Billy and Brian sit down with Dr. Yvette Erasmus and listen to her eloquently break down communications style and how being a more compassionate communicator can lead to deeper, more meaningful relationships. This is a MUST listen! One of our favorite interviews to date!
As a teacher, writer, psychologist, and consultant with a Master’s Degree in Education and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, Dr. Yvette’s unique background as a global citizen makes her uniquely able to help others bridge the gaps between heart, head, body, and soul. Her programs integrate core insights from multiple wisdom traditions and offer various programs for community learning as well as one-on-one consulting and therapy.
Like what you heard from Dr. Yvette Erasmus? Contact her at:
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Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. Join your hosts, Billy and Brian, a couple of average dudes who will serve as your armchair life coaches, as we share our life experiences — both the good and the bad — in an effort to help us all better understand how we can enjoy and make the most of the life we have left to live in a more meaningful way. Take a deep breath, embrace the present, and journey with us through The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Billy: Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I'm your host, Billy. And as always, I'm joined by my good friend, Brian on the Bass. Brian, how are you doing over there, man?
Brian: I am brilliant.
Billy: Oh, brilliant.
Billy: Why are you so brilliant, sir?
Brian: I shine brightly.
Billy: You do shine brightly today.
Brian: I know.
Billy: And it's not just the light coming off of your forehead.
Brian: That could be a lot of it, though. My forehead is as large as a billboard. I should sell advertising on my forehead, because it's so large.
Billy: We should do a drive-in movie.
Brian: On my forehead, we could.
Billy: That could be a bus trip. Oh, that was me. I'm so sorry. I was wondering if you felt brilliant because we just had the most mind-blowing conversation that we have had with any of our guests. Our guests have been like home runs this whole time.
Brian: This is grand slam, home run.
Billy: This is grand slam, home run. We had the distinct honor of speaking with Dr. Yvette Erasmus. Just so you get an idea as to how good this conversation went, it really wasn't the conversation because Brian and I didn't say anything. We just sat and listened to her, especially in the second segment, when she started breaking down the four quadrants of compassionate communication. As she started talking about the biology of communication, we just listened the whole time intently. We were riveted the entire time because she's such a fascinating person and such a dynamic speaker.
Brian: I'm going to be honest. She threw so much at us, that a lot of it was me just trying to sort it out and process it as she was talking about it. Because I'm like, this is amazing. Tons of information, it gets your brain going.
Billy: She knows that so well. She speaks about it so effortlessly.
Brian: Oh, yeah.
Billy: Brian even says, "I'm going to have to go back and listen to this episode five times." I encourage you all. If there's an episode that you listen to multiple times, let this be that episode. I'm so excited for you to hear this episode. Please enjoy our interview with Dr. Yvette Erasmus.
Today's guest is Dr. Yvette Erasmus. As a teacher, writer, psychologist, and consultant with a master's degree in education and a doctorate in clinical psychology, Dr. Yvette's unique background as a global citizen makes her uniquely able to help others bridge the gaps between the heart, head, body and soul. Her programs integrate core insights from multiple wisdom traditions and offer various programs for community learning, as well as one-on-one consulting and therapy. She has an assortment of introductory programs, core offerings, private sessions, and specialized workshops at www.yvetteerasmus.com. Thank you for joining us, Dr. Yvette. How are you today?
Dr. Yvette: Hi. I'm delighted to be here with you today.
Billy: Yeah, we very much appreciate that you're here. I have heard you speak a couple times in the past. I told you this before. Sincerely, you are one of my favorite people to listen to, because you have such an amazing perspective on life. Every time I hear you speak, I'm like, okay, now I'm going to start thinking about that area a little bit differently.
So, thank you for being here. I think everyone's going to appreciate hearing your take on things. One thing that we do is, we like to ask our guests 10 roles that they play in their life. Those 10 roles for you are—
Dr. Yvette: Okay. A writer, I do a lot of writing. I am a psychologist. That speaks for itself. I also do a lot of coaching and consulting. I'm often invited to speak. It's probably my least favorite role because it causes me the most stress. I do a lot of teaching and educating. I have a deep, deep love of animals so I see myself as an animal, wilderness lover. I own my own business. I'm a cat owner. I'm a mother, world traveler, lifelong student seeker, journeyer, explorer. These are all the things I would probably choose and focus on.
Billy: Wonderful. So, the three that you chose that you're most looking forward to in your second half are—
Dr. Yvette: Travelling the world again. My daughter will be graduating high school in a month or two. I feel like I am finally liberated. Back to me. So, I'm having a big shift coming up that I'm really looking forward to. Then the exploring and journeying, both inside and outside — internal worlds and external worlds.
Billy: So, can you talk a little bit about what you're looking forward to as an empty nester?
Dr. Yvette: Absolutely.
Billy: What are some of those thoughts? What are some of those thoughts that have crossed your mind? Like, oh my goodness. Because some people have a hard time transitioning into being an empty nester. It doesn't sound like you're going to have that difficult of a transition.
Dr. Yvette: Well, talk to me in six months’ time when I'm grieving and lonely. This moment in time, all I can focus on is, I'm going to have my house to myself. I can have breakfast whenever I want. I don't have to get up and make sure that we're getting to school on time. I'm not doing homework in the evenings. I'm not following up with school emails. I just see a lot of space, and time, and freedom, and travel.
She'll be 18. She'll be graduating. She'll be going to college. I'll feel like I can actually go away for a weekend, if I want to go away for a weekend. I can actually grab a last-minute flight somewhere, and fly off somewhere for four days if the inspiration hits me, without worrying about who's going to look after whom. So, I feel very excited about the impending freedom.
Billy: Brian, as you hear Yvette talk about that, how does that make you feel? Brian has three boys under the age of 11?
Dr. Yvette: Wow.
Brian: I can relate. Right now, we're in the thick of it. So, that sounds pretty darn tantalizing to have a little bit of freedom.
Dr. Yvette: Yes. Doesn't it?
Dr. Yvette: I think the trick is to enjoy every stage that you're in.
Brian: Absolutely. Yeah, of course.
Dr. Yvette: There is that, enjoying every stage. I'm currently enjoying the preparing for graduation parties, preparing for graduation, preparing for summers.
Billy: Is your daughter going to school close, or is she going out of state?
Dr. Yvette: My delightful child has a hard time making any decisions. So, she is unclear about what she would like to do next. One of her options is to take the entire year off and live with her father in Egypt for a year. So, I am just staying out of the mix and telling her whatever she decides will be great. She's on her journey. She needs to follow her inspiration, and I'm trying to keep my micromanaging self offline.
Billy: But one of the options is not stay at home with mom.
Dr. Yvette: No, that is not one of the options. This journeying, exploring while traveling applies to the both of us. That is what I'm insisting upon.
Billy: So, when you talk about journeyer, tell us more. What do you mean by journeyer? Because that can be a lot of different things. So, elaborate on that.
Dr. Yvette: Well, I just booked a trip with my very closest friend to go to Ireland this summer. We're doing a walking tour, six days of hiking on the western coast of Ireland. She's Irish. I'm not. I'm just going along because it sounds like fun. I've never been to Ireland. I love walking, and I love being out in nature. So, that's our little kick off traveling.
But yeah, getting to go and see the places that I've read about, heard about — I mean, I've done a lot of traveling in my life. But then, I had a child. Everything went on hold. My priorities shifted for 18 years, which was wonderful and lovely. But I almost feel like I get to pick up my life again, where I put it on hold 18 years ago.
So, a lot of the things that used to inspire me, I feel like I can bring back on line in a whole new way. So, that's the external piece. There are many places I still want to visit. The internal piece is the depths work and the interior exploring work that my work is built around. That's my form of play. All of the shadow aspects of yourself and the blind spots you haven't yet on earth, and the patterns you haven't yet detoxed, that internal liberation that I really seek in my own quest for inner peace.
Billy: Brian has been to Ireland. What suggestions do you have for Yvette?
Brian: I was going to ask. Where precisely? Do you know exactly where you're going on the western — is it Galway or like down by the Cliffs of Moher?
Dr. Yvette: I think we start in Galway, and then I think we're going west then up. It's hiking all the way. That's how I'm thinking of it — up. That's as much as I know.
Brian: That’s exactly where I was when I was there. We went — well, we took a detour into southern Ireland when we got there and got completely lost. But finally, when we arrived at our destination, it was Galway and then a little town called Clifden, which is about 40 minutes or an hour and a half, I don't remember, west of Galway. So, if you're going around there, it is absolutely gorgeous. It's so cool. You're going to have so much fun.
Dr. Yvette: Yes, I cannot wait. I am really looking forward to it. It's the beginning of much more of this.
Brian: The people are so wonderful. Then you get into looking at the castles and all that kind of stuff. It is so great. I'm excited for you.
Dr. Yvette: Thank you.
Billy: Are you a bucket list traveler? Are you making a list of places you want to go?
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, I'll tell you something funny. When I was in college, I must have been what? 20. I was about 20. I had a piece of flip chart paper in my dorm room. I had made a list of all of the things I wanted to do before I die. They were numbered. I don't have that list anymore, but it is burned in my memory. I can still read through that list. It's on hold.
There's not that much left on it. Going to the Amazon River Basin is one of them. Getting back to the Okavango swamps in Botswana is another one. Getting to Kilimanjaro would be one of them. All of my things have to do with nature, nature and hiking, and being out in the wilderness. Getting to New Zealand and Australia, these are on my list. I can still see it. I had ride camels around the pyramids — done. Swim with dolphins — done. Become an author — done. Get a doctoral degree — done. There's a lot of stuff I've accomplished that was on that list.
Billy: Oh, my goodness. Okay. We're going to pause here for a second. Let's talk about some of these experiences that were on this list, because I'm very much a bucket lister. We've talked about this.
Dr. Yvette: Oh, are you?
Billy: Yes, my two biggest goals right now in life are to paddle board off of the coast of every continent, and in every ocean.
Dr. Yvette: Nice.
Billy: I've only done North America and the Atlantic Ocean, so far. But I have Asia and the Indian Ocean in my sight, very soon. So, can you talk about — I want to hear about camel back or riding camels?
Brian: Oh, yeah, in Egypt. How did that come about? What was it like?
Dr. Yvette: Well, I lived in Egypt for five years.
Brian: Oh, wow.
Dr. Yvette: Yes, that's how that came about. There’re so many opportunities for riding camels, especially around the pyramids. It's a big tourist trap. Then every time somebody comes to visit you when you live in another country, you'd take them to all to the tourist things, and you'd do all of the riding camels. These were all the different things. Scuba diving in the Red Sea was another thing that I've always wanted to do. So, I got certified and did that.
Billy: I like how she explained camelback riding around the pyramids. It's like going to the State Fair. You know, it's just something you do when you're in Egypt.
Dr. Yvette: It's what you do when people come to visit. I love riding camels. It's like being on a ship a little bit. It's a lot of rocking, which was very — I hadn't expected that.
Billy: Did you have friends who would get sick on them?
Dr. Yvette: No. If we were ever on them long enough.
Brian: Camel? I've never heard anybody getting motion sick on a camel. But then, again, I don't know that many people that have ridden a camel.
Billy: Neither do I. That's really fascinating. Did you say you went swimming with dolphins, too?
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, when I lived in Bali. I lived in Bali, in Indonesia, for a while. There was a hotel on the northern coast when we were there, who had gotten into dolphin rescue — dolphins that got caught in fishermen's nets. They had converted all of the swimming pools of their resort into saltwater pools. They had dolphins that they were rehabbing, that they had saved from the wild.
All I remember is that my daughter was three years old, and it was offseason. We were staying in the hotel, and nobody was there. The hotel owners had a daughter who was three years old, and they ended up playing. Next thing I know, we're invited to jump in the pool with all of the dolphins and feed them, and hang out with them. It was lovely. It was just magical. So, we went back there quite a few times and got to play with dolphins close up, which was delightful.
Billy: Okay. So, we've established that you lived in Egypt, and you've lived in Bali, in Indonesia. You do not have a Minnesota accent. You were born in South Africa, correct?
Dr. Yvette: Yes.
Billy: Where else have you lived?
Dr. Yvette: My first memories were in Malawi. After I was born in South Africa, we were in Malawi, which is in South Central Africa. I lived there until I was about six. Then I did elementary school in Germany, in Germain. So, we were in Germany until I was 10. Then South Africa, then LA. I went to high school in LA, Minnesota. I went to my undergrad at the U of M. Then Egypt, England. After that, I was in England for a while. Then Tucson, Arizona for a while, and then Bali, and then Minnesota. There you go. Those are the places.
Billy: So, what brought you back to Minnesota?
Dr. Yvette: My daughter was five years old. I was teaching at Bali international school. I had just landed my dream job as an international school teacher working at the International School of Kuala Lumpur, which is really where I'd always wanted to go and work. Then I found out that if we took the job and moved, that I would be teaching high school English at the high school campus. My daughter would be taking a school bus to the elementary school campus 20 minutes away. I couldn't get my heart wrapped around moving this little girl to a huge city, and being on a 20-minute bus ride at five years old, and being in elementary school far away from me while I'm working long days. I just couldn't get my head around that.
So, I turned the job down and thought I'll come back to the states for a year or two and regroup a little bit, and figure out what my next step is, and give her a bit more stability than I had as a child. So, my mother was living in — my mother and my sister were both in the Twin Cities. So, we came back here for a little bit. Then one thing led to another. You make connections, and you start doing work. Then you go back to school. Next thing you know, here, you still, buying a house and building a business. Except, fast forward, she's now 18. I get to start reinventing.
Billy: When she moves out, do you see yourself still staying here? Or are you like, okay, maybe I'll move somewhere else then?
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, the world is my oyster. I love my little house. I bought a lovely house. I love my house. I feel like I have a home base. She has a home base. We've got a home. We can leave a lot of stuff in one place, but we don't need to be here. We can be in and out as much as we want. So, I think that's very much what I envision — home basing in the Twin Cities and living for long periods of time in other places.
Billy: As you're talking about this, we can see the glow as you just are reflecting on the upcoming life that you have left live.
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, I'm so excited.
Billy: That's awesome. So, you also put explorer. I guess, how would you say that explorer differs from journeyer and world traveler?
Dr. Yvette: I think they're very much related. When I think of a journey, though, I think of it more like a quest, like there's a destination, or there's a deep intention. There's some directionality or intention to a journey. I think of it as having steps along the way. I don't know.
But exploring is a little, for me, more freeform. I've always thought that I would love to, one day, just go to an airport with a carry-on suitcase, wander around and figure out what inspiration hits me, and get on a plane. Buy a ticket, and just go and have no plan. Just follow the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. See where it takes you. So, that's a little bit more of an exploration to me. It's the following it from moment to moment, which I've never done, because I'm super controlling in some ways. But it's very appealing to me now to create more exploratory, adventure-oriented, inspired experiences.
Brian: You need to blog this for us all so we can follow your adventures. Because I am genuinely interested now in seeing where you — just because of where you've been already, I'm like, wow. This would be a fun story to follow.
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, you know, I would want to do it with someone. I would totally do that. But it's something that I think I've got to wait for somebody who wants to play in that way with me. Because doing it alone feels a little isolated. I know that people make a lot of friends and blah, blah, blah. But I think I'd wait until I found someone who wanted to play in that way.
Billy: I have nothing going on next year.
Dr. Yvette: Great.
Billy: So, let me know.
Dr. Yvette: Are you game?
Billy: I'm in. You want to go to the airport, and we just spin around and point? That's fine. I'll hang out. That sounds wonderful.
Dr. Yvette: I can start blogging and photo journaling. All is good.
Billy: Exactly. So, you talked about this loose form of exploring and traveling. Usually, when you travel, are you a, "We're going to be here at this time. We'll be here at this time, and go to this event at this time," or are you pretty freeform?
Dr. Yvette: You know, that's actually a great question. I used to be very structured and organized. I would have everything very planned out. Then I've had so many experiences where that just doesn't happen. All of these plans get thwarted by real life that I've really developed. I've developed a lot of humor about what life can throw at us, and a willingness to play with the unexpected.
I've learned to have a pretty rough plan. I have a sense of how I think things are going to go. Then I have — probably, the way I live now is I probably always have three contingency plans in my back pocket for when I need them, so that it doesn't stress me out when everything takes up 180. But I do like a plan. I like working the plan. I've just learned to make my plans more aims and intentions than needing to be micromanaged in a very particular way. Because that causes me great suffering when it doesn't go the way I was attached to.
Billy: Can you talk a little bit more about that? What do you mean by that?
Dr. Yvette: Well, psychologically, if I get very attached to my own idea of how things should go, or I get very attached to my preferred outcome and I couple my sense of well-being with it going a particular way or having a particular conditional outcome, it creates a lot of suffering and tension. The journey is less fun for me. Then when things inevitably as they do, life happens. It makes everything less enjoyable.
Whereas I've learned that if I know that what I want to do is learn new things, see new places, meet new people try something new, then even if the details get all wonky, I'm still accomplishing the goals. I'm still seeing something new, and I'm still seeing new people. It just didn't show up the way that I quite had thought it would. But I can enjoy it a lot more.
Brian: It sounds like you've learned to be more present, I guess.
Dr. Yvette: Absolutely. Yeah, being present in the moment and knowing that the here and now has everything I need is a big practice and reorientation from my younger years.
Billy: Well, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to continue our discussion here with Dr. Yvette Erasmus. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here talking about compassionate communication for deeper, more meaningful relationships with Dr. Yvette Erasmus, who has just been blowing us away with her life experiences. So far, we've really enjoyed that first segment.
Our first question here is, you have a unique background, which is an understatement after what we've just discussed. So, can you tell us more about how your own life experiences have shaped your work as a therapist?
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, well, I think for many of us who go into mental health work and therapy work, I think many of us come to it because we're trying to figure ourselves out and our own lives out, right? I don't want to speak for every therapist, but that does seem to be part of the theme.
My father was — both of my parents are white South Africans who grew up in apartheid white South Africa. The cultural heritage, if you're white in South Africa, is one of patriarchy and white privilege, and racism. That is deeply entrenched in the culture. It gets deeply internalized when you're brought up in this kind of culture.
My father came from an Afrikaans background. So, in South Africa, white people generally either speak Afrikaans or English. There's a lot of division between English and Afrikaans' culture. My father was Afrikaans. My mother was English speaking, white. My father grew up in a tobacco farm. My mother grew up in a highly-educated, liberal family. They had cultural differences just between the two of them.
Even though they both grew up as white people in a racist society that was very patriarchal, they came from very different cultural and political backgrounds. So, my mother was a nurse and a social activist and a community developer, and actively spoke against the government and apartheid policies, and did a lot of social justice work. While my father was a diplomat for the South African government, representing the status quo of white South Africa.
Brian: Oh, wow.
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, so, growing up in this household which was between two different languages, two different cultures, in a diplomatic family — that's partly why we travelled so much, and why we were in so many different countries. Because my father was stationed in different consulates — and then watching my mother and my father take increasingly divergent life paths. What that was like as a kid when you go to different parts of your extended family, you love all of them. They all represent different parts of who you are, but they don't go together.
Then living in apartheid, white South Africa, where you would live in white towns, and there would be white towns and black towns. There was institutionalized segregation, and having my mother actively defy the laws and take her two children into the townships.
As a kid, experiencing these — trying to hold all of those tensions of, "Am I safe? Is this okay? Is this not? What part of my family agrees with me? What part of my family doesn't? Where do I stand? How do I hold this — I think it really did set me up.
Then wait. I'll add. Not living in South Africa for 16 consecutive years — but being in and out in Malawi, other African countries, Germany, coming back — nothing ever felt stable. Nothing really got internalized, in a way, that it just became a part of my unquestioned identity. If anything, I think I've been questioning my identity since I was like five. Who am I? What language do I speak? Where do I belong? Where do I fit in? My answers to those questions as a kid were always nowhere. Nowhere. You don't belong anywhere. Nobody is like you.
At the same time, as I think I became a teenager, the answer became a little bit more like, well, everywhere. You're just a chameleon. You can just fit in in any place and camouflage. So, those experiences of identity development, of trying to hold very divergent points of view, and one being figuring out how your internal container needs to expand and flex and flow in order to maintain connections with people that you care about when they're very different from you, I think a lot of those experiences set me on a journey of trying to figure out what is universal to human beings. What does it take for us to live together in peace? How do we bridge massive ideological differences, and still share this planet? So, lots of those questions, I think, were ingrained in me from very early on.
Brian: We need your answer to that right now. The world needs your answer to that right now.
Billy: I was just going to ask you that. You see what is unfolding throughout the United States. I'm just curious what your thoughts are. Like Brian said, what's your response to that?
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, well, this is a very deep and complicated question. I'm not sure if I can do it justice, but I'll give you a few things. The two bodies of work that I found useful in my own development was integral theory. Ken Wilber is an American philosopher who's done a lot of mapmaking and a lot of integrating of many maps. He talks a lot about cultural and individual stages of development, and how we take perspective. He also talks about types of people and states of consciousness and stages of development. I find a lot of that body of work very orienting.
On a practical level, that's a really great roadmap for me. So, I draw a lot from integral theory. But on a very practical level, the work that has influenced me the most is the Nonviolent Communication work by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Mostly because it's a deceptively simple communication model, and a profoundly deep spiritual model about how we are meant to live together.
I think it's one of the most practical tools that I found to give people something that they can do on an individual level to feel like they're really changing the focus of the relationships that they're in, and, qualitatively, changing how they perceive themselves and other people. Because a lot of it begins with how we're thinking about ourselves and others, and what we're believing about ourselves and others, and then how we are either able or unable to really connect at the heart level with each other.
Billy: So, what parallels do you see between apartheid South Africa and where we are as a country in the United States?
Dr. Yvette: I see many, many parallels.
Brian: Wow. Really? That's very interesting.
Billy: It’s tragic in many ways.
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, very tragic parallels, yes. Absolutely. There's a lot that's been unfolding in the last five years where I've often said to friends of mine, I feel like I'm back in apartheid South Africa. I feel like a lot of what I've grown up with has become very salient and accepted rhetoric. I have a lot. I could say about that, but I'm not sure this is a very political show.
Billy: I think, just hearing you say that you see so many tragic parallels between apartheid South Africa and the United States says it all. It says it all.
Dr. Yvette: Yes.
Billy: We've got a lot of work.
Dr. Yvette: I will say one thing. I don't know how much I believe this is I'm thinking, but I'll say it anyway. I find racism much more difficult to deal with in the United States than I find it in South Africa. In South Africa, we have a very different kind of conversation. It's a little bit in your face. People aren't afraid to talk about it. Everybody acknowledges it. Everybody is an overstatement, but the cultural vibe around working with it is very different.
I don't know. I don't want to generalize the whole United States. But at least, in the Twin Cities, in Minnesota, and in the parts of the state that I’ve lived in, it feels like there's so much covert racism. It's so much more difficult to get at because there's so much denial and slipperiness around it. People are filled with so much shame, that it becomes very difficult to get a handle on it in any productive, constructive way.
Billy: In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X actually talks about how he respects white Southerners more so than white Northerners, because white Southerners will be racist to your face.
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, they're authentic. There's a realness and a directness. There's something you can work with. As much as you don't like it, you can work with it, with something that's expressed. When it's not expressed, and then we're pretending it's not there, it's just so much more difficult.
Billy: You offer a couple of different free courses on your website. One of them talks about how to let go of things that are not serving you.
Dr. Yvette: Yes.
Billy: So, I feel like this transitions into that a little bit because — can you talk a little bit more about the quadrants of relationships, and what role those play in compassionate communication? Especially when we talk about race, we need to be more compassionate. We need to be more empathetic. Because we don't have a deeper understanding of ourselves, that's where we fall short sometimes. So, I'm curious if you see a parallel there, if you can connect that.
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, I like the things you mentioned. I think we also need to have more constructive action that actually makes a difference on the ground. So, you asked about the four quadrants. I think you're talking about, in a communication model, we can think about communication falling into four different realms.
So, if you think about a grid that, on one axis, you have the axis of care, we can be caring or uncaring. Then on the other axis, we have the realm of skillfulness. We can be unskilled in our communication, and we can be skilled in our communication. So, these are the two things we want to be thinking about when we open our mouths, and we communicate with another person. Where am I in my level of care for this person, and where am I in my level of skillfulness around what it is that I'm trying to communicate?
So, if I don't care about you and I have low skill, my communication, my way of being in that relationship is likely to be pretty abusive. It can be abusive both actively — yelling at you, accusing you, attacking you, calling you names, overtly trying to control you — and it can also be a more covert or passive form of abuse, which is the stonewalling, and the silencing, and the freezing you out, and the denial, and the withdrawing. It can be an absence of something and both the presence of something.
The way I'm using the word abuse is to point to a relational frame where my main objective is to exert control over you. I will control the situation, and that I do it in such a way that you, whoever the you is, is unable to defend themselves against or protect themselves from. That's why we would call it sort of an abuse quadrant.
On the other hand, it could be that I really love you, I care about you so much. I care about our relationship. It really matters to me, and I'm really, really unskilled. I'm just speaking unconsciously. I'm speaking habitually. I'm speaking the way I was spoken to. I haven't done a lot of my own work, but I care so much. Here, we really have a lot of miscommunications. We just keep missing each other. We keep trying to communicate with each other, but we keep not aligning. There's no resonance, because I don't have a lot of skillfulness in my own awareness in language.
On the other hand, I could go to a lot of communication and relationship trainings, and I can get really clever. I can do lots of psychology degrees, and I can get lots of skills. I can learn neurolinguistic programming, and I can learn all kinds of tips and tricks around how to use language for persuasion. If I don't care about you — I'm using all of this skill but I don't care about you, your interests, who you are as a human being — now we're in the realm of manipulation. Now our relationships are characterized by a lot of manipulation.
So, the sweet spot that we're looking for is to have loads of skills, self-awareness, self-regulation, self-soothing, you've done your identity work. You healed your wounds. You've got yourself online. You've got your skillfulness. Plus, a lot of care for both people. I care about what I'm needing. I care about what you're needing. I care about my perspective. I can talk about it. I can share it with you. I can be completely online, and I can also take your perspective, especially when it's different from mine. I can include the diversity of how we may see the world really differently. Now we have collaborative, partnership-oriented communication and relationships. That's really what a lot of the work that I do. It's to help people get into that quadrant, and to figure out where they're needing some work.
Billy: That leads me to my next question. I imagine, it's easier for you to teach the skill than it is to get someone to care. I'm wondering how you manage that.
Dr. Yvette: Yes, that's such a great question. Because teaching goes with skill. Teaching and coaching is about skill development. But we develop care by healing. So, the reason that people don't care about somebody else is usually because there is a pain, an unresolved pain, that's blocking their care. That's where the therapy work comes in. It's to unearth what are the things that are stuck. What are the unhealed wounds? Where is your heart? Where have you defended your heart so much, and needed to shut down out of shame, guilt, embarrassment, fear, experiences that was so painful that you swore you would never get hurt that way, again. That's healing work.
The healing work can increase care. Maybe you still don't want to be with this particular person, but the healing work will help you live a more open-hearted life, where you're more available to your own heart, your own tenderness, your own emotional, tender, loving self. So, you can bring that part of you more on line. Then you can also be a lot more discerning about which people you'd like to share that with.
Billy: In the course that you offer on your website, you talk about how biology and socialization can get in the way of compassionate communication. So, I'm curious if you can elaborate on that.
Dr. Yvette: I'll give you just a simple frame, and then I'm going to come back to biology and socialization. I'll start with socialization. The way that most of us are raised, the cultures that many of us are raised in, I think of them as domination cultures.
In a domination culture, we care about hierarchy. The hierarchy happens in a triangle, where fewer and fewer people have access to more and more resources. The goal in a domination structure is to be on top. It's to get more rank, to get more power, to get more money, to get more access to resources, whatever those are. The way we do that is, we pit people against each other. We have people competing with one another. We are really in a dualistic frame of mind that you're either good or you're bad, or you're right or you're wrong. We play a lot in a domination culture with ideas of power over and power under. We have perpetrators and victims, and rescuers. We have very particular roles.
Then we are trained to see the world through a very particular question, which is the question of what is wrong? It doesn't matter what's happening. When you're in domination consciousness, you're thinking through the frame, what is wrong? When your child cries, they come in doors, and they're tearing up. They're crying about something. Every parent usually asks, "What's wrong?" It is our habitual way of relating to each other. It's through this frame.
There's only one of two answers. It's either you or me. If there's something wrong with you, I'm going to want to change you. I'm going to feel pretty self-righteous. I might feel angry and justified in my anger, because you're the problem. Then I'm going to help you see how you're the problem. I'm going to get angry and forceful about trying to get you to change.
Or, I internalize. I think the problem must be me. I'm too emotional. I'm too over-sensitive. I'm too defended. I'm too manic. I'm too whatever. Then I put myself in therapy, which is lovely, because these are easier people to work with very often. I get more depressed. I get more anxious. My self-esteem goes down, I have more shame. I have more guilt.
Then we switch places, usually, in relationships. First, I am a terrible person, and then you're a terrible person. Then our relationships are based on trying to balance this thing out. So, that is the cultural conditioning. The cultural conditioning is to see one another through a critical judgmental dualistic lens where we're diagnosing wrongness in ourselves and others all the time. We stay in our heads. We can tell each other very easily what we think about each other, especially the things we don't like. Then we come at one another with a lot of demand energy, where we are insisting that you must, you have to, and you should. Be a "good person" by my standards, and then everything will be better.
If I'm not doing that to you, I'm doing that to me. This is a realm where there's a tremendous amount of human suffering that gets cycled over and over and over. So, the compassionate communication model and the Nonviolent Communication model that Marshall Rosenberg developed is a way of reframing some of that. So, instead of asking the question, what is wrong, we train ourselves to ask the question, what would help?
So, what would help is not about going backwards and pathologizing everything. It's about getting into the moment right now, presencing what is arising between you and me right now, and asking ourselves and each other, what will help each of us? What is our next step? What will pull us forward in a direction that we really want? So, instead of trying to control one another, we're trying to connect with one another. That's the fundamental shift.
Billy: I love that. It feels like you're encouraging, or you're discouraging a deficit mindset by asking, what's wrong? You're encouraging a proactive in saying, how can I help? You just opened my eyes completely, too. Even just working with students, moving forward, as they come into my office — rather than saying what's wrong and putting them in that deficit mindset, asking them, "Well, how can I help? Tell me."
Dr. Yvette: What do you need right now?
Dr. Yvette: Right. So, in nonviolent communication, we're asking very basic questions. What is happening right now in this moment? What is arising in this moment? What am I feeling? What is alive in me? What am I feeling? What are you feeling right now? Is this about frustration, about sadness, about pain, about love, about delight, about curiosity? What is the feeling that is alive for each of us? What is the need that we each have? What's deeply important to me? Is this about meaning and purpose? Is this about belonging? Is this about appreciation? Is this about emotional safety? What’s coming up that is needed?
Then we make requests. We ask one another. We invite one another in a more loose way. Would you be willing to do this? Would it be possible for us to try such and such? I think what might help me is XYZ. Does that feel like something you can do? Do you feel inspired to do that or not? What gets in the way of you wanting to do that? It's a looser — you're honoring the dignity of the other person. So, the way that you make requests in nonviolent communication is by really centering people's ability to choose what they do and don't want to do, and having it be really important how people are feeling and what people are wanting.
In a domination system, we don't care about what people are feeling and what they're wanting. We find feelings inconvenient. What you want — unless it serves my interests or what my agenda is — I don't care about what you want. So, what we're trying to bring alive again in our relationships is this ability to be in the present moment, in the here and now, with one another, and ability to become aware of what is happening for each of us in this moment. Because all healing happens in the present moment. It doesn't happen in our storytelling of what happened once. Even though there is a place for that, there is a place for understanding the story, there is a place for getting into the narrative and understanding what happened, but that's not where we actually heal, or transform, or change. It doesn't change the quality of the relationship.
It can be part of an important roadmap that people need in their journey, but it's not the active ingredient. Does that make sense? It's an additive, perhaps necessary prerequisite. But it really is the intention to connect with one another's humanity, seeing each other's goodness, calling forth one another's hearts, and developing both the attention skills and the language skills and the perception skills that we practice, doing that with one another where real change can happen.
Brian: Yvette, I'm going to read all your books, I'm telling you. This is great. This is really amazing hearing this stuff and being able to put it into context like that. Because oftentimes, feelings are so hard to contextualize for people. But the way you put it is very organized. It's wonderful.
Dr. Yvette: Oh, I'm so glad, yeah. It's not my book. I teach other people's works. Definitely, look up the Nonviolent Communication work, which is what I'm drawing from. Then the biology piece, just to get back to that, we often perceive danger. When we perceive danger, like somebody is about to do something to me that I find painful, whether it's judge me — this is a very common one. They might judge me. I hear that a lot. Then my stress response system kicks in. Then my biology doesn't help me, because it puts me in a fight, flight, freeze mode. What happens is my child consciousness or my victim consciousness, I get put back into an earlier way of being which isn't my adult mature self. I start reacting out of all of my defenses. Then back in a domination system, because I'm seeing danger. Usually, I'm turning you — whoever the "you" is — into an enemy. This is a very disconnecting structure. It doesn't help us with relationships and healing.
So, that's the biology piece — learning how to work with your stress response system, learning how to become mindful in the moment and track what's happening in you and other people, learning how to slow things down and open our hearts, learning how to become a more emotionally, safe, and psychologically safe being that other people can relax around.
Billy: Do you use mindfulness, then, when you meet with clients?
Dr. Yvette: It depends on the client and what we're working on. But yes, a lot of mindfulness work. With some of my clients, we do quite a bit of getting back into your body. We'll do some guided work to just get your consciousness back into your body. Because so many of us have been taught to jump out of our bodies and into our minds, and that the only place that it's safe to be is to talk from one brain to another brain.
We can talk about our feelings, but we can't be in our feelings. So, some of the therapy work and the healing work is really about learning how to embody your full experience again, and then also developing the skill to talk about what you're experiencing, in a way that really connects you at a deep level with the people you care about.
Billy: Do you find that people default to answering the question, what's wrong, when you even respond with, tell me how I can help you?
Dr. Yvette: Always, yes. Even when I say, "What would help? How are you feeling? What are you needing," they'll say, "Well, the problem is that she just bla bla bla, bla." Then you know what you're beginning. You’re beginning with all of the cognitive analysis of what is wrong. If you're really practicing nonviolence, you first join people right there. You join people where they are at. Then you find the places where you can begin building the next step in bridging. This is the part of working with all of our parts, not making anything bad or wrong, and understanding that, absolutely, everything we do is our best attempt to meet a deep need that we have in that moment, and getting curious about what the need is when somebody stays in their mind and stays in ideas of wrongness, understanding that this is a safety system, that this is a habitual default way of being designed to perhaps help them get more understanding, help them get more clarity, help them find a new move.
Then you join them with that intention. Then you can begin exploring and journeying into the internal realms together. But you do it side by side, not from a top down, analytic pathologizing. I hear that a lot. Like, "Now you're back in your head again. Don't be in your head. You should be in your feelings." It just becomes more domination system but new content. So, we try to live it instead of just teach it.
Billy: We did a three-part series on the book The Male Brain by Louann Brizendine. She talks about how men are biologically prone to want to solve problems.
Dr. Yvette: Yeah.
Billy: So, as you talk about domination, I'm curious, as you talk to your female and male clients, do you see that? Do you see that brain work in there? Do you see men wanting to change the other person when that question is presented, what's wrong?
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, absolutely. Again, fixing something is a beautiful and lovely impulse. Wanting to solve a problem, this is all strategy to meet a deep need to contribute to one another's well-being. Men and women, and any other gender on the spectrum, people want to contribute to one another's well-being. This is a natural state of being for healthy mammals.
It takes a very particular kind of trauma and developmental trauma to have a human that isn't interested in contributing to another human's well-being. That's a trauma response. Naturally, we have that desire. But we're socialized, and we have biology that gives us different preferences for the strategies we may use, to try to contribute to one another's well-being.
One of the ways that we solve conflicts, especially in a lot of the couples that I work with, is that when you can understand that everything we do is our best strategy to meet a deep need, we can find a lot of coherence at the need level. When I can understand that what you're wanting to do is contribute to my well-being, and the strategy you're using isn't working for me and here's one that would, then we can help one another help one another. Does that make sense? We learn how to become flexible and attuned.
It's not about you being a good or a bad person. It's not about they're being a right and a wrong way. It's just about attuning to how we're wired differently, and how we prefer different things. I like apples, and you like oranges. I prefer mangoes. So, let's just bring them all in, and use them appropriately. It's a very domination mindset to want to rank which ones are better and worse, and which ones are good and bad. That kind of thinking is fragmenting thinking.
Billy: That's funny, because that's what I was doing. As you were talking about apples, and oranges, and mangoes, I was like, which one do I like the best?
Dr. Yvette: It's also very important to love up that part of ourselves, and not to see that thing that we do as bad or wrong either, to really appreciate the clarity of concepting that that part of our brain can provide for us, and just recognize that we might not want it making our relationship decisions.
Billy: So, you've talked a little bit about relationships as a spiritual practice. What exactly do you mean by that when you say we need to get to a more spiritual practice in our relationships?
Dr. Yvette: Well, this is just a very personal thing. First, I wanted to say everybody gets to define their own spiritual practice and meaning and purpose on this planet. I don't know that I want to impose this on others. But for myself, the relationship work that I do in my own life is very much motivated by my deep desire to remove in myself all barriers to love, unconditional love for myself and other beings.
So, when I'm practicing, when I'm setting an intention for more loving relationships on the planet, I'm also taking the position that it is 100% up to me to bring that into my relationships, that it is about how I can be a more loving being, how I can live into being a loving, compassionate being, compassionate, conscious-loving being on the planet. Not about how I get all of you to become that, so that I'm more comfortable.
In that sense, it feels very much like a spiritual practice, that my invitation to myself is always to come back inward and to find out what is the barrier to love and me right now. What needs to be healed in me? How do I increase my capacity to bring the love that I'm wanting? Not come from a place of, I can't be safe or okay in this world until all of you can love me in my preferred ways. In that sense, it feels like drawing on divine life energy and transcendent concepts and ideas that are bigger than me.
Billy: Have you ever read the book You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero? Are you familiar with that book?
Dr. Yvette: I actually have it right here on my bookcase.
Billy: Yeah, so, we're actually going to talk about that book at some point here. What you were saying totally reminded me of when she talks about, you need to get in touch spiritually. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to believe in God but that you believe in a spiritual existence so that you can love yourself. She says that over and over and over again — love yourself — throughout the book.
Part of that, she says, is that spiritual practice to come to that ability to say, "Hey, I'm a badass. I need to love myself, and that there is an energy that's out there that I need to tap into." So, what is that energy?
Dr. Yvette: Yeah, I love that. Counter intuitively, for me, the more that I love myself, the easier it is for me to love all of the difficult people in my life. The more that I move into shame, or guilt, or self-judgment, the more I perceive other people as shaming, judgmental, dangerous, unsafe, and the less available I am to them. The more they're going to deal with my defensiveness and my slightness and my passive aggressiveness and all of my default defensive behaviors that are designed to hurt and drive people away.
The more that I'm living in a place of real, deep self-appreciation, and knowing my own goodness, and knowing that I'm actually okay, the more supple and available and tender and attuned and gentle I am with the humans that I'm Interacting with.
I mentioned that only because so many people have some programming that it's selfish to love ourselves. It's actually the other way around. It's incredibly selfish not to love yourself. Because when you don't love yourself, you're bringing a really unpleasant energy in everybody else around you. Whereas when you're radiating goodness, it's like lighting candles. When you light a candle, you're not taking anything away from the original candle. You're just bringing more light into the world.
So, it's the same thing. When we love ourselves, we just bring more of what is needed. Since we are the people that we get to change, and everybody else, we need to stay out of their lane, it's really important to put the energy on the one being that you do get to change.
Billy: I'm not going to lie. I actually almost had an emotional response to that last part right there. Because that really hit home. So, we want to thank you so much for this amazingly enlightening conversation. We're just absolutely blown away by what you had to share today. We hope all of you out there listening are feeling this as much as we are.
Brian: I got to be honest. I'm going to have to go back, and listen to this episode like 5, 10 times to just process all the information accurately that you've delivered for us. So, thank you. That is quite impressive, first off, and very good of you to do.
Billy: Yes, we really, really appreciate it. We strongly encourage people to go to www.yvetteerasmus.com. She has introductory programs there. She has core offerings there. You could do private sessions with her. She has specialized workshops available for you, as well. Dr. Yvette, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Dr. Yvette: Thank you.
Brian: Thank you.
Dr. Yvette: It's my pleasure. It's been a delight to be here. Thank you.
Billy: Thank you.
Thanks for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We will do our best to put out new content every Wednesday to help get you over the midweek hump. If you'd like to contact us, or if you have suggestions about what you'd like us to discuss, feel free to email us at email@example.com or follow us on Instagram @mindful_midlife_crisis. Check out the show notes for links to the articles and resources we referenced throughout the show. Oh, and don't forget to show yourself some love every now and then, too. And now, back to the show.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. Brian, all of that information that Dr. Yvette shared with us — which was all gold, mind you. It's all gold — what do you remember? What sticks out to you? What is something that you're going to continue thinking about?
Brian: This may be a little off topic. But this is the first guest that we've had that we've involved three separate continents in our conversation. I feel a little more worldly just having the conversation.
Billy: Yeah, and I've lived in Minnesota my whole life. So, my worldview is really limited. I feel like traveling has helped me broaden my understanding of the world, but only minutely. This is somebody who has grown up in — think about apartheid South Africa.
Brian: I know.
Billy: The historical implications and relevance of that in our lifetime, that, alone, is a story.
Brian: She lived in Egypt.
Billy: She was just like, "Yeah, and we would go to the camels. We ride the camels and go to the pyramids," like we would take somebody to the Mall of America.
Brian: Oh, yeah, totally.
Billy: The fact that her dad was a politician, to uphold the policies of apartheid, and her mother was fighting against them. What was also interesting to me is how she talked about, because she moved around so much, at first, she didn't feel like she belonged anywhere. Then she recognized that she was a chameleon. I feel like that word has come up a lot in our conversations with people.
Brian: You're right.
Billy: Tom Cody mentioned something about being a chameleon.
Brian: Maurice Buchanon.
Billy: Maurice talked about being a professional chameleon. She, and Dr. Yvette mentioned also that she just feels like a chameleon. To me, if we're talking about themes popping out, the importance of being able to adapt to new surroundings is really something that we need to embrace as people.
Brian: So, to answer your question a little more directly, I think what impressed me most is just the depth of her life experience. Even if she was not a doctor and not as well-learned as she is on all the subject matter she was talking about, just as a person, she's completely fascinating.
Billy: Agreed. Two things that really stood out to me when she was talking about — two or more things that really stood out to me, the one that she was talking about, was shifting that question from what's wrong to what do you need, taking people out of a deficit mindset, and really giving them an opportunity to express that this is what would help me in this moment here. Rather than ruminating on the injustice that's been done, let's talk about an action plan. What is it that you need to in order to move forward?
Brian: Positive action to remedy the situation.
Billy: I feel like that is the next step to what she talked about at the end here, which was loving yourself. It really hit me when she talked about it's not selfish to love yourself. I think there's a fine line between loving yourself and being arrogant. I think that goes back to the four quadrants, where she talked about when you have the skill but you don't care. I think that manipulation piece plays a big role in that, too.
But you can love yourself and not be arrogant and not be seen as selfish. We need to do that because we need to heal ourselves first before we can project our interpretation of what's wrong with others on to them. It really connects with — I just finished reading the book The Person You Mean to Be by Dr. Dolly Chughby. We're going to need to talk about that one.
Brian: Yeah, that's a good one.
Billy: Yeah, it's unbelievable. I'm not lying. This conversation with Dr. Yvette was life-changing. That book is also life changing. I just feel like we need to continue seeking out resources that are life-changing.
Brian: Oh, yeah, that's great.
Billy: We also talked about You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero. It's great that even Dr. Yvette has that book on her bookshelf. So, that's almost reaffirming in a way, too, to know that, hey, we're reading a book that someone who is so worldly and so knowledgeable is also reading that book. So, we would recommend that book, and we would recommend The Person You Mean to Be.
We'd also recommend that you access Dr. Yvette’s free online course and workbook, which breaks down the four quadrants of communication that she discussed. You can access that at her website, www.yvetteerasmus.com. Go through that material. It's like a journal. It's like a diary. It's an opportunity for you to reflect on what toxicity exists in your relationships, so that you can remove those and open yourself up. Like Dr. Yvette said, removing barriers to loving yourself. If you find yourself in a power struggle — whether it's at work, or with a relationship, or with a family member — that workbook and her free online course may set you on a path towards loving yourself more.
Thank you, Dr. Yvette, for sharing your worldly experience with us. Thank you for sharing your incredible depth of knowledge with us. We greatly appreciate the time that you took to speak with us. For Brian, this is Billy. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy, and loved. Take care friends.