The greatest cause of death is suicide, and the rates are unfortunately increasing throughout the year, especially during COVID-19. Our mental state seemed to be shrouded with clouds of toxicity that pushed most people into the dark. In this sensitive conversation, a recovery expert, addiction treatment specialist, inspirational speaker, and bestselling author, TJ Woodward, joins Adam Markel to bring a fresh perspective on addiction. He concocts the formula for a Conscious Recovery to empower you in enjoying your life and nurturing healthy, enriching relationships by removing the toxicity in life. TJ discusses some of the toxicities in life, such as unresolved trauma, spiritual disconnection, and toxic shame. He also introduces his new book, Conscious Creation. Join TJ in destroying our destructive patterns to let go of our Core False Beliefs that lead us into addictive behaviors.
- 01:37 – Greatest Cause Of Death
- 07:40 – Core False Beliefs
- 14:11 – Conscious Recovery
- 16:05 – Unresolved Trauma
- 26:25 – Spiritual Disconnection
- 29:43 – Toxic Shame
- 35:35 – Conscious Creation
- 41:23 – Resilience In The Workplace
How do we leverage continuous uncertainty to thrive in this unprecedented new world?
The answer is to build the resilience we need to power us through the challenges we face so that we become “Change Proof.” Prepare to tackle the future with confidence by reading Adam’s latest book Change Proof: Leveraging the Power of Uncertainty to Build Long-Term Resilience.
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Conscious Recovery: Empower Yourself By Removing The Toxicity From Your Life With TJ Woodward
I am thrilled and amped up for this episode. His name is TJ Woodward. He is a recovery expert and addiction treatment specialist, inspirational speaker, and bestselling author. He will share his powerful insights for removing toxicity from your life and empowering you to enjoy and nurture healthy, enriching relationships, and so much more. You’re going to want the clearest space for yourself to read this, if possible, to this in one shot. Whatever you might be doing, you’re going to love this conversation. I want you to buckle up. Stay tuned because it’s going to be exciting. Enjoy.
I hope that it fulfilled the promise of the introduction. TJ Woodward is such a brilliant guy and insightful. He and I got on the same page without trying. It was a great vibe. Dovetailed pieces of the puzzle fit together. It is a synergistic feeling from my perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking to him about his Conscious Recovery philosophy and paradigm. We talked about how it is that we’ve got these unresolved traumas in our lives. There’s spiritual disconnection as well as toxic shame that we are all dealing with.
This is in any role that we have in any area of our lives. Professionally speaking, from the CEO on down to the latest new hire, we are all coming to the workplace with our stuff, trauma, and things that we are in recovery from, whether we consciously know it, and often we do not know it, to those things that are unconscious but are still running the show. “Ruling the roosters,” as my grandmother might say.
We talked about how it is that we can get back to more of our essential selves, our true selves, or our true being, and how it is that being aware of those things and doing certain work in those areas will help us to show up as truly more empowered versions of ourselves. It only means that to whatever degree we’ve been able to accomplish things in our lives, and many of us have been able to accomplish quite a number of things in our lives, it will only add to that flame. It will only add to our ability, capacity, and energy to be able to accelerate and not only create more things for ourselves but also empower those around us to do the same, which creates even something bigger.
It’s exponential within the organization of family, as an example, as well as the organization that we call our workplace. The results can be profound. We talked a lot about our core false beliefs. That’s a term of art coined by TJ that I thought was amazing. I think about it in the inverse. I speak about it as objective truths. He gave us some fantastic insights about our brilliant strategies that we developed early on in our lives to be able to cope, succeed, protect, and guard ourselves adequately.
I know that one intimately well. We talked about that and many other things that are fundamentally important to ourselves personally, in connection with our relationship to ourselves, and those people around us at home and work. If you’re somebody who wants to do better all around and experience more joy, love, peace, and prosperity of every single kind, I have to believe that this conversation hit you in the right place.
[00:04:16] I would implore you again. If you know people in your life who would benefit from reading some of the kinds of things that were shared, and I thought it was quite insightful, this would be the perfect episode to share with a friend, a family member, and a colleague. We’d love to hear from you. If you’ve got follow-up questions for me, for TJ, or for us both, AdamMarkel.com/comment will be your place. That’s a terrific way to do it.
I would invite you to find out how resilient you feel in this moment, even after reading this. How resilient are you at this moment in time? You can go to ResilienceRank.com. In 2 to 3 minutes, by answering these sixteen simple questions, you’ll get a snapshot from us instantaneously of how resilient you are at the moment mentally, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually, which tracks well to a lot of what TJ was sharing with us. What a joy. It’s a pleasure. I hope you enjoyed it. For now, I will say ciao.
TJ, I’m going to start you out with a question that my audience is familiar with. It’s unique. That’s why I keep asking it. I get a different answer every single time I ask this. My first question is, what’s one thing that you would love for our audience to know about you that is not part of the standard bio and introduction I’ve shared but the one that others share about you all the time? What’s one thing?
One thing that I have been talking about in the past or so is something that I had not brought to the forefront before. Sometime around 1987 or 1988, I found myself suicidal. That was because I had not addressed a lot of the trauma, disconnection, and shame in my life. I was a person in recovery at that point and started to work on myself. I did find myself feeling desperate and not knowing how to heal myself. I met a woman who changed and saved my life. I’ll start out with that.
We’re going to go right into the deepest water because I cannot think of anything at this moment anyway that feels more tragic than the loss of life that results from suicide. I know that there are a lot of people who could debate that. When we come to a place in our lives where that feels like the only option or the best option, there’s been a whole series of dominoes that have tipped before that need to be examined.
In terms of military service, the suicide rate among that group is staggeringly high. I’ve spoken personally and been honored to give resilience keynotes and workshops to military servicemen and women. The suicide rate is staggeringly high in other areas. This is not a political statement whatsoever. We have a vigorous debate about the Second Amendment and gun laws. That’s not what this is about. When you take a look at the greatest cause of death that involves a firearm, it is suicide. It is not mass shootings yet it’s a massive issue. It’s not murder. It’s people using a gun or firearm to take their own life. That’s not debatable. That’s a hardcore fact.
We’re in a time where we’re seeing the suicide rates going up. I like to have a conversation about the deeper root causes. As you said, it’s seductive to have it be a political conversation about gun control or the Second Amendment. People can have that debate. That’s an important one for people. I’m interested in what’s going on here and what’s happening in our country and our world that we’re seeing these rates increase. It was a long time ago that I had that experience. I know how I found my way out of it. It’s become my life’s work and purpose to share that now. I’m grateful. We are taking a deep dive now into the deep end.
Let’s go there. From a chronological standpoint, we start as far back as you want. If I were going to pick a first domino in my life or what I would imagine would be universally true, it’s that it starts with some trauma that occurs early on. You pick it up wherever you want, TJ.
I’m going to go pre-trauma. I remember coming into the world and being very happy. It’s something I always talk about. At the core of each and every one of us is this state of internal perfection. For some people, they were like, “What are you talking about?” If we look at a small child, can you imagine looking at a baby and saying, “This baby is somehow flawed or broken?”
We come into the world as a blank canvas, and then we get programmed by the world. I remember being a young child, a pre-programmed human, and being filled with joy, connection, and love. I remember watching the news and seeing war. I remember hearing people say things that were racist and the way men talked about women back in the day. All of these things created this sense that I needed to protect myself.We come into the world as a blank canvas, and then we get programmed by the world. Click To Tweet
This wasn’t conscious because I was a little kid. I felt afraid, and something within me shut down. It was as if there was a protector that came in to protect my heart from this trauma that was happening around me. The issue was that it was also “protecting me” from the love and connection that I truly desired. As I have worked with people throughout the years, and as I talk with people now, that seems to be such a common experience. We come into a world filled with love and joy. The world happens, and we get domesticated by the world. Trauma is a big umbrella. Any of that can be a traumatic experience, especially for our spirit.
I have some history like a 5-year-old or 6-year-old kid getting bullied and feeling not fully accepted by the tribe. I could point to that and go in my own life where my guard went up, and I developed a strong on-guard demeanor, which helped me get through that early stage of bullying. It helped me to turn the tables on some of that bullying at some point. It turned me into a lawyer who was vicious in the courtroom and outside the courtroom, frankly.
I could look at it that way for myself, but what you said is more subtly true, which is at a certain point, we developed the thick skin, as maybe our parents or grandparents might’ve called it back in the day, that helps you to be resilient in the face of a world that can be rough at times. That itself can be traumatic to the soul of an innocent child who wants to be loved and be loving.
That seems to be such a common experience. In my work, I have a framework that we come into the world whole and perfect. There’s still a place within us that is unharmed and unharmable. Recognizing that as a starting point, we can start to look at those events in our lives that caused us to develop what I call core false beliefs.
A lot of people talk about core beliefs, but I add the word false because these are lies we’ve picked up about ourselves. As you eloquently said, we come up with what one might call a defense mechanism or a strategy. I call them brilliant strategies. The brilliant strategy could be anger or closing down. There is something brilliant about them that they saved our lives and helped us feel safe in some way. The issue is there’s a light and a shadow to everything. I love the way you framed it, “I became this amazing lawyer. I used all of that to become successful, yet there’s also a part that that was keeping me from the life I truly desired.” You said it perfectly. We all want love and connection at the deepest level.
I’m tracking in my own mind, as I’m listening to you, how perfect, for me, the conversation is and the timing of it. I had some conversations with one of our children. We have three daughters and a son. I’m having a conversation with him about something like this. I have a friend who is dealing with a difficult illness for which there’s no cure and is life-threatening called ALS. It is what people might know is Lou Gehrig’s disease.
I’m speaking to him about how he is making some changes to his life. He is using certain modalities of therapy. I want to hear more about what it is that you are doing with your clients because there are a lot of people like my friend, who are dealing with the aftermath of some of these brilliant strategies. By that, I mean it’s several years later. The strategy that was helpful to me or to all of us at various points in our early lives, whether it was 5, 10, or 15 years old, but that brilliant strategy is no longer a viable strategy when you’re 35. It may not be helpful. In fact, it might be the cause of dis-ease in your body now.
I’ll use anger as an example. My friend has got a lot of repressed anger and repressed rage. A lot of us do. We’re living in an angry world. I don’t think that’s the cause of the pandemic. The pandemic or the political divide is revealing the fact that we all have become good at repressing our anger and our rage. When we’re depleted, it dovetails to our work about resiliency. When we’re depleted, we don’t even have the capacity to hide it anymore. It bubbles over into many areas.
Science is starting to measure what many of us have been pointing to for decades or centuries. All of this has an effect on us physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. We’re starting to even see, as we’ve known, that this causes disease in our body. I like the way you put it because it’s repressed. Look at the physical world. If we put a lid on something and if it’s steaming or boiling, it’s going to blow. If we allow it to come out, that explosion doesn’t happen.
How do we work with what’s happening in the world? You talked about the pandemic, and we’re coming out of that pandemic. The byproduct of that, and it’s all interlinked in an interesting way, is this idea of polarization. We have been told over and over again. We’re living in a polarized country. It’s more that we’ve been conditioned to have polarized thinking.
The people I meet, when we sit down and have an authentic conversation, we find so much common ground. We find ourselves battling because we’re deeply entrenched in this idea that, “My opinion is who I am, and I need to be right.” There’s so much division that happens and anger. All of that creates dis-ease. How do we start to heal that? That’s the conversation I am interested in having.
Let’s go there. Your work, as I understand, includes helping people who have addictions. I throw out a big statement here. Everybody is addicted. I don’t know anybody who isn’t addicted. It’s a question of what you’re addicted to. Some addictions are more challenging than others. Some are societally acceptable, and some are not. Our country loves people who are addicted to consuming and buying stuff. That’s a great addiction.
We’re addicted to drama, polarization, and us and them. That’s not new. That’s something that’s been going on for thousands of years. Originally, we had our tribe because we needed a tribe to stay alive. Now we’re finding that having this idea of these different camps is not allowing us. We’re seeing life expectancy for the first time in our country going down. We want to take a look at that.
That’s a shocking measurement.
It is for the first time. I don’t know how long. I work with people with addiction. I agree with you wholeheartedly. If we use the simplest definition of addiction, which is looking for someone or something, some behavior, or a substance outside of ourselves to try to heal something that feels broken within and that becomes repetitive, we, in some way, become an automatic response. That is addiction. In that way, everyone has some form of addiction.
I would love to talk about the work that you are doing. It will dovetail with the broader group of people who are addicted on some level to something. You’re talking about people with substance abuse addictions. I would imagine there’s going to be a great overlap with any form of addiction. I’m making that assumption. You can challenge that if I’m wildly off base.
You are 100% correct because, based on that definition, if I’m looking for something or someone outside of myself to try to assuage something that feels disconnected within, it can become addictive. My framework is Conscious Recovery. It’s a workbook. I do clinical training at treatment programs. It’s based on the core understanding that underneath all of our behavior is an essential self that’s whole and perfect. We open the show with that to realize there’s something within us that did come into the world, unharmed and unharmable. With that recovery, if we use that term, or we could say wellness, or living the life of our dreams, it is about reconnecting with that.
What’s involved in being able to acknowledge that is also looking at what created the disconnection from that. In Conscious Recovery, I identify the root causes of addiction as unresolved trauma, spiritual disconnection, and toxic shame. All of us, on some level, can relate to that. When we believe we’re broken or damaged, we’re going to look to the world to try to fix that. That can become an addictive cycle because, as we know, no one can fix something that feels broken within. What I’m saying is not only can no one fix that, but we’re fundamentally not broken anyway. It’s a different framework.
I’d love to touch on all three of those. If we could start with unresolved trauma and move through those three, that would be terrific. You don’t have to do a little mini dissertation on what you’ve already written or what. People are going to get in your book. I’m sure people will be able to read it in depth. I would love it if there’s an example of what that looks like.
I won’t do a TED Talk on each of these.
ED Talks are getting shorter.
Unresolved trauma, let’s start with that. We talked a little bit about that already. When we think of trauma, we think of the obvious trauma, like someone who has gone to a war zone or a child who lost their parents. There are things that are obvious trauma. We want to look at it and take a broader look and say that it is anything that is counter to this idea or this knowing of our internal wholeness and perfection. It is any way we get programmed to believe we’re damaged or that we’re limited. It is any idea of us and them, and good and bad and right and wrong. All of that can be a traumatic experience.
A brief example is when I was in kindergarten. I couldn’t tie my shoes. This could be insignificant for one person, but for me, I remember that moment. I was terrified. I remember looking around at all the kids. I can see the floor and the metal desk. I can feel the experience. This was quite a few years ago. I decided at that moment that I was stupid. That core decision or false belief got buried deep in my unconscious. It took me many years to unravel that. Something that can seem insignificant for one person can be deeply traumatic for another person.
I won’t get into the details of it, not for any other reason than it won’t serve us and not worthy of the time. Having spoken with my son, what I’ve been referring to as objective truth, there is something that he decided when he was fourteen years old. I compare it to something I decided when I was about that age, same as you, in kindergarten when I got put in the corner. The thing that was happening in the belief that we that we assigned to that experience is not necessarily the objective truth. That’s what I’d called into the conversation with my son.
Looking back at that, you’re now 24. This was happening many years earlier. Was that the objective truth? He’s like, “No, I don’t think that it was the objective truth, but yet it still was the meaning that you gave it.” We’re meaning-making machines. You make meaning, and it becomes this core false belief. Your language is spot on there. That in and of itself can be a traumatic experience for people. That’s what I’m hearing you say.
It is what we decide that becomes the trauma, not what happened. We’re not minimizing what happened. If someone is sexually abused, that’s a traumatic experience. What did I decide about myself? The key here is simple, yet sometimes we miss it. Usually, these core false beliefs are developed when our brains aren’t even developed.Usually, these core false beliefs are developed when our brains aren't even developed. Click To Tweet
I decided at age five that I was stupid, but it wasn’t cognitive. My brain wasn’t developed. It was an experience. I took that in, put a lid on it, didn’t tell anybody, and walked around from that moment until I was 40 with that core false belief unconsciously running the show. I tried to talk myself out of it through therapy and support groups. I’m like, “Change that narrative. Change that story. I’m not stupid.” The deeper work is, “How do I care for the five-year-old? How do I allow myself to feel that?”
It’s an interesting process because, in some ways, I go back and change the past, not what happened because people get worked up about that. I’m not saying we changed what happened. I can have a different conclusion as a five-year-old, not as an adult, but to this five-year-old, that it’s not the truth and allow them to feel what’s present. If someone would’ve allowed me to feel that, I wouldn’t have buried it. I’m not blaming my teacher or the other kids. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about how I go back and, from a place of tenderness, re-parent myself as that five-year-old.
I want to drop another resource to the audience in addition to your book. There’s a book by an author by the name of Michael Brown. He’s from South Africa. He wrote a book called The Presence Process. It’s an amazing book also on this topic. We had Hale Dwoskin, who’s one of the founders of the Sedona Method process. He’s standing on the shoulders of his mentor, Mr. Levenson.
This is a work that has a long history. At least from my vantage point, it’s the most difficult work that I’ve experienced as a human being. I can wrestle my way through even the gnarliest of tech issues. I’m not a tech person, marketing, or sales. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur and business person for a long time. I know what it’s like to come up against a brick wall and break through it because you have to do that as a business leader.
I’ll go back to your own core false beliefs. You could take the strongest person, like the seasoned, accomplished individual, whether that person has been a multiple gold medalist work or CEO of a Fortune 50 company. It doesn’t matter what heights they’ve achieved. You see those people come to failure at times, like tragic failure. You see it in the news these days all the time. The CEO of NBC was fired. You go, “Why is this happening? How does this happen? How does Will Smith get up out of his chair and destroy his career in an instant? He destroyed decades of work to become at the top of his game. How does that happen?”
It goes back to what you’re talking about. It goes back to some 5, 6, and 7-year-old kid, precognitive, not even a fully developed brain that makes an assessment about yourself, self-worth, and self-esteem in that moment. That is unquestionable. It is a program running a person’s life up to the time when they’re 95. It doesn’t matter how long. If you don’t deal with it or do that hard work, it is there with you for the duration.
Carl Jung said it beautifully. He said, “Until we make the unconscious conscious, it will direct our life, and we will call it fate.” The reason that many of us are afraid to look is that it calls into question unconsciously or subconsciously our entire worldview. It’s not conscious. I wasn’t walking around saying, “No one better tell me I’m smart because I know I’m stupid.” That’s not what was happening on the conscious level. Because I had the vibration that I was stupid, I kept unconsciously choosing situations to replicate it. “See, I am. See, I can’t do that. See, it’s true.”
It’s to prove you’re right. This is the irony of the whole thing.
It’s not happening consciously. It doesn’t get shifted consciously. This is why the deeper work can be challenging because we are asking ourselves to look at something that feels deeply true at a vibrational level. We’re asking ourselves to question that. There are some frameworks that are aggressive about it. Beat down that story. Change that story.
I don’t think it’s effective. It has a temporary effectiveness. We want to get down and take a look because, on some level, what we can say is, “Yes, this is difficult work.” Nowhere near as difficult as continuing to walk around with this frequency and vibration and watching ourselves over and over again choosing these same situations. If you look at someone who’s highly successful, like a CEO type, this isn’t true for everyone, but it’s possible that’s a strategy coming out of a core wound.
That strategy is to become highly successful. To challenge that would be to say to them, on some level, “Everything you’re doing and everything the world is applauding you for is coming out of a wound.” Not many people say, “Let me take a look at that.” It’s when something falls apart. I don’t know Will Smith. I don’t know what happened with that slap, but a moment like that where he’s like, “I need to take a look.”
That’s not about him. I don’t know his journey, but for many of us, we get to a point where something collapses, like a divorce, a bankruptcy, or the loss of a business, and then we say, “Let me take a look.” As my friend, Dr. Sue Morter, says, “Life is difficult and challenging until it’s not.” She’s the person who said, “Only ego would want ego to die.” It changed my life in that moment.
This is all under the heading of Conscious Recovery. That was part one. That was a TED-like experience for us. Thank you for that.
Part two is spiritual disconnection. When we think about spiritual disconnection, many of us automatically go to a disconnection from something outside of ourselves, like the idea of a higher power or God. That may be true. What I’m talking about is a disconnection from our essential self. Going back to the conversation we had, we come in deeply connected spiritually.
For some people, that word doesn’t work. We might say our essential self, true nature, or authentic being, all these different words describe that place that we came in. Our brain wasn’t even developed. We’re purely absorbing energy. Through a series of events or trauma, we disconnect from that true nature. That’s where all these core false beliefs develop, and we forget who we are. We start to believe the lie that we’re broken, damaged, or limited.
Stupid, not good enough, ugly, fat, or whatever other things that we have started to believe.
The journey home is a journey not outward toward achieving something but to return to a place within us that already exists. We can call off the search and rest in this deeper truth. That involves unlearning all the stuff we’ve ever believed about ourselves in the world that keeps us limited and polarized. It’s the core of each and every one of us.The journey home is a journey not outward toward achieving something but to return to a place within us that already exists. Click To Tweet
When I call it hard work, I wasn’t trying to be dramatic about it. It truly is to unlearn what you learned over the last several years. That’s not easy. To call is easy for anybody to say that is being disingenuous.
It might be simple, but it takes effort. For many of us, it takes an event where we’re willing to look, but it doesn’t mean it needs to be that way. For many of us, it gets painful. We’re willing to do the work.
How much self-sabotage can you tolerate before you’ve gone? If I look at all the crap that’s happened in whatever scenarios they’ve happened in, the common denominator in all those situations is only one thing. That’s me. You’re the only common denominator in every situation, regardless of whether you’ve been the victim, you victimize someone else, or whatever other gradients there are about it.
Someone once shared this quote with me. I don’t know who it’s from that said, “Problems are great because they show you where your problems are.” That’s similar to what Carl Jung said, “When we have blind spots in life, that is the greater problem.” When we have an understanding at least of the fact that the problems exist, it is, without a doubt, a better situation. Maybe it’s the first step on that road to recovery. Toxic shame was the third part that you mentioned earlier. Can you say a little bit about that and provide an example of what toxic shame is?
Once we have had these traumatic events and disconnected from who we are, we develop these core false beliefs. These core false beliefs can be used synonymously with shame. We know the basic definition. Guilt is, “I’ve done something wrong.” The shame is, “I am wrong.” There’s a different way we work with those two because it’s not a behavioral and mental process to talk ourselves out of shame or to act ourselves out of shame.
We hear a lot of models, whether it’s a therapy model or a support group model, that says, “Act your way into right thinking,” or opposite actions, some of the different modalities. What we’re saying is, with shame, it’s about, “Where did this originate? Where are these core false beliefs still alive within me?” As we have said, turn toward them.
I love that you say, “Looking at the common denominator here is me.” I want to add something to that to be careful because I’ll speak for myself. I went from blaming the world to blaming myself. I stayed there for many years. It’s my fault. That’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying you have the power within you to heal this. The person who keeps showing up for these situations is me.
For example, if a person’s walking around with a core false belief that they’re not lovable, they’re vibrating with that frequency. If they walk into a room of 50 people, they will unconsciously or, through frequency, find the person to confirm the core false belief. It’s easy to blame them. It’s like, “They’re unavailable.”
That process of, “I’m the one who chose them,” can be powerful. We’re not saying, “It’s my fault I’m choosing them. I keep choosing them because of the shame, and I believe I’m broken or damaged.” It’s not about the situation. If someone is in a situation where they’re being abused, you do want to leave the situation and take care of yourself. Ultimately, the deeper work is, “I’m the one choosing this, and I’m choosing it because I believe I’m damaged, broken, or unworthy. How can we heal that?”
We can then start to see the situations in relationships in our life change almost magically with a lot less effort because it’s not letting me learn how to have great communication skills or, “How do I find someone that’s more available for me?” We talk a lot about getting rid of toxic relationships. Usually, we think, “That person’s toxic.” What we’re saying is, “What is it about me that keeps choosing it, not through a place of judgment, but from a place of compassion and curiosity? How can I start to shift this so I feel worthy of choosing a person that’s more available for me?”
I appreciate how you plus what I said earlier and added a layer of empathy and compassion to that statement about us being the common denominator. I’m going to play the same role but on purpose this time simply to create, in all transparency, a bit of perturbation, which, for people that might not be familiar with that, sounds like a fancy term. The word perturbation is in it. I’m saying what I’m about to say.
You could call this a trigger warning. I do not mean to trigger. It’s not what I want to do, but it could perturb some people when I say this. I’m going to say it because I feel like the space is open. This is a moment where somebody may need to hear what you are sharing and what we’re having a conversation about. They can choose to, whether it’s to read your book, something else, or to simply go, “I’m going to get serious about doing some of this work now because many things have gone sideways in my life. There’ve been many failed relationships or whatever to allow my life to not be all it’s possible and capable of being.”
That’s my intent in many ways in doing the work I do and having a show where I have amazing guests like you to talk about difficult things. I don’t get to talk about this stuff with that many guests. More often than not, this show is about the workplace. I want to ask you some questions before long about the workplace.
Here’s a simple connection. We bring all of our traumas with us to work. Anybody that thinks somehow there’s a door and you walk through the door, or employers or leaders think that when their people walk through the door, they should leave their trauma at the door, that’s an old paradigm and a way of thinking from the last century. That does not work now. It’s not going to work in the post-pandemic world. It is not going to work among Millennials and Gen Zs. As beings, they are conscious to buy into that. We are holistic. You’re going to take yourself with you wherever you go, whether you like it or not.
The trauma shows up at work. That’s why I’ll say this is highly relevant. Not that I expect that your conscious recovery work necessarily is a thing that every workplace is going to say, “We should start that.” Although I think it would make sense, frankly, for the most conscious of leaders to go, “We ought to be thinking about this. We ought to get this guy, TJ, to come in and speak to some people here, maybe even lead some of this work.”
It’s what I do. I wrote my book, Conscious Creation, which is my newer book based on exactly what you’re saying. It’s a conscious recovery for everyone. It is like, “What is the life I want to create?” I go into organizations and help them look at how they consciously create their lives and their organization. It starts with making peace with the past and overcoming core false beliefs.
I’ve created a five-step process that’s an acronym using MOVIE. It’s making peace with the past and overcoming core false beliefs because we’re in a new era. I won’t name it, but I’ve been watching a show set in the ‘60s, and I’m like, “That’s what it used to be.” Everything was shut down. We weren’t addressing anything. The new generations are coming in, saying, “No, we want to be more conscious.” There’s a light in the shadow of all of that. The great news is we are no longer saying, “Let me leave my trauma at the door,” because we’re realizing it’s not possible. It doesn’t work. It’s not effective for the individual or the organization.
There’s a term that folks who are in leadership roles who are reading this might be aware of, or maybe not. It’s called the Trauma-Informed Workplace. What we’re talking about here is understanding how to put lots of attention and focus into things like resiliency training, which was where our work dovetails, or into DE&I training and other things. You’ll want to be thinking about trauma-informed workplace strategy, process, and exercise to help people deal with and heal from the things that have been ailing them for a long time.
I’m going to go right to that statement that I provided and warning about, which is that victims can be perpetrators. I remember the first time I heard that statement. It was confronting. You could take it the wrong way. Hopefully, based on the context you provided already, TJ, what that looks like is that person that goes into that party that’s feeling that low. “I don’t have a lot of self-love and find somebody.” In that party, that can confirm that for them. That person now becomes the bad guy or person who victimizes that other person who’s ready to be victimized because that’s their core belief. “You’re confirming for me that I’m not lovable and worthy.”
That’s where the victim becomes the perpetrator because that person turns the tables on that other individual. In some ways, it gives them the opportunity to do that thing. If it sounds complicated and amazing, it is. That’s one of those areas where it’s not to blame the victim. I’ll say that out loud. I’m not talking about blaming a victim, but it perpetuates that desire to be right and to confirm what they believe about themselves. It is false. They need accomplices in it. It is not okay for them and for the person that they make that accomplice, in my opinion.
I applaud you. I know that you’re careful with your language, as will I be. Sometimes, when I talk about this and write about it in Conscious Creation and Conscious Recovery about victim consciousness, people will say, “It sounds like you’re victim blaming or victim shaming.” Out of the gate, I want to say, “If you’re going to show the clip, please show the whole clip.” There might be one sentence that sounds provocative, but it’s about empowerment. It’s not about continuing to blame.
As long as I’m blaming someone else because blame is a low form of consciousness, it keeps me stuck. If I keep blaming the person that we call the perpetrator, I’m stuck in the cycle, and I’m giving them all my power. When I say I’m choosing this, it’s not I’m blaming myself or that the person is absolved of what they’re doing. What I’m saying is pulling that power back and starting to heal the core false belief will be much more empowering than continuing to say, “This person shouldn’t be doing that.”
That’s what we see in our political environment, workplace, and relationships. How many books are now written about removing toxic relationships or removing yourself from a toxic work environment? What usually happens is someone says, “My boss is toxic. They shouldn’t be toxic. I’m going to empower myself to leave.” The issue with that is we’ve given that boss all the power instead of saying, “What needs to be healed within me?”
I want to be clear. I’m not saying, “Suck it up and stay in that work environment.” That’s the 1960s formula. What we’re saying is maybe I do leave that situation. The issue is if I don’t do the deeper healing, I’m going to choose it again. We do bring all of our unresolved trauma to the workplace. The greatest point of empowerment is to shift from blame to accountability.
Not self-blame, but to say, “I can heal this. I can have a different perspective on myself. I can have a different frequency.” Ultimately, we teach people how to treat us. That statement can be provocative too. I’m not saying what someone does is right or wrong. It’s like, “If I want to heal, I’m going to unplug. I’m going to do the deeper work that we’ve been talking about. I’m going to find myself choosing different environments, including a work environment.”
It’s a perfect segue into talking about work. A context set for this, when we are asked to deliver keynote presentations, workshops, or even in the consulting business that we have under the name Work Well, that enterprise is asked to retrain or relearn, which involves unlearning this concept of resilience because many people think of resilience now and having heard it many times in this word. It become popular in the last several years. It’s another euphemism for suck it up for a lot of people. They think being resilient is a nicer way to say, “Suck it up.”
It’s interesting how powerful people and organizations can co-op in terms like that for their own ends, which we know in a capitalist marketplace, the end is profit. I’d bought into that. I have no issue with that at all. My philosophy and our company’s research inform us that resilience is not about endurance. If you want to be your guiding North Star, what you don’t want to do is drive people to the point of exhaustion and depletion.
Back to Will Smith, my own philosophy on that was this. I got to share it in an article about a week after the incident. I’m not even talking about his early life experiences in childhood trauma, which became more widely known afterward. I said, “The person in that seat was depleted. When we are depleted, we don’t make good decisions, especially when our emotions are triggered.” “Emotion goes up, and intelligence goes down,” as the saying goes. You could do something self-sabotaging, which was what we saw.
We are in a work environment where people are exhausted, depleted, stressed out, anxious, and having difficulty sleeping. As a result of that, we saw many people leaving the workforce. A term being used is quietly quitting. Many people are dialing things back so they can survive. I want to get your take on what is toxic in the workplace, as far as you can tell.
Our view of resilience is about how we recover. It’s not about that endurance model. “Burn the candle until you can’t burn anymore. Run one marathon after another until you can’t run any longer.” It’s simply about how you integrate the recovery principle into your daily routine so that you have greater longevity and capacity. That creates greater profit all around. With that in mind, recovery, in our language, is used a little differently than how you think or at least how we’ve spoken about recovery at this point. Can you share your thoughts on that?
There are many different avenues I could go down. I work in behavioral health. Most of the organizations I work with are behavioral health organizations. These are therapists, counselors, coaches, and people who understand the principles of self-care, self-love, bringing your full self into the room, and not thinking that it’s about crushing it and dominating but about the true resiliency you’re talking about. Not like, “I can do anything. I’m superhuman.” One would think that exists there, but many clinicians are trained to say, “Leave your stuff at the door when you walk in.” That’s such an old paradigm. Even in that environment, many counselors or therapists believe.
I’ve sat in clinical supervision meetings. This was some time ago. They’ve said, “Imagine that you take all your problems, put them in a little box, and put a bow on it. Leave it on the shelf by the door, and you can pick it up when you walk out.” That is the exact opposite. When I go in and do a one-day experience for staff in a behavioral health setting, it is about reconnecting with their essential self. It is about rediscovering passion and purpose. The deeper self-care is not an extra day off or a spa day because that’s not going to change the deeper issue here. It’s not about this fragmentation of only bringing part of yourself into the room.
The organization is the individual and the collective. When I go into a company, I have to look at it as the individual and as the structure itself. If I’m making peace with the past as the first step, we need to look at that individually and collectively. In other words, what trauma needs to be healed? You go into companies, and we can feel it. What is the collective trauma here? It’s apparent. Something happened.
I do a whole timeline where people break into small groups. The groups are someone who might be there for a week and someone else who’s worked there for two decades. They share the story and timeline. We look at what the collective traumas have been. If we’re not making peace with the past, we’re dragging it with us everywhere. It’s different than, “Forget your past, pretend like it’s not there, let’s move forward, crush it, and dominate.”
As we make peace with the past, we can start to look at the core false beliefs the organization is made, not just the individual. We’re looking at it micro and macro, but we’re looking at every individual bringing themselves and all of their history, but also the organization in a simple way. Some of these sound like such buzzwords, but authenticity, transparency, and vulnerability is the new model. What does that mean? Those sound great. I had the honor of hearing the fire chief of Beverly Hills Fire Department speak at a conference. He talked about the old militaristic, “Crush it, do it, and man up.” He said that COVID unraveled all of that.
He said, “Symbolically, I took my badge off, put it on the desk, and invited people to come in.” That’s unheard of in that system before. It was like, “I’m the boss.” I don’t know all the military things, but it’s hierarchical. He’s saying, “We need to remove that.” What he saw happening in his environment was COVID polarizing people based on their opinions about masking and vaccines. It became political. He said, “Lifelong friends became enemies.” I’m projecting. He didn’t say this, but I could imagine how heartbreaking and difficult that was for him. That was a long-winded way of saying, “We need to have some authentic conversations here because it’s there whether we acknowledge it or not.”
I think it’s accurate. Psychological safety in the work environment is fundamentally important in an environment where people feel safe to express themselves in a reasonable and civil way. I’m not saying psychological safety is an excuse to be passive-aggressive. In that environment, people will be able to express how they’re feeling.
If they are anxious and they feel they need to take care of themselves, they need to go to therapy, want to go to therapy, or they’re feeling disconnected from their families and crave more time at home, or time that when there’s an important event. We have four kids. The kids had dance recitals or had sporting events. When you can’t attend to those things, a little piece of you breaks off or dies inside it. You can’t get it back.
When you feel that you’re able to express what’s truly important to you, things are quite a bit different, environmentally and culturally. I couldn’t agree with you more. This has such a place in the work environment. People reading this are in leadership roles in the human resources area and talent development. I’m going to say this to you. Let us say you’re making the pitch, you’re having a conversation with a leader or decision maker, and you’re saying, “This is important.”
I heard somebody say this once, which is that your budget is a reflection of your value. It is the case that somebody might want to have you come in or want to have work. Our company come in, but we don’t have a budget for that. They chuckle inside to think, “You don’t value it. It’s not as important to you if you don’t or can’t find the money or budget for it.” That’s also aggressive. I don’t say that to people because it’s not for me to say it.
My question to you is if you’re pitching somebody on why this is not like soft skill or some other term that dismisses the importance of this next to, “We need sales training and leadership training.” A lot of that stuff’s window dressing. If what you have are people who are broken that you want to perform at Olympic quality, like gold medal standards for things, and these people are not at their best, they’re never going to perform like that no matter how much training you bring in for that. I’m asking you to make a quick pitch if you could. How do you have that conversation with folks?
I start by looking at what the issues are. Across all industries, it’s staff retention and burnout, even if they’re not identifying as such. Any HR person or CEO is going to say, “We’re burning through people. People are finding a better offer. They’re demanding more money. They want more time off.” Those are all the issues. Those are symbolic. Those are symptomatic of something. What’s the deeper issue?
People want more money. People want flexible schedules. People don’t want to come into the office five days a week anymore, but there’s something deeper. That is people want to be acknowledged and heard. They want to be empowered. It’s a paradox because, on the one hand, I can’t motivate another person. They have the motivation within them, but I can create a safe container for someone to access that and to become empowered from the inside out.People want to be acknowledged and heard. They want to be empowered. Click To Tweet
I can tell a story. I went in to do training at an organization. My training is usually six hours. This is what I do. I came in for six hours. The person said, “This is great. This is what I want to do. I can give you two hours.” They’re going to pay me my full rate. They paid me for the full day, but they’re going to give me two hours.
On the one hand, I could say, “Isn’t that great? I’m getting paid for a full day, but I’m only doing two hours.” On the other hand, how heartbreaking and interesting is it that we’re going to come in and talk about doing a wellness reset and helping someone reconnect with their passion and purpose so they can be more fulfilled in their own personal lives and work? Therefore, it is more productive in the workplace, but we can only do two hours. It’s not from a place of judgment but from a place of curiosity.
What happened is I went in and did the two hours. They’re like, “We need more.” From a business perspective, I’ll come back in and do the full six. You’ll pay me again for my full day. It’s information. These are the days of these quick fixes and Band-Aids, the days of crushing it, dominating, and giving someone skills they need to be more effective. That’s not what we’re talking about. This is about taking a deeper dive into what motivates a person and how we can reconnect with our passion and purpose of who we are. Therefore, the effectiveness is a byproduct of that. It’s not what we’re going to do. We’re going in to help someone have a healing experience.
To create a culture of well-being and corporate wellness, culture is one where we want to crush it without crushing our people. The impetus to crush it and want to crush it, that being the goal, especially when the stakeholders are public owners, there’s a lot of pressure. I completely get that in a variety of respects from my professional past. We can’t crush our people at the same time because that is self-defeating and self-sabotaging.
It’s not that it’s wrong. It’s not effective. Even if it seemed to be effective in the past, it no longer is. How do we pivot to a new way? What we’re saying is when someone is truly empowered and has the safety to be vulnerable and to connect, the company does start to crush it. That’s the byproduct of it. There’s nothing more powerful than a workforce that is seen, heard, and honored.
Once I get in touch with who I’ve come here to be, and I’m in an environment where I’m allowed to do that, it’s a tenfold success, other than trying to fit people into these boxes like we used to do. It’s an exciting time to be alive. For some, it’s like, “What do I do with this? The ground does not feel solid.” That’s the great news.
TJ, I’m going to leave it there with you. I have enjoyed this conversation. I feel like we can do a part two. I’m going to send that invitation to you. For our audience, if you’ve got a question for TJ or myself, go to AdamMarkel.com/comment. You can leave your question there. As always, I promise it will not be a bot or AI. It will be us. I promise that. If this episode has something in it that you feel would be helpful to someone else, as I often will make this request, especially given the conversation we had now, I would implore you to share that. Share that with a friend, a family member, or a colleague that you think could benefit from it, and that will be a gift. I say that not because of any other reason than in my own personal journey.
With these kinds of things, I didn’t learn this in high school, college, or having multiple graduate degrees. I have been a lawyer for several years. I didn’t learn this in any of that stuff. Fortunately, we have more access to this information than we did many years ago. That’s a good thing. Sharing it with somebody else could be the beginning of quite a bit of integration that is helpful to them and collectively, even within your organization, as TJ pointed out.
We sometimes have a collective trauma that exists within an organization. We don’t understand why it can’t hit all cylinders despite throwing a lot of money at the problem, hiring, rehiring, and retraining that becomes this rinse-repeat cycle that you don’t always understand. Bringing somebody in that can help with that to identify where even that collective corporate trauma may exist is a brilliant idea. Think about that further.
Lastly, if you have a rating, wherever you’re consuming this show, whether it’s on iTunes or Spotify, if you can give us that five-star rating and you feel called to do that, it’s helpful to us only because it will inform the algorithm, which will inform everybody else about what we’re doing here, and hopefully, more people will get to hear it. Once again, TJ, thank you so much for all of your insights, for your time, and for what was an enjoyable conversation for me personally.
Thank you. I loved this. I would love to do a part two. For everyone reading, I appreciate you being part of this journey.
- TJ Woodward
- Conscious Recovery
- The Presence Process
- Conscious Creation
- iTunes – Change Proof
- Spotify – Change Proof
About TJ Woodward
TJ Woodward, recovery expert, addiction treatment specialist, inspirational speaker, and bestselling author shares powerful insights for removing toxicity from your life and empowering you to enjoy and nurture healthy, enriching relationships.