Why We Get Stuck and How to Unstick Ourselves: Interview with Britt Frank

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Share with a woman who needs hope!

Are you ready to deal with the things you’ve been avoiding and find out how to get unstuck?

Joining us today on Flying Free is the incredible speaker, therapist, and author of The Science of Stuck, Britt Frank. Through Britt’s abusive relationship, substance abuse, and spiritual challenges she has learned that mental health is a commitment to reality.

In this episode, we discuss why Britt wrote her book, the role of anxiety in our lives, why we have to be distinguished about our language use when talking about anxiety, fear, and worry, and why so many people choose to stay in abusive relationships for the benefits.

There’s no such thing as an overreaction, only mismatched reactions, and Britt talks us through how to handle freeze response, manage panic attacks, and acknowledge shadow intelligence to become conscious decision-makers in our lives. Finally, we discuss why forgiveness is not essential to healing. Don’t miss out on this incredibly informative conversation!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • An overview of Britt’s book and why she wrote it. 
  • The unique summaries, dos and don’ts, and five-minute challenges Britt included at the end of every chapter and why. 
  • Why Britt believes that we need anxiety in order for our lives to work. 
  • The differences between anxiety, fear, and worry, and why we need to identify when we are experiencing them in order to access our choices. 
  • Why the uncomfortable truth is always better than a shiny lie. 
  • The rewards and benefits of staying stuck and why you need to rescue yourself. 
  • An example of one of the five-minute challenges in Britt’s book. 
  • What shadow intelligence is and how we can make our unconscious conscious. 
  • What Britt would say to survivors who have given up and why they are not unmotivated; their brains are stuck in a freeze response. 
  • Why forgiveness is not required to heal trauma and create new brain pathways and why it’s not possible when you are in fight or flight mode. 
  • Emotional adulthood vs. emotional childhood and why your reactions need to be matched to the action and situation. 
  • Britt’s beautiful reframing of panic attacks. 

Related Resources:

  • Britt’s book, which is one of my top three books I read in 2022: The Science of Stuck.
  • Britt’s Instagram, which is ON FIRE.
  • The incredible illustrator’s TikTok account, which is featured on Britt’s Instagram. They draw illustrations of different books while reading the book out loud in their videos, and they have many videos that feature Britt’s book.
  • Britt’s website, The Science of Stuck.
  • Are you a divorced Christian woman? Join Flying Higher so that you don’t miss out on our book study going through Britt’s book in February! She will also be joining us for a LIVE Q&A.

Britt Frank, MSW, LSCSW, SEP is a clinician, educator and trauma specialist. She speaks and writes widely about the mental health myths that keep us stuck and stressed. Britt received her BA from Duke University and her MSW from the University of Kansas, where she later became an award winning adjunct professor. She is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and Level 3 trained in the Internal Family Systems therapeutic model. Britt was a primary therapist at a drug and alcohol treatment center, an inpatient therapist at a children’s psychiatric hospital, and now owns a private practice. You can find Britt on Instagram or on her website www.scienceofstuck.com.

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“I came across Natalie and the Flying Free Sisterhood a few months ago while trying to make sense of my marriage. I have been amazed at how so many of these messages truly speak to me. I don’t believe it was anything short of divine intervention that I stumbled across this podcast or her community, and I joined as soon as I got up the courage to tell my husband I needed a separation. it’s been a couple weeks now, and every day I wake up grateful for Natalie and the journey she is on to help survivors like me truly tap into the truth about toxic relationships, how to see them more clearly, and getting to know God’s love for us as His daughters in Christ.” -Flying Free Podcast Review on Apple Podcasts

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Why We Get Stuck and How to Unstick Ourselves: Interview with Britt Frank [Transcript]

Hi. This is Natalie Hoffman of Flyingfreenow.com, and you’re listening to the Flying Free Podcast, a support resource for women of faith looking for hope and healing from hidden emotional and spiritual abuse.

NATALIE: Welcome to Episode 204 of the Flying Free Podcast. And I also want to wish everyone a happy new year. I have been looking forward to today’s interview for over two months, and it is the perfect interview to kick off the new year with, because what do we all tend to do when the calendar turns? We do two things: We look back at what we did or didn’t do the year before, and we often look with hope toward the potential of what could be in the upcoming year.

And I know for many of you listening, you often feel like a hamster on a wheel working yourself emotionally, physically, and spiritually to exhaustion every day, all year long, only to wake up on January 1st finding yourself in the exact same place in your hamster cage, and you feel stuck. So I’ve got amazing news for you if this describes your vibe right now. 

I want you to meet our guest, Britt Frank. She is the author of “The Science of Stuck: Breaking Through Inertia to Find Your Path Forward.” Britt is a clinician, educator, and trauma therapist, and she’s trained in the IFS model, which I am so fascinated by and have already introduced you to a little bit in past episodes, particularly Episode 197.

Now, I read a lot of books every year — I read several books a month — and this is one of my top five reads for 2022. It’s actually one of the top three. So I am thrilled to meet and introduce you to the author of one of the best books I read last year. Welcome Britt, and thank you so much for being willing to come on the show with us.

BRITT: Oh my god, that was a very generous intro. Thanks for having me. I’m so excited we’re finally doing this. Yay. 

NATALIE: Yes. So honestly, I think your book is a treasure box that’s chock-full of golden nuggets, and I think it belongs in everybody’s library. So why don’t you give us a little bit of an overview of your book and tell us why you wrote it.

BRITT: So I’m a therapist, and on paper I look very professional and I have letters after my name. But the sordid backstory is I say I was captain of the hot mess express — just a real disaster of a… And I say that with no shame — just nothing but love — but a disastrous mess. Relationship: chaotic. Who am I? What do I want? Boundaries? Never heard of her. I just didn’t know how, because none of us really were taught, “Hey, you have a brain, you have a nervous system. Here’s how it works, now go drive.”

And so I wrote the book because there wasn’t anything that put everything in one place when I was really serious about recovery. I didn’t have the bandwidth to read the twelve books, the fifteen books sitting on my nightstand. I’m like, “Someone gave me the Cliff Notes. I want just the bottom lines about all of these things so I can get going.” That book didn’t exist, so I wrote it. 

NATALIE: You did write it. That is the perfect way to describe your book. I love that. I just want to point out that I love how you say at the beginning, at the end of each chapter, you’ve got a point by point summary of the chapter. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, you could just go and read those. They’re like the golden nuggets in succinct little sentences, right? And then you also have five-minute challenges. And there’s four or five of them or six of them with each chapter. And honestly, they’re like little mini therapy sessions, like five-minute therapy sessions. I love them. I’m going to give an example later on. And then you have these “do’s” and “don’ts,” but they’re not “do’s” and “don’ts” — they’re not shaming ones — they’re really freeing, actually. They make you feel like, “Ugh.” They just take a load off of your chest. 

BRITT: That’s what I needed, and all the self-help books that I had read were very, “Read in order. You have to do everything.” The exercises require special gear and special notebooks and take hours. I’m like, “I don’t want to do that. I have three-hundred seconds. What can I do in three-hundred seconds? Go.” 

NATALIE: Yes. Oh my gosh. Everyone listening is going, “Yes, that is me too.”  Okay, I want to start by talking about anxiety, because I know that many, if not most, of our listeners would say that they struggle with that. And in your book you talk about how anxiety… I love how you reframe it, to talk about how it’s actually necessary in order for us to get unstuck. So can you talk about that a little?

BRITT: Yeah, nobody likes it when I say, “We need anxiety. It’s your superpower, and without it, our lives don’t work.” I don’t like it either. I’ve had chronic anxiety and panic and all kinds of things since I was a kid, so I do not enjoy anxiety, and I am not minimizing the terror and debilitating nature of anxiety. Nevertheless, anxiety’s like the check engine light of our brain. It’s like a smoke alarm. I don’t like it when my check engine light goes on in my car, but the light’s not the problem. The light is going, “Hey, you have a problem. If you do not tend to this problem, you’re going to have a bigger problem.” 

We all get so focused on the light, we forget that that light is a signal that’s pointing us towards something. And it’s tricky, because half the time we’re so overwhelmed. It’s, “Well, I don’t know what my anxiety is pointing me towards. I have no idea what’s going on.” Okay, we can figure that out. But we have to start with, “You’re not crazy. There’s no such thing as crazy. You are not making stuff up in your head. Anxiety’s not in your head. It’s a body response. It’s like a physiological thing. You can’t just think your way out of feeling anxious. And there are ways of working with it.” It’s like I’m an electrician for the alarm system that’s going off all day every day. Let’s rewire it, but you’re not broken and you’re not crazy.

NATALIE: Yes. I love that. Okay, so I noticed too, you talked about the difference between anxiety, fear, and worry, and I thought that was fascinating and something that I think we should all know. What is the difference?

BRITT: And I’m not just being nerdy about words — the language that we use to describe our dilemmas is really important, because if we’re using the wrong language, we’re going to end up missing the mark and then blaming ourselves and spinning and, “I’m doing all the things — it’s not working. What’s wrong with me?” So anxiety, fear, and worry — very different things. Anxiety is this very global, giant, “Something is amiss. I don’t know what. it could get me at any time.” It’s like this giant monster that we have no sense of, and it’s around us and, “I’m flooded by my anxiety,” and the language we use speaks to that. “I just feel like anxiety is going to attack me. It’s like this giant monster.”

Okay, well, sometimes anxiety is just, “I am afraid of something happening.” That’s not anxiety. If there’s a global pandemic and I am concerned that if I get sick, I’m going to lose my job and my home, that’s not anxiety. That’s a fear, and that’s a reasonable fear. Fear is, “This thing is about to happen or it could happen, and I have feelings about it.” It’s a lot easier to manage our fears than to try to figure out what to do about anxiety, because it’s just too big. So I always tell people, if we can turn your anxiety into a fear and then we figure out what your choices are, and if it’s possible… It’s not always possible, but if we can get that fear down to a worry, which is like diet fear. A worry is fear that’s not so perilous that we can’t make choices. And that way, we actually can access our sense of power and choice. Because nothing will spin anxiety faster than feeling powerless and like there are no choices. The medicine for anxiety is always, “What choices are available to you? Of those, what feels like something you can say ‘yes’ to today?” Otherwise, you’re just sitting in the path of the anxiety hurricane, and there’s nothing to be done. 

NATALIE: Yes. So if I’m hearing you right, it’s like anxiety is like a cloud of nebulous, “You’re not really sure what’s going on.” And then you work to figure out, “What exactly is this?” You bring it down so you can actually look at it. Even if you could put it on paper, if you could write down the words and get it on paper and that’s how you bring it down more specifically. Because then you can do something about it.

BRITT: Exactly. And I have it — I have social anxiety. But if I just have social anxiety globally, well, then I’m just out of luck. This is just what I have. But if it’s, “When I am in a work situation, I feel afraid that if I say the wrong thing, I’m going to get fired,” that will give me some choices and some interventions versus, “I have social anxiety.” And I do. If I go to a party and I have social anxiety, I need to narrow that down to, “I’m afraid I’m going to get stuck talking to this person that makes me feel icky,” or “I’m afraid that no one will want to talk to me, and then I’ll be rejected and abandoned.”

We can do something with those specifics versus social anxiety as a global whole. There’s nothing to be done except just sit there and feel like crap. It’s not minimizing the pain. It’s changing the language to make it as specific as possible so that we can access our choices. 

NATALIE: Yeah, I love that. Okay, so one of the quotes that you put in your book was from Scott Peck and I love it, and I just thought, I’ve got to get it on this podcast because people are going to just love it. It’s this. This is a profound truth. “Mental health is a commitment to reality at all costs.” So can you talk about that? 

BRITT: Yeah. That one’s not a fun one, because there’s a lot of things about reality that are hard and that are painful and that are immutable. There’s certain things we can’t change. You know, if you have a child who is sick and that wasn’t something that you planned for, now that is the reality, and that’s hard and that’s painful. And we jump through hoops and we create very, very intense situations in our efforts to… And I was a drug addict, so I’m not shaming anyone. I’m, again, captain of this team. I mean, I smoked meth. Not everyone does that. But we all have things that we do, whether it’s what I did or binge-watching a show for ten hours and ignoring everything and everything in between. In our efforts to avoid our pain, we often create more pain. 

And again, it’s not a shaming thing, it’s just a fact. It’s like, as unpleasant and uncomfortable and as awful as reality can be, an uncomfortable reality is always preferable to the shiny lie that we’re believing or that we’re telling ourselves. So uncomfortable truth — always better than shiny lie. It’s not fun and it’s messy and it’s gross and it’s painful. And uncomfortable truth held up against shiny lie will win every single time. 

NATALIE: Yes, yes. I always say you have to fly into the storm. You’ve got to fly right in there. 

BRITT: Oh yeah. 

NATALIE: Okay. So in chapter two, you talk about the hidden benefits or the rewards of staying stuck. And I actually want to read a quote here, because I think it applies to so many of our listeners. You write, “If it was easy for those in abusive relationships to leave, we would all do it. As any gambler can attest, the promise of a reward creates a cycle of repetition. These women feel stuck because they are afraid to start over. They believed they needed a white knight to come and rescue them, a myth that many women, including me, fall prey into believing.”

And I just want to interrupt here and just say that sometimes we can even spiritualize who that white knight is and make it be God, like God’s going to be the white knight that’s going to come and rescue us. I personally believe and teach that God empowers us to rescue ourselves. But anyway, let me finish reading this:

“As someone who has been stuck in a violent relationship, I understand the fear of starting over. I understand the desire to outsource the job of rescuer. I also understand how even the most traumatic and abusive relationships provide rewards. If I’m being brutally honest, I’ll admit I tolerated toxic behaviors in exchange for the rewards of community esteem, financial security, and companionship. But while many domestic violence survivors stay in dangerous relationships, abuse is never, ever, ever the fault of the person being abused. No one gets to say, ‘You deserved to be abused because you chose to stay and receive the hidden benefits.’ No.” 

And you give us a lot of examples of the benefits to staying stuck in your book. And I wondering if you can give us a couple here and also talk about what we do then with that visceral desire to hang onto those benefits that keep us from actually being able to move forward then? 

BRITT: It’s tricky, and for me to write those words that you just spoke, I had to work through a decade of shame of, “Oh my god, I stayed well past the expiration date of this relationship, not just because I was helpless…” I mean, some people are. In my case, I had choices. I could have left. I wasn’t beholden in any financial way. We didn’t have children together in these relationships. So, “Oh my god, I stayed because there were hidden benefits” was one of those very uncomfortable truths.

But if mental health is a commitment to reality, that’s the reality. And we have to de-shame and normalize it. Again, abuse, it’s not my fault. I didn’t deserve to get beat because I stayed because I liked having money and companionship, but those hidden benefits that we’re not willing to admit, how can I deal with my fear of financial insecurity if I don’t admit I have it? How can I deal with my fear of abandonment if I don’t admit I have it? And some of the benefits of staying stuck, including in bad relationships, are image preservation, especially in the spiritual communities. I did not believe in divorce. I did not believe in giving up. I don’t believe in those things because those things are not “spiritual.”

So to say, “Oops, I’m in a relationship that no longer works,” is very humiliating and was not awesome. And having to do that over and over and over again even more not awesome. So preserving an image — relational equilibrium. If you have shared children and friends and finances, leaving that, no matter how good it is to leave, is going to mean a huge disruption in the equilibrium. And that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but it is a benefit of not doing it that we need to talk about. 

Financial resources: lots of people — not everyone, and I’ll speak for myself — stay because of the money, and that sucks and it’s icky, but it’s true. So it’s like, okay, let’s de-shame it. Let’s just name it so we can… Dr. Dan Siegel says, “Name it to tame it,” so fine. You know, if I name it, then I can tame it. There’s a lot of reasons, these benefits — having to start life all over again. You know, I left a long-term relationship and moved to a new city and basically burned my life to the ground and started over. That sucked. Until I was willing to face the, “Okay, this is going to suck, but the shiny lie is not working for me and the uncomfortable truth is better,” then you don’t make changes.  And so in a very non-shaming way, we need to say, “All right, what am I getting out of this? And I can’t say ‘nothing,’ because there’s always a benefit.”

NATALIE: Yes. So I’m going to go back to one of those little five-minute challenges, because here’s an example of one that you could actually use. And when you’re done listening to this episode, you can go and do this little exercise in relation to what she just said. This little exercise starts out by saying, “Write down the behavior that you keep doing that is keeping you stuck.”

So one example could be… I know one that I used to do on repeat was try to explain my feelings to my ex-husband over and over again in the hopes that he would miraculously, for some reason, all of a sudden start to hear and understand what I was saying. And I did it even though he never did hear or understand. I just kept doing it like a bad habit, and it almost always got me into trouble, got us into an argument or whatever. So that’s the first step. 

Number two, “Write down the costs of continuing that behavior.” Number three, “Write down the benefits of continuing that behavior.” And number four, “Write down the benefits of changing that behavior.”

It’ll take you five minutes to think through this, and it will give you so much insight into just one little thing that you feel like, “Oh, I wish I didn’t keep doing this.” I would literally be in a conversation with him, and I would know exactly where it was going to go. In my head, I’d be like, “I know this is where it’s going to go, and I know what’s going to happen at the end of it,” and I just would do it. It’s almost like I would get on the rollercoaster and I would just ride the rollercoaster to the end, even though I knew it was going to go down the same hills and around the same curves. It was ridiculous. But I mean, I shouldn’t say that. Now I’m shaming my past self. 

BRITT: No shame. No shame.

NATALIE: But anyway. Okay, so let’s talk about shadow intelligence. You gave a quote by Carl Jung who said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” So tell us about shadow intelligence and how we can make our unconscious conscious. 

BRITT: I used to have such a barrier to any of this type of work. You know, one of my stops on my path was in a very, very religious, very churchy community that was like, “You do not speak of such things because those are bad.” And so in my work now, it’s really important to me to… There’s nothing wrong with “woo” if that’s your jam, and that’s fine, but if we want to take it out of the esoteric, spiritual “woo,” all shadows mean are light is blocked and then there’s a shadow that’s cast. So if there’s an object blocking the light, you’re going to see a shadow.

Fine. Psychological shadows aren’t anything mystical. All psychological shadows are is anywhere your awareness is not available to you — anywhere that your awareness is blocked. All of the ways we do that — denial or suppression or avoidance or distraction. We all create psychological shadows because we all have stuff we don’t want to see. So fine. Nothing “woo” or mystical about it. 

Shadow intelligence is sort of my play on the idea of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the degree to which you cannot speak and identify what you’re feeling. Fine. Shadow intelligence is, are you willing to look at those things that are creating blocks to your awareness? And Jung talks about… He wasn’t the first to talk about it. I just like his work — you know, shadow work is the way of becoming conscious of the stuff that we don’t want to deal with. So unconsciousness and consciousness are all very wordy, so let’s just talk about what we’re talking about. Like, are you ready to deal with the stuff that you’ve been avoiding? That’s shadow work. 

NATALIE: I love that. I need to start using that terminology too, because I like it way better than what I’ve been using. All right, so we’re talking about getting unstuck, so we have to talk about motivation. And a common theme I hear among survivors is that they feel dead inside. They get to this place in their relationship where they just give up. They don’t feel confident in even their ability to be able to move forward. So they would say, “I’ve lost my motivation and I’ve just given up.” So what would you say to them about that? 

BRITT: This is my rant that I will rant as long as I have a platform. There’s no such thing as an unmotivated person. You know, that state of “I give up,” which I get — because I’ve been there multiple times — is not a moral failing. It’s not a character flaw, it’s not a lack of willpower, and it’s not a lack of motivation. There’s a thing that happens in your brain when it’s overwhelmed — it goes into shutdown. It’s the freeze response. There’s a science term for it, but let’s just call it a brain in a freeze response isn’t going to feel like doing anything. You’re not going to feel like, “Let me crush those goals and let me hit my to-do list and make my exit strategy and get up,” let alone “Let me dismantle this life that I’ve built and start over.” So we need to use accurate language. You’re not unmotivated — your brain is stuck in a freeze response. So you’re not trying to summon motivation — you’re trying to summon safety.

So when we say that we’re unmotivated, whether it’s getting out of a bad relationship or wanting to go to the gym, it’s not the right word. If I don’t want to go to the gym, it’s not because I’m unmotivated, it’s because right now, I am more motivated by comfort than by my long-term goals of fitness. And so we’re always motivated by something.

It’s like actors: What are you motivated by? You’re never not motivated. If I’m staying in this relationship, it’s because I am motivated to conserve my energy because I am too tired today to do anything that needs to be done to get out of it. Okay, fine. Again, with that language, we can access your choices. Fine. What feels easier today? Because if you’re just unmotivated, then you are the problem. If it’s, “My brain is stuck in freeze; I’m motivated to conserve energy; I don’t have the bandwidth to do everything,” okay, fine. What’s the smallest “Yes,” we can get you to today, and then we bank that. And then we do another, and then we do another. But there’s no such thing as “unmotivated.” It’s just, “I’m either motivated to do what I think I should be doing,” or “My brain is motivated to do something else.” 

NATALIE: Yeah, I love that. Beautiful. All right, so now I want to talk about forgiveness, and you have a wonderful way of looking at and talking about forgiveness. And I want you to tell us what it is, because in our religious environments, we hear all the freaking time, every time we want to set a healthy boundary or create some space between us and something that’s toxic, “Well, you need to forgive and be thankful for what you’ve been given.” And that keeps many of us stuck in shame and guilt. 

BRITT: And fear. You know, “Forgive your fellow man or else your Father in heaven will not forgive you.” It’s like, “‘Forgive or you’re going to hell’? Oh my god. Like, holy crap, that’s bad. That’s really bad. Therefore, I must forgive.” And you know, the cheap grace that “I forgive, I let it go, and I release it.” Okay, so let’s talk. I’m so glad you brought this up. Because I’m not anti-forgiveness and I’m not pro holding grudges.

NATALIE: Right! 

BRITT: But I am pro, “Let’s commit to what’s real.” Forgiveness is a spiritual principle and one that I’m all about, but forgiveness is not required to heal trauma, forgiveness is not required to create new brain pathways, and here’s the kicker: Forgiveness is not possible if your brain is on fire. So if someone had… And I used to do this in relationships. It’s like someone would do something bad to me, and because I’m a spiritual person, I forgive them.

It’s like, yeah, that’s cute, that’s a charming story, but forgiveness is a decision, and our decision making is impaired when our brains are on fire. So forgiveness comes after the healing process. We’re all taught in the church world, “Forgive in order to heal.” No, no, no. Heal yourself and then deal with the question of forgiveness.

NATALIE: I am so glad you said that. That is incredible.

BRITT: I’m not saying don’t forgive. I’m saying you can’t physiologically, biologically forgive when your brain’s forgiveness switches are turned off. It’s like, heal yourself up first. And then the forgiveness thing is a lot more clear, and what you do about forgiveness is a lot less threatening if your brain’s healed up first. And you don’t need forgiveness to heal a brain that has been injured by trauma or violence or addiction or abuse or whatever. It’s just not part of the physical healing process. Do that after. 

NATALIE: Yes. I can 100% attest to that in my own life and in the lives of the women I’ve seen that have gotten out of their relationships and then been able to forgive post-abuse. All right, so I was told by my family of origin — which, there was some emotional abuse there — and my abusive ex that I was always overreacting. So if I brought up a concern because I was more vocal and I would bring up things… I would be like, “Wait a minute, I think somebody cheated there” or “Wait a minute, I think someone told a lie there,” or I would point things out, but it would be minimized or dismissed. 

And then sometimes I would feel desperate to be heard and I would raise my voice, I would try to be seen, and then I would feel terrible and would slink back into my corner, and I would feel ashamed and I would feel like a little girl. I know you talk about the emotional adulthood versus emotional childhood and the overreacting that may… You know how that comes into play there? Can you talk about that a little bit? Because I think I am not the only one.

BRITT: No. Well, certainly when I dated somebody who was unfaithful and I would lose… And again, I’m not justifying my reactions to their behavior. We’re all responsible for our own choices. However, it really wasn’t overreacting for me to flip out when I found out that they were cheating. If your reaction matches the injury, that’s not an overreaction. It’s like, “Oh, you’re overreacting,” you know, because I would find an email. It’s like, “No, I’m really not. You’re just gaslighting and lying to me.” So my reaction makes sense.

That scenario aside, there’s no such thing as an overreaction. Let’s say that we just met. Let’s say you give me a weird look, and suddenly I’m feeling shame and I’m reminded of the time that my sister looked at me in this… I’m just making stuff up. That’s not me overreacting. It’s just that my reaction is mismatched. So if I’m reacting at a level ten to a level one situation, I’m not overreacting. It’s just this reaction doesn’t belong to this situation. So then it’s not, “Why am I overreacting?” It’s, “Oh, I wonder what this reaction belongs to.” Like, do you remember that game of memory where you would flip over the cards and match them? 

NATALIE: Yes!

BRITT: The card is a match to something. So your reaction is always going to match something. There’s no such thing as an overreaction — it’s just a mismatched reaction. 

NATALIE: Yeah, yeah. Oh, this is so good. I love this episode. I know everyone’s like, “I’ve got to listen to this episode again.” Okay, so I was eventually excommunicated from my church, but when I was in the process of thinking about divorcing my ex and the church was kind of threatening me with excommunication if I went that far, I did begin to have panic attacks at random times. I didn’t even know what they were. But I would be driving my kids to school in the car, and all of a sudden I would start to feel dizzy and nauseated, and I would start to feel like I was going to black out. And a couple times I would have to even pull the car over because I was afraid I was going to faint and then the car would go careening off the bridge or something.

So eventually I did go to… My sister’s like, “You have to go to the doctor. Something’s wrong with you.” And I found out that they were panic attacks. And I got put on anti-anxiety meds, which did help me. Now, I’m not on medication anymore, and I haven’t had a panic attack in years, but there still is a part of me who’s kind of terrified of experiencing those kinds of attacks again. And you have a beautiful way of reframing this phenomenon that I’d like you to tell us about. 

BRITT: And again, I’m not minimizing it. I’ve had those too. When I lived in LA, I was having a panic episode on a giant multi-lane freeway, and I’m like, “Oh my god.” I’m smoking my cigarette, I’ve got my Diet Coke. I’m like,”I have to get to the side of the road — I’m going to die!” And it was awful. And it’s so important to know panic doesn’t attack us. It feels like an attack because it feels awful. But if we tell ourselves, “I’m having an attack,” if we think there’s something inside us that’s out to get us, that’s going to ramp up the symptoms. 

So we have to change the language. You’re not having a panic attack. Just say, “I’m having panic — I’m panicking. This is a panic episode or incident.” Just take the word “attack” off, because just that one word “attack” is going to spike our anxiety even more. So it’s not going to “magic” it, but it will take a little bit of the pressure off. You’re not being attacked. Your panic is there because it thinks you’re in danger.

And the fact is, when you’re being shunned — and I’ve experienced the shunning phenomenon; it’s super unpleasant — biologically, if it was thousands of years ago and you were shunned, you would die. And so we have brains that need each other. We need connection. We need community. And when we’re threatened with the prospect of losing our community, our bodies are going to go, “Uh oh, we’re going to die.” Now, the problem is our brains are beautiful, but they’re not always accurate in when they decide… I don’t know why on the 101 my brain decided to have a meltdown that day. 

NATALIE: Right?!

BRITT: But it did. And so the worst thing to do is, “Why is this happening? What’s wrong with me? Why am I having an attack?” Just assume that your brain is freaked out because it feels unsafe. So working with panic is about safety — what people, what places, what thoughts, or what things help you feel safe and resourced? Use them versus “Why” and “What’s wrong with me?” 

NATALIE: Yeah. Those are the questions that I had. I do want to say that your last chapter has a game, and I thought about going into it, but I think I’m just going to leave it as a teaser. There is a game at the end of her book. And you’re going to all want to know how to play the game, but you’re going to have to go get the book to read about the game, okay? 

And I also want to say that Britt’s Instagram is on fire, and everybody needs to follow her. Well, you have over 50,000 followers. There’s a reason for that, you guys. So what is your Instagram handle?

BRITT: It’s my name — @brittfrank. And “Britt” has two “T’s.”

NATALIE: Yep. And then Frank is spelled… 

BRITT: …like the hot dog. 

NATALIE: There you go. I am so thankful for your book and for your work. Do you have anything else that you’d want these listeners to know about — where they can find you other than Instagram, or you have a website, I know. Anything else you wanna tell them about yourself or your work?

BRITT: So Instagram, that’s where I spend all my boundaryless time scrolling. Come say “Hi.” My website is scienceofstuck.com, and I will scream from the rooftops about how we’re not crazy even when we feel the craziest that we’ve ever felt. There’s no such thing as crazy. And if you’re spiritual, God’s not mad at you — that’s the other one I’m big on. When we project our stuff onto God, we forget that God is not our abusive spouse or our abusive parents. And God’s not mad that we’re tripping out and losing our minds half the time. It makes sense that we flip out when faced with the things that we’re faced with as humans. 

NATALIE: Yeah. The other thing I want to tell people about on your Instagram account is that you have this guy who’s coming in and drawing pictures and reading your book, so you get to hear parts of her book and watch the pictures, which is great for the brain. It totally connects the concepts with imagery, and they’re phenomenal. So even for that alone, you have to go and see her Instagram account. They’re kind of interspersed throughout. 

BRITT: He has a TikTok account, and I can give it to you to put in the show notes.

NATALIE: Absolutely.

BRITT: Someone sent this to me. I don’t know this guy. He just randomly picks self-help books and then does entire illustrations while he is… So he sums up the chapters with these hand-drawn… It’s amazing. 

NATALIE: It is. 

BRITT: And so he’s illustrated most of the chapters of “The Science of Stuck” with these narrations, and they’re brilliant and they’re all on his TikTok. I have a few of them on my Instagram, but I’ll give you the link to his so you can see them all.

NATALIE: Okay, that sounds good. Yeah, because I did follow the link over to his Instagram. I think there’s only like twenty pictures.

BRITT: There’s no posts. All his stuff is on TikTok. 

NATALIE: Yeah. Okay. I did not know that. All right, that makes sense. I will include that link as well. And then also I want to say that Britt has agreed, right before this episode, she agreed to come in and do a Q&A with the Flying Higher ladies. So Flying Higher is the group that I do for divorced Christian women. So if you’re already in Flying Higher, just know that she’s going to be coming in in February. We’re going to read her book together that month, and she’s going to come in and spend an hour with us just answering your questions and hanging out with you and chit chatting about her book and the things that you learned in it and anything else you want to talk about. So thank you for being willing to do that, Britt. 

BRITT: Yeah, I’m excited for that. That’s going to be fun. Grab your coffee. Real talk is coming.

NATALIE: That sounds awesome. All right, you guys. That’s all I have for you today. I wish you a very happy New Year. Thank you so much for listening, and until next time, fly free.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    I ❤️ this!! I was sad when it ended I’m totally buying your book, Britt. Thank you ladies!

    Reply

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