Special Guest: Michelle Maidenberg

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[Jon Dabach] 00:00
Today on the relationship survival show we’re talking to Michelle Maidenberg has over 30 years of clinical experience and maintains a private practice in Harrison, New York. She’s also the co-founder and clinical director of through my eyes a nonprofit organization that offers free clinically guided videotaping the chronically medically ill individuals who want to leave video legacies for their children and loved ones.

[Jon Dabach] 00:24
Michelle is an adjunct faculty at New York University, teaching a graduate course in mindfulness practice. Michelle is the author of the book free your child’s from overeating. 53 Mind Body strategies for lifelong health and has a new book out that we talk about on the show titled ace your life, unleash your best self and live the life you want. She’s a blogger for Psychology Today, with over 1.3 million reads and recently did a TED talk on circumventing emotional avoidance. She has been featured in more than 150 national and international media, including the New York Times cosmopolitan fitness, Ladies Home Journal, Men’s Health, and Forbes, you’re listening to the relationship revival podcast with Jon Dabach, also known as Mr. Spirituality. That’s me.

[Jon Dabach] 01:09
I’m your host giving you insights and guidance from over 10 years in the field of this amazing journey we call romance on this show, I go over everything you need to know about how to get into a relationship, how to get the most out of a relationship, and sometimes even how to gracefully end a relationship without pulling your hair out and going crazy. And occasionally, I’m even joined by new and old friends who are also relationship experts to bring you guidance and wisdom with new perspectives. Thanks for stopping by. Yeah.

[Jon Dabach] 01:42
But yeah, as far as like its distribution, unless you use the YouTube video that’s unlisted. It’ll just stay hidden. Sounds good. All right. Michelle Maidenberg thank you so much for being on the show. I appreciate it. Yeah, I, I love when I have people on the program that have kind of different approaches and varied practice experience. And you do have kind of a whole bag of tricks that you work with in your own world.

[Jon Dabach] 02:10
So it’s kind of exciting to I’m sure, we’ll dip our toe in different fields, I do want to start with the title of your TED talk not to rehash it, I’m sure everybody can go online and watch it. But the title of it was circumventing emotional avoidance. And I think that’s assn it’s an interesting concept. A lot of people have never heard of emotional avoidance. So can we first of all talk about what that is, how that might affect, and how that might affect a relationship, be it romantic, or parent and child or whatever?

[Michelle Maidenberg] 02:45
Well, it affects every relationship, I have to say that across the board. The reason for that is because we’re all emotionally avoidant to some extent, every single human on the planet. And it it actually cuts across all race, religion, socioeconomic status, etc. The reason for that is because the way that our brain is wired, or the physiology of our brain, and what I mean by that is, it’s wired, really to protect us from discomfort and danger. And that happens day in and day out. So we’re constantly in a protective mode.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 03:23
And what happens essentially, is when we’re experiencing negative emotions, whether it be sadness, or fear, or anger, or whatever across the board, and is we tend to be avoidant because it’s very uncomfortable. So if you think about how that trickles into relationships, if you’re constantly on ugly, avoiding emotions, that’s not going to really bode well for our positive like, you know, connection in a relationship.

[Jon Dabach] 03:48
Is there any other reason people avoid emotions other than its uncomfortable?

[Michelle Maidenberg] 03:55
Oh, some people don’t really, I mean, some people again, we’re all wired differently, right? Yeah. So if you think about it on a spectrum, right on a continuum, some people feel more comfortable and more connected like so for example, I’m an empath. I consider myself an empath. What is that? Like?

[Michelle Maidenberg] 04:13
A lot of therapists Yeah, like a lot of therapists, I really experienced my emotions on a very intense level. So when somebody else experiences pain, I literally feel their pain. I literally feel and I could imagine in my mind, what they’re experiencing. And I take that on, right and empaths tend to do that. So they tend to be you know, more intense, you know, they tend to be more exhausted, you know, because they’re experiencing emotions on such a like, you know, intense level. So, it really depends.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 04:45
Some people just naturally are more cut off. You know, some people don’t really have the language and know what emotions are even experiencing because it’s not a language they were taught growing up, right. Sometimes in your household. If you’re feeling upset or disappointed, right apparent would say, you know, stop feeling that way or, you know, think happy thoughts, you know, right?

[Michelle Maidenberg] 05:07
Yes. I mean, I’ll give you such a great example I got together with a friend yesterday. One thing that I get, like a very visceral like response to is when people say, Don’t worry, be happy, you know, put on your smiley face, you know, and I actually expressed to this friends in the past, like when I’m upset, just it really helps to just listen, you know, not make every, you know, rainbows and cherries.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 05:30
So yesterday I said to her before we went out for lunch, I said, I’m not in the best headspace. You know, there’s a lot going on for me, you know, I wanted to just let her know. And the response I got back instinctly was put on a happy face, you know, everything’s going to be okay. And I was like, Oh, you didn’t just say that? Yeah. Yeah. You know, she, she has a really hard time tolerating, you know, intensity of emotion. It’s just that

[Jon Dabach] 05:59
I had a similar incident with my eight year old daughter last night or the night before where, you know, we have four kids and bedtimes. Really it’s chaotic. And she something happened that I couldn’t solve, because it happened at school. And she was really upset about it. And I started by saying, its fine. It’s in the past. And she’s just like, No, and I, but something was like, I think I probably had a session earlier that day. And I was like, Maybe I just need to listen to her for a second.

[Jon Dabach] 06:26
So I sat on the bed, and I said, tell me what happened. And she explained the whole thing, and she was still upset. And I said, Oh, that’s horrible. And then she followed me around the house for the next 20 minutes. Because she wanted more of that validation. More of that, you know, like, yes, it is bad.

[Jon Dabach] 06:41
And she didn’t, she didn’t expect me to solve it. She didn’t expect me, you know, but she just wanted someone to sit in that sadness with her, which I think is, I think a lot of men typically, you know, men tend to be problem solvers. So. So it’s like, you know, I, one of the first lessons I always teach people is when your wife is complaining, ask, is this something you want solved, or you just want to talk about it for a bit. And that kind of fixes, like, 40% of the fights right off the bat. So,

[Michelle Maidenberg] 07:12
So true. And by the way, there’s a lot of research done on resilience. And you know, what they find is that there was like, one person in the person’s life that was just there to support them and listen to them. Yeah. Yeah. That’s sometimes when we’re upset. I know, even myself, all I need is to be heard. And I’m good after that. Like it doesn’t doesn’t need to be solved. That’s not even, you know, an issue.

[Jon Dabach] 07:36
Well, I have, you know, so for me, and I want to hear more about you. But just because I think this might be interesting. So I always tell people, I’m going to have one of these days, I’m going to write a book called my two grandparents because they were both Holocaust survivors. One talked about it all the time.

[Jon Dabach] 07:49
Yeah, me too. So one talked about it all the time. And one never talked about it. And what I what I kind of figured out and some of this is based in Victor Frankel’s work and other stuff. But what I figured out was, when you don’t talk about things, it feels infinite. And the fact that when you can talk about it, it suddenly becomes manageable, because it’s just this, it’s not your whole identity. There’s an end to it.

[Jon Dabach] 08:15
And so, you know, the more you can make a compartmentalize, sometimes I have clients write it down. But, you know, one of the grandparents took that pain and that unbearable, infinite horror to the grave. They never, they never got over it. And another one was able to talk about it was such candor. And it was like, that was the clarity. For me. It was like they were they were opposites. And the effect that had on them was huge. And that’s why I believe talk therapy and counseling actually works because it makes it manageable.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 08:46
So I’m going to just add to that, yeah. My two sets of grandparents, exactly parallel. You know, I had same exact thing, like literally, I had one grandmother, who never spoke a word about it. And the other grandmother, who I knew, I know, every story right now, was in a concentration camp, and she told me every story, every incident that happened to her that was, you know, meaningful.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 09:11
And it’s so interesting, because my grandpa, I videotape my grandparents and heard their stories. So one question I always ask them was, how did you survive this? Like, what like horrible atrocity and trauma like how did you and you know, my grandmother said, it was so interesting, she said to me, we knew that wasn’t life, like we had life before this happens. And talking about compartmentalizing, we know that this was this isn’t life. This is just something horrible that’s happening to us, right.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 09:43
I was really interested in them. So when I was videotaping my grandparents, one set of grandparents, my grandfather had, you know, we had like beginning of like, you know, dementia, so he wasn’t quite coherent, but for some reason, the day that I went to videotape he was lucid as can Be Oh, wow. And he never spoke about his history ever, because he was really traumatized as the only one left out of his whole entire family.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 10:07
Yeah. And you know what he told me and this, this goes back to what you said, he was telling me a story of when he came to the United States, he kept on dreaming about his mother, his mother died, you know, she would send to the gas chamber. But he kept on dreaming about or kept on dreaming about her. And he would get really bereft and sad, whatever. And he went to the rabbi, and he said to the rabbi, I don’t know what to do, I keep doing but my mother makes me so sad. So the rabbi looked at him and said, just take it out of your mind.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 10:34
Don’t think about it. It’s over. It’s done with forget about it. Yeah. So like talking talk about repressing feelings? Yeah. You know, and he did, he went to the grave, like you said, you know, and I, when he told me that I literally had tears running down my eyes, because I thought that he was repressing this for as long as he did. And he looked at me, it was like, in the strange, and he said, like, he couldn’t understand why I was getting upset.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 11:01
He’s like, why? Why are you getting upset? Like he didn’t understand? Right? But anyway, the point we were making is, you know, it’s really uncomfortable, because like, my grandfather, for example, right? Like he had all of these feelings around his grief and everything that he experienced, but he repressed it right now, and it ends up spilling over. Yeah.

[Jon Dabach] 11:25
I mean, it’s, and it’s funny, because like, people are so desperate when they’ve gone through those kinds of traumas, to find some way anyway, to deal with the pain. And if the first person who tells them that they trust to bottle it up, well, guess what, there’s your new life path. And there’s, and it’s different in different cultures, I’ve had some British clients.

[Jon Dabach] 11:47
And there’s this great movie called Secrets and Lies that you know, won an Oscar where it was all about how everybody in that culture bottles things up, and how a stiff upper lip is really, you know, allotted and it’s like, it just tears people apart. Not everybody, some people learn how to live with it, but it really tears up families, because the things that aren’t said, are more painful.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 12:12
Well, and more importantly, they’re acted out. So you know, what we’re talking about circumventing emotional avoidance? Like, there’s consequences. I mean, I think that’s the point here, there’s consequences to avoiding. And that comes out subliminally in our behavior, right?

[Michelle Maidenberg] 12:29
Because it has to go somewhere, and it tends to stay in our unconscious and our subconscious. And then we enact, you know, and we react and, you know, spill over into, I mean, mostly our relationships, actually, because it’s the thing that we trust the most, so we feel the most comfortable with or whatever the

[Jon Dabach] 12:47
Right, right, we’re not going to risk our job necessarily, because we need that. But I could piss off my wife, that’s, that’s probably she’ll probably come back from on a subconscious level. Nobody’s sitting there going, I could probably do this. But yeah, your body gets it. So how do you circumvent it? So we’ve talked about what emotional avoidance is, I think pretty thoroughly. How do we get around it? How do us kind of breakthrough that barrier,

[Michelle Maidenberg] 13:09
My life’s work. And I wrote, I wrote a whole book on it. You know, the way that I broke it down is looking at acceptance, compassion and empowerment. And that is the way actually to work

[Jon Dabach] 13:21
Through it. And that’s your acronym ace, right? Yeah,

[Michelle Maidenberg] 13:24
Yeah, Ace is acceptance, compassion. Powerman. What I did in the book, and you know, what I teach skills to my, you know, the patients that I work with is, there’s barriers to each, you know, there’s barriers to fully being accepting of ourselves of, you know, actually, you know, having self-compassion, compassion towards others, and also empowering ourselves.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 13:44
So I spent a whole chapter on each talking about the barriers because they’re societal barriers, there’s personal barriers. I mean, you know, from here, and then again, how do we work through them? You know, when we say acceptance, people get a little bit unclear on what that is, you know, because I fully accept myself, does that mean that I’m going to live a life of mediocrity? Right. And that’s, that’s the fear the conclusion that people come to, and that’s not what we’re actually saying.


[Michelle Maidenberg] 14:11
We’re talking about just noticing accepting means noticing. Yeah. Okay. And acknowledging, and working with, rather against, right. So if you’re really working with, you need to fully acknowledge and you need to like, again, the avoidance, it’s the opposite strategy it’s facing. It’s right. It’s facing, you know, first handedly, you know, compassion, the same thing we’re not ever taught.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 14:36
You know, across the board, we’re not taught to be self-compassionate. We’re actually taught the opposite in society of demanding self-demeaning, yeah. So everything around us in our culture, and even, you know, certain religions, etc., right. It’s all about productivity. It’s all about success. You know, that that’s really in the western culture. That’s what we aspire to, and empowering ourselves how do we maintain behaviors and how habits that we want to sustain over a long period of time, that’s where we all fall, falter, like we know what we need to do.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 15:08
But we have a hard time maintaining it over a long period of time. And that’s true. If you’re trying to, you know, whether it’s like, again, losing weight, or, you know, stopping a behavior that you know, if like smoking or whatever the case is, you know, and when I do workshops, sometimes I’ll ask people, for example, because I do a lot of work around health and wellness.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 15:27
And I’ll ask them, How long have you know, how many of you have exercised at some period of your life and like, well, the hands will go up, how many of you have maintained it over a long period of time, all the hands are down, you know, so that’s really hard for us as human beings, you know, to maintain behavior over a long period of time. So I see it as a culmination.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 15:47
And it’s like, when I was writing the book, interestingly enough, one of the things that I was having trouble with the editors is they wanted to know what population this is going to be helpful for. And I said, No, this is a way of life. This is skills that we take throughout our lives, kids, it’s important for kids to learn this. Yeah. Right. And to follow it through the rest of our lives and to like, catch all of our decision making and our values, you know, because that’s a big part of my book, too.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 16:13
So, there, I can’t even give you a one word answer, because there isn’t a one I wish there was sure, sure. But we have to be aware of when we’re avoiding, and we have to be willing to be in the discomfort. And we have to be willing to challenge ourselves, especially when we’re feeling uncomfortable.

[Jon Dabach] 16:31
Yeah. It’s so interesting. So I rely very heavily on Gottman when I’m practicing with couples. And one thing that always comes up is that there are two types of problems in a relationship, the ones you can solve and the ones you can’t. And 60, according to his research in his love lab study, 69% of problems and a couple are not solvable. And so what’s the first step to or what’s the approach on how to handle that acceptance?

[Jon Dabach] 17:00
That’s the answer. And he walks through what soothing is, which kind of lets you, you know, understand that it’s okay, and sitting in that discomfort and self-soothing was partner soothing. And it’s true. I mean, it’s, and it’s so funny, because I had a new client in the first session, and I said, well, that that problem will probably never go away. And she wanted to cry. And I said, No, no, this is empowering.

[Jon Dabach] 17:21
And it’s hard for people understand how it’s empowering. The analogy I use is if you want to be a pro basketball player, and you’re five foot two, you have to accept that either it’s not going to happen, right? Or you’re going to have to be better than everybody else in the league. And if you’re willing to approach that challenge, then that’s okay. But once you most people say, Okay, well, then I’m just not going to do it.

[Jon Dabach] 17:43
It’s like, okay, now you have the rest of your life to explore, that’s empowering. And you don’t waste the time trying out for 17 years, you know, like Rudy or something in the movie, you know, like that’s, you actually get to live your life now.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 17:58
Well, and also, you could look at other strands, now that are a little bit more feasible to write but yes, then you’ll chronically be disappointed.

[Jon Dabach] 18:06
Yeah, for sure. You’re just setting yourself up for misery after misery. I mean, some people it seems like when you meet them, they, their hobby is worrying, right? Or their hobby is like figuring out another way to be miserable. And it’s like getting out of the pattern. So interesting. Well, so your book is connected to your TED talk.

[Jon Dabach] 18:26
You mentioned you videotaped your grandparents. That’s, I think very clearly connected to your nonprofit through my eyes. So tell me a little bit about what the goal is how that started and where it is today.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 18:41
My like labor of love it through my eyes, which she HR you because people always kind of get that one. But so it offers free clinically guided videotaping for chronically, medically ill individuals who want to leave a video legacy for their children and loved ones.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 18:59
So the way that it started, because people always ask me, like, what got you interested in that, and I had a six year old friend who had her second bout of breast cancer. And she had a nine year old child. And she was consulting with me because of my profession. She was consulting, she wants to a videotape, and she was consulting on what to talk about, in the videotape. What ended up happening was, she was going to New York Hospital. And, you know, did some research and found out that an if you wanted to get it done, you had to ask somebody at the hospital, they would only do it in the hospital.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 19:33
And then also you would basically be speaking directly into the camera on your own. And because of me, I had to pay an exorbitant amounts of money. So because of all those reasons, I just felt like it was completely egregious. I felt like you know, somebody who’s incurring, you know, illness should not have to incur another expense number one and number two, it should be done in an environment in a setting that they feel comfortable, obviously. And then I felt like they should be guided by like a licensed mental health professional, who could be supportive and caring, you know, through the process, and that they could actually have questions that are developmentally appropriate to, you know, whatever age children or child that they’re, that they have.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 20:14
So I developed this nonprofit, and I came up with over 200 questions, and I customize the questions to each person based on what they want to talk about, not everybody wants to talk about every topic, which is totally understandable. And right now, I’m going through a restructuring.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 20:31
Because originally, we were going to people’s homes, and it was more local. So my dream, my lifelong dream is to actually make it accessible and available to everyone around the country. And basically, we would charge a very, very minimal cost, which would offset the ability to be able to charge it for free to people who don’t have means to pay for the video. So it’s kind of it’s a beautiful like message, because you’re basically giving back to others, which is also really wonderful. And I have to tell you have done over 300 videotapes, it has been so incredibly meaningful, you know, for myself, for the families that I work with, for the individuals.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 21:16
And, you know, therapeutic, I really have to say it’s been so therapeutic. And people always say to me, like, Oh, my goodness, thank you, you know, they’re so thankful, because, you know, they share aspects of their lives that are so personal and private, and so meaningful to them, that it’s a therapeutic process that they go through, you know, it’s like a life review with me. And I feel so honored and privileged that they, you know, they get the opportunity to share with me. So all

[Jon Dabach] 21:43
These videos, typically when you make them,

[Michelle Maidenberg] 21:46
Yeah, usually it’s I would say on the average from an hour and 15 minutes to two hours. You know, it really, it totally depends on how verbal the person is, you know, you know how much they want to share, you know about their lives. The beautiful thing is I’ve been doing remotely, of course, since COVID.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 22:02
Yeah. And I have, like videotape people in like rural parts of the country. I just recently videotaped, a woman who had seven children was like, in a remote part of the country, like, where they hardly have Wi Fi, you know, and she would never have access to this, ever. And of course, they didn’t charge her she couldn’t afford to pay for it. So I really want to make this accessible to everybody. You know, of course, funding is an issue.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 22:28
So I have a platform, but I really need to get people on board. You know, so that I could actually offer this. So right now, I’m really trying to find anybody who like is interested in this mission who wants to partner, you know, anybody who, in any way? It’s, I have, like no ego in this at all. I really, really, like want to just be able to help people, you know, from my heart. So I am open. I really am.

[Jon Dabach] 22:56
I mean, I guess the biggest costs are the time of the of the professional to actually conduct what’s

[Michelle Maidenberg] 23:05
Because actually, all the people that I had doing the videotaping did it on a voluntary basis.

[Jon Dabach] 23:11
So what’s the big, like, overhead costs, like the coordination?

[Michelle Maidenberg] 23:15
Just the not it’s marketing, I get the message out for everybody to know about it. That’s, that’s the big cost is marketing. The second is the platform because it’s its electronic platform. Again, I’ve already had somebody on a paid with my own personal money. I already had somebody construct it.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 23:33
But in order to get it, like working and out there, you know, we need I mean, I know how much money we need. And, you know, in the scheme of things, it’s not very much considering it’s a nonprofit. Yeah. But, you know, we do need the funding. Yeah, for

[Jon Dabach] 23:46
Sure. Unbelievable work you’re doing I’m super pumped. I mean, I you know, as a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I wish I I recorded their legacy and my parents are getting up there. Hopefully another 20 years or so. You know, but yeah, I you know, I, it’s got my wheels turning for sure. I know, you have your own website. I’m going to post all of your stuff in the show notes. But Michelle made in berg.com is your main platform. Where can people find your book and more about your nonprofit and everything?

[Michelle Maidenberg] 24:21
So your life, unleash your best self and live the life you want is on all major bookstores. The just to let you know, the hardcover book comes with a free e-book, which is, you know, a little good perk there. I have a blog that I write with psychology today so you can look me up. It’s under Sakai. I have over 65 articles that I’ve written. I also have a YouTube channel and I post weekly guided meditations.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 24:46
So you can actually you know, if you subscribe to get weekly meditations. Yeah, so I really I try my best to put myself out there and I really write on a variety of different topics. It’s not just I read on mindfulness because I teach them Mindfulness Based course at NYU and the graduate program.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 25:03
So I do a lot of mindfulness work, but it’s on so many different topics. I do a lot of advocacy work. I just wrote an article on, you know, youth suicidality and fentanyl poisoning. Yeah. You know, because I’ve just seen so many kids in my practice and people who are affected by it. So like, I just felt like I really wanted to get the word out there because I, you know, I’ve been confronting, unfortunately, so many people that don’t know about it, which just boggles my mind.

[Jon Dabach] 25:27
Yeah, I see billboards once in a while, but it’s not exactly part of the part of the conversation yet.

[Michelle Maidenberg] 25:33
If I tell you, like I see some young adults and teens. They don’t. They’re like, Oh, yeah, we know about I’m like, what do you know about it? They don’t know about it. It’s like, its mind blowing. So and they and also, in all of my writing, I really try to back things up with research, you know, so my articles really have a lot of research that back it up also. And then I do a lot of like self-help, you know, I have a lot of articles on self-help. And then a lot of you know presets for my book, but I have my hands in a lot of different hands. Yeah,

[Jon Dabach] 26:03
Sounds like well, I’ll be sure to put the link for your Psychology Today blog in the show notes as well. It’s a longer link but I’m going to dive into some of the articles myself so I’m sure there’s going to be some people who want to as well

[Jon Dabach] 26:17
If you’re interested in learning how to get the absolute most out of your romantic relationships then

[Jon Dabach] 26:22
You’re in luck because I have put together a free workshop or masterclass if you will, about three secrets that people in happy relationships have discovered. You can view the workshop and Mr. spirituality.com/three secrets again, it’s completely free. Just go there and watch it. It’ll help you on your journey give you some wisdom. Some things to think about. The website again is mrspirituality.com/three secrets. That’s mrspirituality.com/the Number three, the word secrets. It’s all yours. Enjoy.


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