic positivity side, which I keep like, like you said, it’s not really positivity at all.
But when it goes that way, it seems like a good idea. It seems noble. It seems positive. But I think in reality it is getting us further away from happiness and true positivity, whether from other people or from ourselves.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Yeah. I mean, I think that, so this is not my phrase, unfortunately, it’s such a beautiful one. But M. Scott Peck, one of America’s most honored and respected psychologists – I think it was actually a psychiatrist, anyhow – wrote many, many books in the 20th century. And one, the way he defines mental health is, mental health is a commitment to reality at all costs.
Okay, so if we’re, if that’s the premise, that’s the foundation, like number one, first and foremost, you got to commit to reality at all costs. If your husband is abusive, that is reality. Then the question is, how am I contributing to this dynamic? That’s also reality. How am I afraid to confront what’s actually going on? That’s also reality, right? Okay. But what to me, what is approaching this from a more, in terms of positive negative, like, does it even matter? I don’t know. But what I would say is if you want to, you can despair over this reality. Or you can be hopeful about this reality.
You can believe that there is a way forward. You can believe that you are capable of overcoming this. Like you can, I have a nervous system response that makes me freeze and shut down because of things that have happened to me. And I can do something about it. I can have agency, and of agency in my life, right?
And so to me, the name of the game with whether positivity matters or not, I don’t even think positive psychology should be called positive psychology. Like at the day, I think that we’ve kind of like worshiped positivity. And I’m like, I don’t think we need to worship positivity. I think we need to, what we should be focusing on is our growth. And a lot of times growth requires discomfort and a lot of things that are scary and uncomfortable that you wouldn’t classically call positive, right?
But first and foremost, commit to reality at all costs. But approaching something positively would be like, “Man, what you are going through is so unbelievably hard. And I’m here for you. And I believe that there’s a pathway forward. And when you’re ready, I’m here to support you. And I walk through this fire with you.” That is positivity. Positivity is not minimizing, dismissing, invalidating somebody, you’re not even connecting with them. You’re not listening to them. It’s all about your own discomfort.
Molly Claire: So when you say, cause you’re, I know you’re using this word reality a lot, right? Like, facing reality. And we know that’s so subjective, right? So how do you talk about that with, with your clients? I mean, I always think of whatever my client is experiencing is the reality of their experience. Like, feelings are very real and substantial. And I don’t think we realize that we think that feelings are just something that’s, you know, fluffy or optional or something. But anyway, that’s a topic for another day.
But I’m curious to know how you talk about that with your clients. Reality, knowing that things are subjective based on our lens, our own framework,
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Right, exactly. I mean, this is probably some debate that a philosopher should weigh in on, above my pay grade. But what I mean by reality is, what are the facts in front of you? I mean, I see this happening a lot in relationships, so much, where someone is minimizing and like ignoring what’s happening to them. Like, “It’s fine. It’s okay.”
But the truth for them is they actually have an inner knowing. If they were being honest, there’s an inner knowing that they either don’t like what’s going on, they’re resentful of what’s going on, they’re upset about what’s happening, and that is actually the deeper truth. The rest of it is just like, you know, a gilding of the turd.
Molly Claire: Right? Like, if I’m being honest with myself, are we being honest with ourselves? And sometimes we’re just not. Because it can be painful to see what’s true for us. It can be scary. Because what does that mean? And then do I have a choice to make, or is this going to be uncomfortable? I think it can bring all of that up. So we are not always honest with ourselves.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Almost, almost always we’re dishonest with ourselves. The way that our unconscious processes are largely driving our behavior. Our conscious processes are, you know, the analogy that I love to use, cause I think it’s just so accurate is, it’s an elephant is your unconscious processes and then your conscious processes, like, your reason, the way that you think and you can sort of like, planning and making, setting a goal and making a plan and being logical, right? All of this conscious process is like, “I know that that’s the right thing to do. And yet I don’t do it.” Right. Okay.
So the knowing, I know what is right here. It’s this, like, it’s the little rider on this big African elephant. And the African elephant has a six ton weight advantage. And if the elephant is activated, the rider is going to do absolutely nothing. Has zero control. None. It’s just a long for the ride. And then what does the rider do? Your smart little rider is like, “Well, I’m just going to, I’m going to post hoc justify what the elephant is doing because I want to make myself feel better. So the reason that my elephant did that is because of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
Right? But it’s all kind of made up. What we mostly do is rationalize our behavior. That’s mostly what we do. So the work in growth is always developing a better relationship between the rider and the elephant. Because the rider can train the elephant, right? It does have higher, you know, it has executive function, it has higher order thinking, which is powerful too. But it needs to use that to its advantage. It needs to stop using that power to rationalize the nonsense and use that power to strategically and like to figure out what is the best way forward.
How can I throw peanuts for the elephant to move in the direction I actually want the elephant to move and train the elephant more skillfully. And that’s thought work. That is self awareness, like, really paying attention to what’s happening. All of these practices that are so important to be able to see, “Wait, what is actually going on here?” Can really help this process.
But these are the skills of growth. These are the skills of your development.
Molly Claire: And I just like, as you were talking, I’m just thinking about it’s really working with ourselves, right? Working with ourselves, working with the way our brain is, the way we’re wired, whatever it is. How do I work with myself to move forward? And I’ve been thinking so much lately about this, and it isn’t exactly the same, but this, this just came to my mind. It’s been top of mind. I think that most of us in the self help world or in the, you know, growth and coaching space, there’s this idea that the degree to which we can grow is directly in relation to how willing we are to look at ourselves, to see ourselves.
And I think sometimes it can have such a negative connotation. Like, Oh, if we’re willing to look at the ugly things, then we can grow. And I’m just convinced that when we can actually change our experience of what it’s like to look at ourselves. So instead of looking at what’s ugly, just looking at with curiosity, like how our brain works, what we struggle with, what are our fears are, where that stuff is, when we can have such a supportive and connected relationship with ourself, it’s not really hard to look at ourselves. I think that’s the key right there.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Exactly, approaching it without judgment, right? With, you know, step one, the acronym I use for this for my clients. Like step one, is O N E, objective, nonjudgmental and empirical. That’s how you have to approach yourself. It has to be as best you can, as best you can do it. Objective, nonjudgmental, empirical.
And the same is true if you want a relationship with someone else that has a lot of love and respect, you know, and is that when they’re going through something, do your best to objectively observe it non judgmentally and look at the empirical data. What is the data? We never want to look at the data.
Like we have a bank account. I don’t want to look at that. We have a scale. I don’t want to look at that. I’m going to track my time. I don’t want to look at that. Right? I don’t want to actually see what I think I’m going to see because I’m afraid of it. Why am I afraid of it? I’m afraid of it because I think I’m going to just destroy myself.
Molly Claire: Yes, I’m going to judge myself. I don’t want to look at the data because… We assume that is connected with whatever pattern we have done with ourselves, right? Blame ourselves, shame, criticize, I wish I weren’t this way, all that kind of stuff.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Right. And if you know as better than anybody in the work that you do, what is the catalyst of someone who actually changed? When someone is actually ready to, and you see someone on this growth arc and they’re in that action phase, they’re like ready to go. What have they done?
Molly Claire: To me, it’s they have been willing to have compassion on themselves. Compassionate, kind, loving, curiosity, where there’s just like holding themselves in the safest space possible.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Totally. And because they’re holding themselves in the safest space possible, they’re able to actually open their eyes and look at the bank account. They’re willing to open their eyes and look at like, you know, how much am I drinking? They’re able to open their eyes and look at reality. They’re committing to reality because they’ve created a safe environment for them to do so. And that is the, in my mind, there is the seed of growth is right there.
Molly Claire: It’s everything. And that’s why, like for those of you listening as coaches, this is why I always say your clients are going to have the greatest success based on their relationship with you, how safe they feel with you. You can have all the best tricks in the world to do, but if your client doesn’t feel safe, it’s not going to work.
So, you know, I was thinking about this idea of us being willing to look at ourselves, when we feel safe in that way. And I think a lot of times, I mean, think about how often when you see someone who’s really defensive or really stubborn or doesn’t see things and it can be easy.
And even with our clients, right? Where we might wonder, how can they not see this? But I think that it really is like these defenses built in because they have such quick, automatic go-to, unkind thoughts and feelings toward themselves. And it is amazing that, as we peel that back, it’s like, and I know I’ve experienced this as I’ve built a better relationship with myself. I can see so many more things that I really couldn’t see before because I had fears closing me off from them.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Yeah. You wouldn’t allow yourself
Molly Claire: Right. But now it’s like, none of it’s a threat. I see it all there and it’s not even like, Oh, I see all the good, the bad, and the ugly. I don’t think any of it’s ugly. I’m like, well, I just see it and then I just figure out what’s the problem to solve? What’s not? What do I do with it?
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Exactly. Exactly. But by the way, that is how any problem is solved. Like the minute that we detach from our emotions around the problem.
We actually can take action. So, you know, I think that you can’t solve a problem you won’t acknowledge. You just can’t. Right. You can’t.
Molly Claire: So we’re so afraid to acknowledge the problems because we think it must mean that we’re wrong or we’re unworthy or inadequate or whatever it is.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Right. Or it’s impossible. I’ve never been able to do it in the past, I won’t be able to do it in the future. So let’s just like, avoid this. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to deal with it.
Yeah. As opposed to, what if you had the belief that there was nothing you couldn’t change. There was nothing you couldn’t, that there was nothing too devastating about yourself that you couldn’t address and change and improve. Life becomes a whole lot less scary.
Molly Claire: Yes. I mean, and I think that’s the most powerful work that we do when we work with our clients. I was watching this little reel this morning and it was this little girl, someone was interviewing her about like, how you feel loved. And she said, you know, “One of the ways I feel loved is when I hug myself.” and she hugged herself there and talked about how she felt relaxed.
And it’s like, isn’t that true? When we can change our relationship with ourselves, we can feel relaxed even in looking at all the things, right? Yeah.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: And you know, what’s interesting is I actually do think that this is where I think sometimes that this like, toxic positivity notion, I think this is why things can go awry. And this is why people are concerned about toxic positivity. Is because when we’re talking about having self love and compassion, most of the time – and this is Kristin Neff’s work. She’s the most prolific researcher on the topic of self compassion – but there’s two different kinds of self compassion.
So there’s the, the yin self compassion, sort of feminine, nurturing, loving, creating safety, creating connection, just holding someone in a fluffy duvet, right? I love you. I unconditionally love you. Unconditional positive regard. Right? Yeah. You’re going to feel safe with me.
But there’s also another. But that’s not all of it. That’s not the only kind of self compassion. We also need what she calls yang self compassion, or fear self compassion. And that is the compassion of like, I matter. I’m worthy of love. I’m worthy of creating boundaries and not allowing people to treat me in ways that I’m not okay with. Like, I am actually, in the way that I would protect the people I love from being mistreated, I also deserve the same care.
And so what I think happens is that in under the guise of self compassion, under the guise of loving ourselves, we treat ourselves like crap.
Molly Claire: Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: You know what I mean? We’re like, “But I’m loving myself and I really deserve it. And I’m just going to overeat because you know, it’s delicious. And I’ve just been so hard on myself that I’m going to do this.”
And it’s like, is that truly loving? I mean, what I say about my own experience for myself is like my me time is not me time. It’s mean time. I am staying up late with my claws on my darn iPad to watch a show, because in my mind, I’m like, “Well, you haven’t had any time to yourself, and this is all-” And it’s like I’m territorially claiming this late night TV. It’s my only guilt free time to watch. Whatever. Right? Right.
And then what happens? I wake up the next morning. I feel terrible. I’m tired. I’m exhausted. Like, it was absolutely not in my best interest.
Molly Claire: Right. Right. And when we can, like you were saying, when we can say, I’m worthy, like I’m going to set boundaries. I’m going to take care of myself. We typically don’t get to that place of feeling desperate to have this like me time that doesn’t really serve us. Right. And so absolutely, it’s like, when we can feel worthy and important enough and set boundaries and kind of stand up for ourselves in that way, we feel more well, right.
And then we, yeah.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: But it’s like, in some way, my mind uses the compassion in a sort of perverse way, right? So it uses this compassionate voice to justify non compassionate actions towards myself. So the voice in my mind is like, “But you deserve it. And you’ve worked so hard today, and you’ve like, you’ve put out for so many people, and this is your time and-” Like, right. It’s very lovely. It sounds very nice.
But the reality is, and how do you know when you’re doing this? Like, would I allow this justification to stand with someone I love, i. e. my kids? What I say to my kids, “You know what? You had a really, really long day. You did, you know, you had a tournament today, and you played four games of lacrosse and you’ve had such a long day and you just put out for every, for your team. And you know what? You deserve to stay up until one o’clock playing video games. Like you deserve it.”
Molly Claire: Right. No, you tell them, go to bed, you should let your body rest.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Correct. Right? My compassion is fierce. It’s the fierce self compassion. It is, “No, I’m protecting you from your own like lesser instincts. I’m going to actually protect you by giving you the thing you actually need.” Like, “What you really need right now is rest and, and I’m going to hold that boundary, and I’m going to be willing for you to be mad at me because I actually care so much about you that I don’t- really, my love for you trumps any concern I have that you could be mad at me tonight.”
Molly Claire: I love that distinction because you hear that a lot, right? People, I mean, a lot of times my clients are like, “Well, if I’m nice to myself, I won’t expect anything of myself.”
I’m like, Hmm, that’s not exactly how it works. I love that distinction between those.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Because that’s like- and I think that where this gets so murky is, it’s like what they think is nice is actually just enabling,
Molly Claire: It’s not nice. Exactly.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Letting someone be their worst self under the guise of niceness, isn’t nice, not compassionate,
Molly Claire: Not really believing in yourself actually either, right? Because if you believe in someone, you want to empower them and tell them they can do it. Not to say, “Well, it’s okay. Just like, let go of what you really want. It’s probably too hard.”
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Like the, the kindest thing that I do for myself is when I actually believe that I can create a better future. And that is going to take effort, and it’s going to be hard, and I’m not going to want to do it right now. But the love is, you deserve a future that you love. You, I want that for you. I want you to have a future that’s like, that’s better than what’s happened.
I want you to overcome this nonsense because I care about you, because I can’t bear to, you know, look into the crystal ball and see in five years, you’re still dealing with this. I can’t bear it because I love you. I just think so much and I, you know, I think the one of the easiest ways to conceptualize this is to think about the way we parent our children and the different parenting styles.
So there is four different kind of, you know, loosely there’s four different buckets of parenting styles, and it’s sort of on an axis of support versus expectations. Okay. So if you have high support, high expectations, you’re what we call an authoritative parent.You hold boundaries, you’re demanding, but you also high support, high, high, high support, high expectations, right? So I expect a lot of you, but I’m also going to give you a very soft landing and I’m also going to give you a lot of support. Along the way. Okay. That’s an authoritative parent. That’s our aspirational parent, right? That’s how we want to be with our kids.
Then if you have high expectations, low support, then you’re the authoritarian parent. That’s the drill sergeant who’s like, “just because I said so. I don’t care what your thoughts are. I don’t care what your feelings are. I don’t care what you want. You’re going to do what I say. And you’re going to do it with some excellence. I’m going to hold you to a high standard and give you no support.” Yeah. Okay.
And then we get into where I think most women struggle in this area actually is you get into high support, low expectation. Okay. This is, this is nice guys. This is where we’re nice. We have high support, low expectations of ourselves called permissive parenting. Yeah. Okay? Permissive parenting in the literature, if you look at the research, has bad outcomes. Not great outcomes.
Molly Claire: And we’re seeing a lot of it, right? It’s,
Dr. Sasha Heinz: And, and think about the underlying premise of a permissive parent. I don’t believe you’re capable. I don’t believe you’re capable of doing better. I don’t believe you’re capable of accomplishing this thing. I don’t think you’re capable of helping me to do the dishes. I don’t think you’re capable of making your bed. I don’t think you’re capable of doing your homework by yourself. So I’m going to swoop in and do it for you. And it’s fine. I’m going to give you a hall pass forever. Always. Right. Because you had a hard day. Things were tough for you today.”
That’s what a person does. You had a really hard day at school, so you don’t have to come home and do your chores.
Molly Claire: And I think a lot of times it’s because also we’re, as parents, very uncomfortable with holding the line and having someone be upset, having our kids be upset, having them feel something negative.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Right. A hundred percent. Yeah. And here’s what I would say. If you struggle with your own yang, fierce self compassion, and that’s the voice of “No, sweetheart. It’s time to go to bed. No, you’ve, you made a commitment that you were going to get on, you know, you were going to go to that workout and it’s, it’s, you’re going to honor that commitment because it’s going to make you feel better in an hour. You’re going to feel a whole lot better.”
It’s going to, you know, you’re not going to destroy your relationship with yourself. You’re going to have integrity like is right. That voice, if you’re uncomfortable with yourself, with that voice- you are also, by the way, the Venn diagram is, you are also a permissive parent, I guarantee it. Because it’s exactly the same dynamic that’s going on. Right, right.
So, you know, you have high support, like, “I love you, you’re amazing, you’re the best.” Okay. All that’s awesome. We want to be supportive, but then it has to also be coupled with high expectations. “But I also expect like you, I expect a lot of you, I think you can do it because I believe in you.” so, yeah. Low expectations, it becomes permissive.
And then the, the final parenting style is, you know, low support, low expectations. And then we get into the neglectful parent who just neglects kids and doesn’t pay attention. But I think that most people I,’m just saying this as a general rule of the clients that I tend to work with. I would say most of my clients struggle less with their inner drill sergeant in some way than they do with being permissive with themselves.
Molly Claire: So interesting. Yeah.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: And by the way, the permissive drill sergeant thing, they’re related. Because what happens is you’re so permissive, you’re so permissive, you’re so permissive, and then what happens? You rage, you clamp down, you’re like, “I’ve had enough, I can’t take it anymore.” okay. So then what happens? The authoritarian parent arrives. So you kind of ping pong between like being super hard on yourself and being very lenient with yourself.
The inner voice we want to cultivate is the one of the authoritative parent who’s like, “I love you. This is so hard. I know that you are just freaking out right now, and I love you. And let’s just do it for, go for 30 minutes. Go for 15 minutes and if it’s really sucky, I’m going to give you permission to leave halfway through.”
Yeah. Yeah. That’s an authoritative parent. Yeah. Yeah.
Molly Claire: Okay, Sasha, this has been so great. I want to, as we closing up on this idea of toxic positivity is really not positivity. This has been such a great conversation. And I think those of you listening, thinking about how this plays into how you coach your clients, what you see in your clients, and how you can really teach them and empower them to have more of that supportive balance within themselves, right? But I know, Sasha, share the definition of positivity because we talked about that and I know you have it there in front of you.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Yeah. So, um, you know, I think it’s important always to define terms. Because I think so much of the time we’re just saying something and we don’t really even know what we’re talking about. So, you know, the definition of positivity is the practice of being, or tendency to be positive that is not helpful, but, or to be optimistic in attitude.
Okay. So it’s just saying, and in my mind, optimism is merely saying I have hope, right? I have a hopeful outlook on the future that I believe that this isn’t the end of the story for you. That’s it. I agree. That’s what that’s.
Molly Claire: More is possible.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Yes, this could be a pivot for you. This could be the new chapter in a choose your own adventure novel.
Molly Claire: Yeah. Oh, I love that.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: You know, and the other, the second definition of positivity is, the presence rather than absence of a certain substance, condition, or feature. So positivity essentially just, you, it can’t be toxic. Like, it’s actually, by definition, it can’t even be toxic. Yeah. Toxic positivity means that it’s, it’s absent.
It’s not there. Yeah. Right?
Molly Claire: You’re missing the boat entirely.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: It’s not there, it’s not positive. It doesn’t actually make sense. And I think it’s really important the way we speak matters because it’s so easy to fall into this pit where like, oh, you know. Positivity is, it’s flimsy, it’s pejorative, it’s like, you know, it’s for the people who don’t think deeply. It, you know, if you’re paying attention to the world, how could you be optimistic, right?
I’m like, I actually think the bravest people in the world are the thoughtful, very thoughtful deep thinkers who are brave enough to be optimistic and not despair about the world.
Molly Claire: Yes. Oh, good. All right. Thank you so much, Sasha. And where can people find you if they want to follow you, learn all about you? I know you have a podcast.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Yeah. I just started a new podcast. It’s called the Change Lab. My favorite topic.
Molly Claire: we’ll have all this in the show notes as well. Of course. Yeah.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: It’s just the most fun thing in the world to figure out, right? It’s the universal puzzle everyone has to struggle with. And then also on Instagram at Dr. Sasha Heinz, that’s my handle. And then my website, same dr sashaheinz.com. All the same, but I’m only on, I think I’m on Facebook, but I don’t ever go on there.
I think it just automatically populates Facebook.
Molly Claire: yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. perfect. Thank you so much for being here. I so appreciate.
Dr. Sasha Heinz: Oh, it’s been so fun. I love connecting with you.
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Molly Claire is a 7-figure business builder with a blended family of 10. She is dedicated to helping women overcome their own limits, make the money they want, and have the time, freedom, and flexibility to be with the people in their lives that matter most. Especially the little ones.
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