Setbacks: The Best Way To Respond, with Dr. John Townsend

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Setbacks are a normal part of life. No one goes through life without having some setbacks to respond to from time to time. But it’s how we respond to these moments that make us who we are. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel and Tana Amen are once again joined by Dr. John Townsend for a discussion on how you can utilize the help of others to get back up when you fall, and how to appropriately take responsibility for your contributions, in both good times and bad.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We are here with our good friend, Dr. John Townsend. This is so important.
Tana Amen: Such a great podcast.
Dr Daniel Amen: I mean, we're going deep into the social circle because you become like the people you hang out with. It's something I have just said for so long. People are contagious. They're like the flu, in a bad way, but in a good way they can just make you feel amazing. So, Dr. Townsend is a coach, he's a trainer, he's a psychologist. We're so happy.
Tana Amen: He's an overall amazing human being.
Dr Daniel Amen: And you had a question.
Tana Amen: I do. So we talked about how to build up your, which is so important, build up the positive people in your life. Now we really need to talk about how to minimize, probably never going to eliminate them, nor would you necessarily want to-
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, we talked about a cleanse.
Tana Amen: Cleansing. The negative people that are draining you. If you're not like me who's just as like, "Bye," and is able to block people and not feel that bad about it. If you're one of those people who has a really hard time with it, what do you do?
Dr John Townsend: Well, number one, there are some people that if they had the right approach, they could change. I don't want to leave a person if they bug me, if I haven't talked to them about it. There are some people that... There's mild, moderate, severe. Now moderate-severe, you got to be like Tana. Bye.
Tana Amen: Right. The toxic ones.
Dr John Townsend: Yeah. But a moderate might go, "Sorry, I didn't know that." And here's the way you do it. You tell them "No", because no will either... They'll say, "Well, that's hard. You won't make [inaudible 00:02:36] me as much as I said," or whatever, or how much I need, and you go, "No, I can't." But they'll go, "Oh, I'll adapt to that." But really crazy people will leave you. They self-select, because when you tell them no, they can't get what they want, they can't get your time. They can't get your love. They can't get your money. They can't get your entity. What do they do? When you say, "No, I can't do that, that's not okay," they go find another target.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr John Townsend: So, [inaudible 00:03:00] just starts frustrating them and tell them that. You basically... Here's the mantra, guys. You change a controlling person to a frustrated person.
Tana Amen: Yeah. That's interesting. So, one example of a toxic situation where... This is where I blocked someone's number, I did that. Said, "I can't help you with that. Here's what I can help you with." It wasn't what that person wanted, but would have actually helped them. Probably more in the long run. And they blew up and tried to split and do all kinds of things and toxic things in the family. That's when I blocked them. That's a toxic person. So that's one strategy that I've learned with boundaries is, give them another option besides the money that they're asking for, or the whatever it is they're asking for that you just can't give them. Give them an option that's actually going to help them long-term. A valuable... Your time or something that you can give them, or advice, or whatever it is.
Dr John Townsend: Or give them another person, and say to them, "I don't have time for this, but this organization or whatever, might help you."
Tana Amen: Right. If they go away and they're not interested, then that's one thing. If they become toxic, then that's a whole different story.
Dr John Townsend: It's a whole different thing.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: So let's talk about setbacks and resilience, and all of us have them. I have a phrase that I've grown to love. Be curious, not furious. So really try to understand what happened and then learn from it, because everybody has setbacks, but in People Fuel, you talk about that. Say more about setbacks, resilience.
Dr John Townsend: Well, it's like you said, Daniel. You can expect those that, we've got to get the idea out of our heads that this is going to be a smooth track and most people kind of get that, that there's nobody that's been successful without hurts or failures or whatever. And so, in our world, the world of psychology and psychiatry, we call it normalize. You have to normalize the fact that life's going to be that way, which means adaptation. Really, really smart, successful people are always adapting and going, "What I learned from that, let me get my team around. Let me process it. The money thing went south and I had a great idea, but we lost a lot of money. What have we learned from it?" Or, "My relationship really, really went upside down," and the best thing you can do, the number one thing you can do, is first ask yourself this question. "What did I contribute?"
Before we go into the blaming game, "I'm around crazy people and blah, blah, economy's bad, global warming." Number one thing is, "What did I contribute?" I was working with some high-level couples recently. I was doing a retreat with their relationships and they wanted to be better but very, very successful people. And I said, "Look, let's talk about you, guys." And one thing, my requirement was with them, when they started telling me how their marriage is, "Before you tell me how crazy she makes you, or how crazy he makes you, what's your contribution?"
And they kind of had to struggle with it. They were like, "I'm much more in touch with how that person makes me crazy." I said, "I know you are. But start thinking, are you sometimes... Do you stonewall sometimes? Do you shut down sometimes? Do you blame sometimes? Do you get controlling or rigid or do you act like a victim?" And then they become very good retreats. So, number one, take the beam out of your eye.
Tana Amen: I love that.
Dr Daniel Amen: So let me add to that a little bit, because I do something very similar with my patients and it actually... I'm a child psychiatrist as well. It started with kids because I get these terribly oppositional defiant children and they'd be blaming everybody else. And I'm like, "So, how do you make your mother crazy?" And they're like, "I don't." And I'm like, "No, you do. Think about it with me." And they become very creative and insightful. And so I then started using that with couples. I'm like, "So what is it that you do that makes them upset?" And they go, "Nothing." But then they'll think about it, because if you know what you do that makes them upset, well, odds are you also know what you do that makes them smile and what you do that makes them... So it's centering them in their power place because I know today I could get Tana to start screaming at me if I told her to shut up, sit down, and you just need to stop and listen to me. And she'd just start screaming.
Tana Amen: I start laughing. But [crosstalk 00:07:19]
Dr Daniel Amen: But I choose not to do that.
Speaker 4: No universe I know about is that going to ever happen.
Tana Amen: I would just think he hit his head. But anyway-
Dr Daniel Amen: But I choose not to do the things I know, and that puts me in a powerful place.
Tana Amen: Yes. So, the thing I was... You just said it. What I love about what you do with that and what you're talking about, John, you both said my favorite word, responsibility, but you frame it in a way of power. So when they do that, when they take responsibility, they are more powerful and they're not a victim, and that's just so important. So I love you both have that in your work, that responsibility portion.
Dr John Townsend: Absolutely. There's another cool idea. I've studied this a lot. You guys are probably familiar with it, too, that there's a step beyond resilience now. It's called Antifragile. Very good book. Was written by a guy who wrote about culture and psychology called Antifragile. And his thesis is like the bones, when you break a bone, when you mend it and do all the right things, it comes back stronger than it did. His point is, if we treat everybody in our lives like broken bird shells and like I've got to walk on eggshells around you. And then there are fragile people, and we've all treated them. There are people that need to be going into residential treatment care or they need to be hospitalized because they're so fragile. You're very tender with them. But most people, if you can help them to not feel scared about negative things and not be scared of failure, they come back stronger than they were. Resilience means I come back at the same level. Antifragile means, I come back at a higher level. So the stress of-
Tana Amen: I like that.
Dr John Townsend: [inaudible 00:08:55] And that's where we need to go when we have a setback.
Tana Amen: Yep.
Dr Daniel Amen: Yeah. There's another word for that I like called work hardening. So, when someone goes off work because they have an injury, you don't just send them back to work when they're sort of okay. Is you need to strengthen them even beyond-
Tana Amen: Don't you also call it post-traumatic growth?
Dr Daniel Amen: Post-traumatic growth is another great term.
Dr John Townsend: Those are great concepts to give back, to give you guys' audience hope that this isn't going to put my life, okay, back together, I might come back stronger from this.
Tana Amen: Yeah. You might be better.
Dr John Townsend: I might be better.
Dr Daniel Amen: And so, before we end this podcast, what are a couple of practical things you tell people when they have a setback? It happens to all of us, either in our finances, our health, our marriages, with our children, of course, if you have teenagers, there's a setback once in a while.
Dr John Townsend: I have four things I tell people. One is, you cannot process this alone. I mean, you and I, the three of us are very relational people. You can't process this setback alone, is just to do it in your head. You've got to have some safe people that you could say, "It really sucks now and I'm really discouraged," because if nobody's there to contain it, it's too much for your brain. So, find those safe people and process it. Number two, deal with the judge in your head because we all tend to blame ourselves and beat ourselves up, and, "It was all me, and I'm a failure, I let everybody down," and Tana is laughing her head off.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: You should just wear your black robes.
Tana Amen: The judges... yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: I think that would just be... You should wear your black robes.
Dr John Townsend: [inaudible 00:10:35] You're saying, you know somebody who has a judge?
Tana Amen: Not me. I don't know anybody like that.
Dr Daniel Amen: Okay. Anyway, it's a theory.
Dr John Townsend: So we all have that mean judge that says, "You're letting everybody down, you're a loser and you'll always be this way." You've go to deal with that judgment, so you can be nice to me. So, you get the support, you deal with the judge. Sometimes we need to grieve. We're finding out that the neurology of grief is a very helpful thing. Don't just get back on the horse and say, "Okay, I'm learning." You might say, "I'm sad. I lost a relationship. I'm sad about that." Or, "I lost an opportunity in business," or, "Something with my kids happened." It's healthy to grieve. There's all kinds of great research about grief.
And the fourth one is, adapt to the new normal. "What did I learn so that I can behave differently?" If you do those four things, the setbacks are fine.
Tana Amen: I love that. I want to share before we end today, one of my favorite stories of post-traumatic growth. And the reason I think it's so powerful is because it was from a teenager. Our niece, who we've been helping who is 14 who went through a truly traumatic and tragic situation, we helped to get them out of foster care, my two nieces.
Dr John Townsend: We were having dinner talking about that one night.
Tana Amen: Yeah, it was really hard. And so, my 14-year-old niece, who's now down here, she's an honor student going to an early college, you know, school. She's amazing, she's this amazing kid. She's very resilient and she... We've been trying to influence her. Now, this is an example of someone you want to influence, right? This is an example of someone you want to invest your energy into. She looks-
Dr Daniel Amen: She's in the care category.
Tana Amen: Okay. She's just an amazing human being who's trying really hard. She's absorbing it like a sponge. She's doing everything she can.
Dr John Townsend: That's worth the investment.
Tana Amen: Oh, absolutely. And the other day, we picked her up from a dance. She got invited to a school dance, and she's in the back of the car and after we dropped her friends off, we said, I don't even know how it came up, but she looked at me and she said, "I'm actually happy about my past now." She used to be so shamed by it. And I said, "What? Why? That's a switch." She said, "Because I know I can go through anything now." She goes, "It doesn't matter. I can tell people about it and it doesn't matter anymore, because now I know I can handle anything." I was... It gives me chills because I was floored that a 14-year-old could own herself and be...
Dr John Townsend: Yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: That was post-traumatic growth.
Tana Amen: To be so responsible for her life.
Dr Daniel Amen: So she and I, and you, we all talked about post-traumatic growth.
Dr John Townsend: You just got choked up right then. And I got choked up too. Okay. We all three got a little choked up about your niece because all of us feel that. All of us feel like, there's got to be a chance to redeem these bad years and to come back a better person.
Tana Amen: And I want 40-year-olds to be able to do what a 14-year-old can do.
Dr John Townsend: We want 40-year-olds to do it.
Tana Amen: If a 14-year-old can do it-
Dr Daniel Amen: The only reason you were able to help her as much as you have is because you came to grips with the demons in your own past.
Tana Amen: Yeah, when I was in my 30s.
Dr Daniel Amen: But, I mean, but whatever the age, whatever the age, in order to be the reluctant healer, you have to deal with the demons in your past, which you've done, head on. I'd be afraid of the demons if I was them. Anyways, we're going to come back with one more.
Tana Amen: But it's... Wait. Wait, wait. It's because of special people in my life, since we're closing it on this note. It's because of, I have an amazing husband. I have amazing friends like John Townsend, his book Boundaries. I have amazing mentors in my life that I sought out. So you take responsibility, you seek these people out, and it will change your life.
Dr Daniel Amen: And responsibility is never your fault.
Tana Amen: No. It's not blame.
Dr Daniel Amen: It's your ability to respond. Stay with us.
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