Ep. 106 Creating a System for Successful Relationships with Figs O’Sullivan

Listen here:


In this episode, we will cover:

  • All things relationships!
  • How to navigate tough times in a relationship
  • How to know when is the right time to walk away
  • How to do some inward reflection about our own relationship habits.


Additional Resources:

PRODUCT: Moonroot Yoni Egg

Yoni eggs can be used for self-love, compassion, healing your heart, or releasing old trauma in the womb.

FREEBIE: 30 Tips for Healing Chronic Illness

Discover some not-so-average tools for cleaning up your lifestyle, ditching toxic thoughts, and bringing more love into your life!

BOOK: 21 Days of Healing

21 Days of Healing was created out of my own desire to go beyond food and heal on a deeper emotional and spiritual level. I curated the most-loved content based on hundreds of live student’s experience in the course and created this self-guided workbook to help you navigate chronic illness, release emotional inflammation, and find the medicine woman within.


Episode transcript:

Welcome to the Healing Uncensored podcast. My name is Sarah Small and I’m a life and success coach for empaths who want to create a thriving body, business and life. Healing my own chronic illnesses as an empath led me to become fascinated with energy and more specifically all of the emotional, spiritual and holistic healing modalities my doctor never told me about. I began to share my insights and journey online, and over time built a powerful community and business supporting women who were also on the pathway to healing. Think of this podcast as your uncensored and no-BS guide to navigating life, health, and entrepreneurship. As an empath, you’ll get no-nonsense and totally holistic tips from me in real-time as I navigate this healing journey right beside you. Now let’s get started.

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I am super excited for my guest today, Figs O’Sullivan. Figs is a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified in emotionally focused couples therapy and he’s the creator of Empathi, empathy with an ‘I’ method and the certification process for empathy coaches. His life mission is to help couples feel more connected and I thought it would be fascinating to have him on the Healing Uncensored show to talk about relationships, which is something that we haven’t discussed very much, and I think that there are some subtle energies and nuances that could affect empaths a little bit differently when it comes to relationships. So I can’t wait to dive in today’s episode and for you guys to glean all of the knowledge that Figs has to share with us. Welcome to the show, Figs. I’m so excited to have you on today. We’re talking about relationships and I personally think that we can learn so much about ourselves through relationships, yet so many people I talk with and that are in my community come to me saying that they’re really struggling with relationships in their life. So why do you think it is on a broad level that we have so many challenges in relationships?

Having so many challenges in relationships

Figs: Well, that’s a great question. So a couple of things I would say. One is, it’s just the way we’re built physiologically. That love and relationship are “emotional bonding” or what they technically would call emotional attachment is our birthright. It’s not some optional thing that we could go, Oh, I could do it a little bit or I could let it go. I don’t really need it that much. From the moment you’re born, your first primary need is there’s a good enough other on the other side of your birth that you can rely on to be there for you emotionally and physically, or else you would be eaten by dingoes. I know you say it jokingly, but our bodies are built to detect first and foremost, is there anybody there? Just because now we’ve grown up and we have little phones in our pocket and we can order pizzas and drive cars and use iPhones, nothing actually has changed fundamentally.

So that means two people that love each other no matter how brilliant they are as coaches or how amazing they are at saving the planet, whatever the hell they do for a living, when it comes to love, we’re all still little babies inside and people don’t accept that. People actually think, no, I’m not supposed to be really scared and abandoned right now, or they think their partner, Hey, you shouldn’t be making such a big deal of the fact that I didn’t validate you in front of those people or whatever it is, whatever the trigger was. But actually no, it makes sense that people really, really hurt in matters in love. So that’s the first thing that people don’t actually accept the essence of who we are and that more than anything, it makes sense that people get their feelings hurt in love and you shouldn’t be judging yourself. You shouldn’t be judging other people. And when you then look at all of your own behaviors, other people’s behaviors through that lens, all of a sudden everybody makes sense. Everything makes sense.

And if you don’t mind, there’s one other thing I want to say about this. The other reason I think, because you’re a coach and I think lots of your audience are into this, I’m going to start off with probably upsetting some people. The other reason why I think relationships get in a lot of trouble is that the predominant narrative …there’s two different predominant narratives about in the personal development world. There’s this notion that I’m going to be me and I’m going to work out what I want, that I’m going to ask for my needs to be met. Now there’s great truth to that for sure, but again, most of the time the place that people ask for their needs to be met is from a place of feeling I’m not getting something and you are the ones that’s withholding it from me, and so the way that requests lands is it actually hurts your partner because even if it’s not your intention to, what really lands is you’re letting them know they’re inadequate or failing you in some way. So one of the things that has kind of been a dominant force in the personal development movement from the ’60s is this I’m going to be me and you be you, and if me being me and you being you, we get along, that’s great, but if me being me and you being you, we don’t get along, it can’t be helped.

Now, that’s only half the truth because the other part of the reality of being human is we’re interdependent. So like me being me and I realize I have these particular raw spots and wounds, and when I actually ask for them to be met, it actually hurts your feelings, and now you being you, now that your feelings are hurt, you have these different ways of protecting yourself that now signals to me, I’m not going to get my needs met. So now I’m going to double down and be more hurtful to you, which hurts you even more. And so now, no wonder you pull away even more from me. Oh, shoot. Our personal development movement is only now, I mean relatively recently starting to take in this systems understanding that we can’t just be, I’m going to be me and you be you and let’s see if we can make it work. We have to start considering what is the system that we are co-creating together and how do we attend to this system, as opposed to policing ourselves in each other.

Sarah: I love that, and it’s such a basic human need to have a connection from the moment you’re born, from the moment you come out of the womb. We depend on it for our literal survival. And then we think maybe as we grow up and we start to think for ourselves that I don’t need anybody or I’m fine by myself, or as you said, I’ll be me, you be you and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But I think that’s why people – this is just my own opinion – but why people run away from relationships so much is that they’re like, okay, you’re not like me or we’re not going to be able to work this out so I’m just going to run away, versus sticking it out or being able to learn from each other or being able to accept some of the parts of maybe your partner that are not the same as you. There is a time to end a relationship that’s not serving you, that is toxic in some way, and other times maybe we run away too soon before we really give it a chance. How do you navigate that?

How do we know it’s time to leave a toxic and unhealthy relationship, versus leaving a relationship too soon, because things are hard?

Figs: That’s a great question and again, it’s the seekers’ dilemma in general. When I’m in a relationship and I’m really triggered and you’re like, oh yes, what a growth opportunity I’m in, versus no, hold on a second. This is traumatic and I can’t function and it’s not good for me. It’s a hard one to know sometimes which it is. And so what I always tell people is the best thing to do is first study, kind of like I was just talking about, can we spend some time where we could study the system that you’ve co-created with each other, because all roads to a better relationship and hopefully it’s a better relationship that you’re in or whether it’s what you learned through this study will help you have a better relationship next time. All roads to a better relationship have to pass through your ability to see our problems are an ‘us’ problem, not a ‘me or you’ problem.

Sarah: That’s really important.

Figs: Absolutely right. So the first thing we have to do or like I do when I try and work with a couple is I’m trying to help them have a shared narrative of what’s happening. Because when people first come to see me, or I first talk to them on the phone, as you can imagine, the first person I talk to, even if they’re not intending to do it, they tell me about how they’re hurting and what the other person’s doing to them. How they’re withholding love, they’re blamed or criticized or they’re not love or they’re cold, whatever it is, and how awful it is for them. Now, I talk to the other person and they tell me about the way they’re hurting and what the other person is doing to them. They’re complaining, they’re moaning and they’re this, they’re that, whatever it is and so there’s great truth to both stories. They’re both true, and so then what I do is I take those two true stories. They are both hurting and they do both have ways of reacting that hurts the other person, but then we combine it into one narrative, and at first, that one narrative, we’re just trying to get cognitive buy-in, just like, hey, by the way, can you see when you’re hurting, the way you react hurts the other person, and then when you, the other person hurts, the way you react, which totally makes sense that you react the way you do, hurts the first person even more, so now they’re going to react, and we get into this vicious cycle that’s almost infinite loop.

What I’m about to say next is the key statement, where it says, look how terrible this is for both of you. And the key in that statement is the both of, so we’re trying to go from two separate suffering bubbles. One partner or spouse is in a suffering bubble cause I’m not being loved and met the way I want to and the other partners in their separate suffering bubble now, and we’re trying to take those two separate suffering bubbles and make them into one shared relationship suffering bubble, because that iambically and as I say, first we want cognitive buy-in, but then the real healing happens on the level of our limbic system, which… I don’t know enough about your work, but with autoimmune stuff too, we know there is a limbic component. So this is the key and I like to say one of my favorite quotes of my own is we’re not going to neocortex our way out of what is primarily a limbic system problem. But first, we got to get the neocortex to buy in, and then we have to have an actual drop, like an actual state change where I am now not sitting on a couch with someone or in an argument with someone who is withholding love and understanding from me. I’m actually in a really painful moment for both of us, and I’m in a painful moment for both of us, that we both really love each other. This is tragic and painful for the two of us.

So now we’re no longer a limbic threat to each other, and two people that love each other that have gone from being a threat to each other’s limbic systems to actually, no, I’m hurting and you’re hurting and we’re only hurting because we love each other, the amount of new options that are available and some of them are loving and hugging and kissing and repairing and coming up with solutions to whatever the content problem was. So the art and craft of my work, one is getting people to have a bit of cognitive buy-in, but I have to talk fast like I’m talking now with two people want to kill each other or you know, figuratively speaking, and then once I get their buy in a little bit cognitively now I am going to try and slow them down and enter into the painful place, and have a shared empathic moment together.

And then from that shared empathic moment, which in and of itself is just a neutral place, because they love each other, that neutral empathic moment can be filled with all of those feelings of love and compassion that they’ve always had for each other. And then I get to witness these beautiful people loving and holding each other and wiping their little tears, their little noses. And then we integrate that moment, right? And now make meaning out of it. Oh my God, this is terrible. When I was hurting and the way I reacted hurt you, and then the way you reacted hurt me, and we just kept making it worse. And this went on for weeks or months or years. This is awful. But look at what we’re able to do right now. We had the exact same feelings, but we went deeper down to how hurt and we shared it with each other and we’re there for each other.

And that doesn’t just heal the current relationship people are in. That heals the missing experience inside the little ones. When people get together and they are in a long-term relationship, you start that relationship with two little kids in your relationship already. They’re the two little kids that were already inside you, and so that starts to strengthen the narrative that I could actually be hurting in matters of emotional connection and I could have a positive outcome so I don’t have to run away. Like you were saying, I don’t have to just go ‘that other person! F-them! They’re never going to show up’. I don’t have to become Miss or Mister Naggy Pants or whatever you do, and I don’t have to just collapse. I could actually feel my pain, reach out and have a reparative experience, and we have to do that in both directions.

Sarah: I love that you brought in and you talk a lot about in your work, empathy.

Figs: I talk a lot.

Sarah: It’s good stuff. It’s good stuff. But no, the discussion around empathy and it seems like whereas once it was more of this world revolving around me, my pain, my experience, what you did to me and how I feel, now you’re opening up your viewpoint to include that other person like you were saying and that’s part of that cognitive buy-in, and that then they can work into the limbic system, but it’s taking that other person who’s in front of you, who you love and being able to understand that it’s not all one-sided, that there are two sides to this story and like you started off saying they’re both true. Both of our experiences in this relationship are valid and truthful and part of this collective reality that we’re experiencing in our relationship, and if we can start to see the other person’s side and realize that this is something that … my husband has taught me a lot about relationships and one of the things he was first saying when we first started dating was we’re on the same team. We’re on the same team. Why are you fighting me? Because I had a lot of relationship issues because of old traumas, childhood stuff, just feeling abandoned, feeling like I had to be an independent woman and I was never allowed to rely on or dependent on anybody in my life for numerous reasons. They were more limiting beliefs and false realities, but at the same time, very real experiences I had been in, and whenever we’d bicker about whatever. We’re on the same team, Sarah. This is actually not something that we’re like…I love you. You love me so let’s work it out, versus sitting at opposite sides of the field or the couch or wherever here and feeling like we’re only in our own little bubble and merging that together so that we can see a more complete story of what’s happening. So I’m so curious to know, Figs, what are some of the themes that you see in your work, the main hurdles, issues, challenges that people do experience in their relationships? Is there anything that you’re most commonly having people come to you to find support around?

Self-awareness within a relationship

Figs: Well, firstly, I really appreciate what you just shared about yourself. Obviously, it’s your podcast, but I really appreciate it and it’s lovely to hear the way you know your partner responds to you, and for someone that has had pain around feeling abandoned or I can’t rely on someone, that’s such a beautiful message, that we’re a team.

Sarah: Yes, that was at least part of what made me know he was a keeper.

Figs: Exactly. This is great. Now again, I’m not a big believer in having expectations of other people who need to respond to us in a particular way. I always say let’s say had four units of responsibility in a relationship. Three units of that should be on noticing what you’re feeling inside and sharing it, sharing about yourself from a vulnerable place and one unit is to be able to intuit what the other person is feeling, and then to be able to respond to them.

Sarah: Interesting. So there’s more self-awareness than observing externally?

Figs: Well, yeah. So there is observing externally but again, two things you could pay attention to. One is observing internally as I said, and then the other is observing the system

Sarah: That you’re in together as two

Figs: Together. That’s really good. Okay, so what is it I’m doing? Where’s this vulnerability coming inside me and being able to describe it, versus describing the other person? And then, of course, it’s like, so hold on a second. What’s the system we’re both in at the moment? Like observing that reality. Now nobody needs my help or any help at observing their partner’s flaws.

Sarah: Yeah. We are good at that

Figs: That’s just a dead end. You’re brilliant. You’ve got a post-doctorate. You’re the world’s renowned expert. Let it go. And that’s the part that people are, Oh no. Yeah, I’m very observant. I notice all the things they do wrong. Not very helpful. My worry is when I validate just the reason I just said that right now it’s caused when I go like, Oh that’s so great that they say that you, Hey, we’re in this together is I’m worried one of your listeners is writing right now. ‘Get a partner to tell me we are a team’.

Sarah: Like that’s some sort of pre-qualification or something

Figs: Exactly, and it kind of misses the point because it’s like, Oh, so I’m going to take from this another way for me to police and tell my partner what they need to do to be a good partner, which of course is crap. All you’re going to do now is make your system worse.

Sarah: I’m glad you brought that up actually because it’s one thing for him to have repeatedly reminded me of that we were on the same team, but it wasn’t about him on a surface level saying that, but what that allowed me to do was pause and get a little bit out of survival mode so I could look at myself. So I could actually look at how I was feeling, so that I could actually express how I was feeling and it became more of an internal thing because some of my defenses started to take a deep breath.

Figs: Yeah, it’s great. Like one of the main things I’m always doing with people is like here, come here. This terrible thing you think is happening right now is not happening right now. Because being connected is so important, it looks like my partner is not there for me, there is a 10 alarm fire. I have to do something and the beauty about that for someone that has more vulnerability around ‘I don’t know if someone’s there for me’, fears of being abandoned, etcetera, it’s happening again. They’re not there and then you think you’re saying things that are really smart, but really you’re just trying to desperately get away from what feels like an existential threat. So the past has merged with the present, and so that kind of, Hey, come here, by the way, in this present moment, I’m here, I’m with you. We are a team is just trying to tell the part of us that’s ready to burn the building down to save ourselves that there isn’t actually any need for that. It still hurts, this moment of disconnection, but you’re not under as big a threat as you think you are.

Sarah: Yes. As is perceived, and that was very much me. I always thought that the house was fricking burning.

Figs: And this is the crazy thing. The house isn’t actually burning and that is the truth. Your experience is valid. And so that’s where relationships are confusing because you come to someone and you say the house is burning. They’re looking around and going, the house is not burning, so both people are true and if the house isn’t actually burning and yet you are genuinely in that experience, as far as your body’s concerned, this is real and so this is what is hard. And then what I would say is the relationship by then has impossible moments, and so we have to be able to make friends with or at least accept and surrender to the fact of impossible moments in a relationship. And here’s what I mean by impossible moments.

What’s the most common dynamic that couples come into your services with?

Figs: So we did a little bit of describing what it’s like to be you, and this answers your question about what’s the most common dynamic that couples come into us with it. Basically this is the most common dynamic. People think they’re coming in about money, about sex. Where do we live? You want vaccinations, I don’t. Whatever. Whatever people think the content is, there’s the content that’s they are fighting about, but then there’s the emotional process that’s happening between them is really what they’re really fighting about, and typically that will bring people to “impossible moments”. And here is an impossible moment. Here’s the most standard, typical impossible moment. One person’s in the place where it looks like you’re not there for me, and I have a place inside me already. I’ve been walking around with it all my life where I can actually hurt terribly. I have a raw spot whenever it looks like my primary person isn’t there for me. I get a shadow of that. It flies across my head and I’m like, it’s happening again. But then I signal to you, my partner that in some way that I think you’re not here for me. My eyes narrow, I stop breathing or I literally tell you, you are not being there for me. Where are you? Whatever way I do it, which hits a raw spot in your partner and their raw spot isn’t probably, Oh, it looks like you’re not there for me. It’s most likely it looks like I’m failing to be enough again. It looks like me being me is unacceptable. I’m a disappointment. I’m in trouble, and that is unbearable. It is unbearable inside them. And so now they’re going to try and do something to get out of feeling that not enough-ness, the powerlessness, so they’re going to try and exit, pull away from it. They’re going to try and explain themselves, plead their innocence. No, I was here the whole time. What are you talking about? I’m sitting right there. Even though it makes sense, it’s true what they’re saying, but the way they try and get out of the unbearable not “enoughness” or powerlessness will re-signal to you. Oh my God. If I thought a second ago, maybe you weren’t here, you’ve just confirmed you’re not here. 

So now it’s a 10-alarm fire to a 12-alarm fire and we end up scaring the living daylights out of each other. So now if anyone looks and there are two people are sitting like they’re arguing over who’s going to wash the dishes or something, but inside one person, their limbic systems are in the terror of I’m not loved. I’m all alone in the world, and the other person is there’s no way for me to ever be enough. There’s absolutely no way out. But here’s the tragedy. Most people still think at the end of an argument or fight or a stuck place like that, that they just fought about who’s going to wash the dishes and they have to come to something logical like well, I’ll do it on the odd days of the week and you do it on the even. That will never solve the problem.

Sarah: That’s not the real problem.

Figs: That’s not the real problem. The real problem is we are so important to each other. Our limbic systems got so scared or don’t call them our limbic systems. The little kids inside just got terrified for a second that it looked like you weren’t there for me and it looked like I was a disappointment to you. Oh my God. That was awful. Thank God we’re out of that now and we can be there for those little ones inside us now. So the number one thing, whatever people come to talk to me about is they’re scaring the living daylights out of the little ones inside of each other. And we have to resolve the emotional bonding issue, the limbic system issue. And that is basically working through the ability to go from escalated where they’re threatened and they acting in a way that’s threatening to the other person, even if you don’t think yourself your behavior is threatening, both people. Be able to take them from that to get to the neutral place. I see it’s both of us and we’re both hurting. And then I’d take them from the neutral place where we’re only fighting because we love each other and we’re both hurting to actually then being able to dive deep into our vulnerability and share with each other and be there for each other and have these loving reparative moments. And then we integrate those experiences into every moment of our life so that the next time we end up in an impossible moment, it’s able to last a little bit less time and we do dramatically less damage and scare each other even less, and at the end of it we’re able to repair again.

Sarah: I love that.

Figs: And maybe it’s because I’m Irish, I’m not American that I can accept that that’s as good as the relationship gets. One of the things I always think about like this work can be a little harder for Americans and maybe I’m wrong, is because you know you have it written into your Constitution. You have the right to pursue happiness. You know, perfection is the enemy of the good, right? There’s also this…

Sarah: Fairy tale almost…

Figs: Exactly, as opposed to looking what I think a good relationship is two people that love each other so much. That means you’re going to scare each other cause it’s really important it looks like you’re there for me and it’s really important it looks like you’re not disappointed in me, and when we get scared it’s going to be awful for a while because we’re physiologically built that we’re going to get threatened. We’re going to look threatening to each other, but we’re able to make sense of it, get out of our threatened brains, start to signal to each other that we’re both hurting, and then take turns to share our vulnerability and be there for each other and integrate and then feel even more connected to each other at the end of it, and then wait till the next time it happens. It’s not like a one-and-done. That’s it. Now we’ll never have to fight again. No. You love each other. You’re going to scare the living daylights out of each other over and over again for the rest of your life.

Sarah: Okay. Figs. I have a recurring question I get the is related but a little different because it’s about women come to me and they feel like they know their ex is not great for them and they might’ve been even broken up for a while, yet there’s still this lingering attachment to that old relationship. There’s still the thought of like almost a guilt around thinking about that person or considering going back to them, even though they know that that is not their person. So how do you navigate kind of that ex-relationship? Because I think that it still is a relationship, even if you’re not talking, there’s still something happening between you and this person energetically that you’re still allowing them to sort of be part of your life, or for you to have them in your thoughts frequently and do we need to sever that? How do we navigate that feeling of that person is still on my mind even though I know that they were not a good relationship for me?

Figs: So it’s a great question. So the first thing like with everything is, we’ve got to find a safe way to be with what is and accept it. Before we start working at what’s the solution? What should I do? I have to be able to be fully immersed into the reality of what I’m living in. When people come to see me, let’s say someone comes in the situation you described that they are in an affair and I say, before we start trying to resolve what’s happening, we’re going to have to be even more deeply immersed in what is, and they are like, you have no idea how immersed I am in this. But the truth is, people aren’t that good at being immersed in what is for good reason, because it’s too painful. It’s too uncomfortable. There’s too much uncertainty and so we’re always rushing to get to what the answer is. What I do is help people more deeply sit at the moment and let it unfold so that we could get to what’s organically true.

Sarah: So it’s almost like we’re asking the wrong first question of what to do, instead of feeling into what you’re feeling and not just the immersiveness of I’m thinking about this all the time and instead – because maybe they are thinking about it a lot – but instead how does that actually make you feel? Are you feeling into that old relationship or how you’re even feeling at this moment?

Figs: Yeah, so just to give permission to myself to feel it, because if you think about here I am thinking about an ex. So one part of me is thinking about him and is in some longing for that connection that I had and I don’t have now. There are just multiple parts to this. Can I allow the longing part to be here? Literally imagine these are all separate people inside of you. So the first thing we’re going to do is tell the longing part of you. Come on in. You’re welcome. We’re not going to try and make sense of you or work at whether you should be here or not. You are here means you’re welcome here. Then there’s the part of me that has a story about, well, I shouldn’t be doing this. Come on in. Let’s give you some air time and hear what your story is. Let’s welcome that part. Then let’s say there are other parts. There are parts where I’m actually angry about my last relationship. Great. Let’s let that part of you have some time, didn’t Clint Eastwood do some parts work on the Republican convention stage or something. This is like an acting exercise/existential psychotherapy exercise. We actually let those different parts talk to each other. So let them be here. Let them talk to each other, feel what it’s like to talk as the part that I’m giving full permission to. I do actually long for that ex-relationship. But remember, I’m not doing anything about it. I’m just allowing that part. That doesn’t mean I’m going to go call them, but I’m just at some moment being held by some guide, whether it’s inside myself or with some therapist or coach, I’m actually going to really dive into what I feel, allow it to be here and then see what it feels like and see what it transitions into.

So 80% of the interventions of, let’s say if I was working with an individual like that, 80% of my interventions are and what happens next? All I’m trying to do is help you get out of your own way and make sure I stay out of the way in trying to problem solve what you too, and just see if we can deeply give permission to what is, and then study it and see where that organically takes you inside of yourself because if you can do work like that where you can go deep inside yourself with curiosity and allow your moment to moment experience to unfold, the answer of what you’re supposed to do will come to you. Again, it sounds so esoteric and so good, but it really is true. If you can do it, there’s no point in fighting with yourself for having feelings. Okay. Again, I love something you said earlier, it’s just valid. It’s true. Don’t be trying to work out whether you should or you shouldn’t have the feelings. You do. You have them.

Sarah: They’re there.

Figs: It’s closed, and I would just try and more deeply feel them if that answers your question.

Dealing with judgment

Sarah: I love it. And I think that one of the pieces I’m taking away from, especially your unique approach, is that all judgment is removed. The judgment is pulled away. There’s no reason for that there should be any judgment here, especially of ourselves and the way we feel and all of our feelings are valid. But potentially more empowering in relationships to then expand that view and start to see others’ feelings as valid as well.

Figs: Exactly. By the way, the thing is, no doubt we do judge ourselves. So you’re right, we do judge ourselves and so it’s really, really good to think of just like I was saying, there’d be different people inside you, think of the part of you that judges as a separate person and then get very good at noticing when that part of you is doing the talking and then you hopefully can then eventually can notice the little one inside who the words of judgment actually land on and you can be a loving, supportive friend to that one. You can actually love her or him and care for her and him. Nourish that part of you and you can tell the critic or the judge, Hey, back off. I know you think you’re being helpful right now with your judgments or your advice on what I should do, but it’s actually just hurtful. So the better you get at that … and I always say the hardest homework I ever give clients to do is I want you to be kind to yourself. And when you fail at being kind to yourself, you know what you have to do? Your punishment is to be kind to yourself. 

Again, really simple stuff, but really, really important. And so something like this where I’m having feelings for someone and it didn’t work and there were good reasons it didn’t work, and I don’t know if I’m supposed to have these feelings, but I do have these feelings. The first thing is like, oh, come on. Take it easy on yourself. It’s okay. Of course, you would feel that way. And for all the reasons we just talked about, you had this connection with someone. There’s some longing to be in partnership and it’s gone, and that person in many ways was great. What a painful place to be in. Of course you would be in this place of confusion and longing. And I don’t know, whatever it is, and again, with autoimmune stuff too. Like I’m holding something like this, it’s really tight. Just releasing it, just holding it where it’s got a little bit more space to breathe. Oh my God, it changes everything. I mean, the issue is still there. Nothing changes everything, but it has a big impact.

Nuggets of wisdom from Fig

Sarah: I love that. So as we start to come to the top of our time here, I’d love for just any little nuggets of wisdom from you on how we can all learn to love better in our lives and where do we start or what do we start with when we consider wanting to invite more love in?

Figs: So the first thing I would just say, as we talked about is how do I start to make that transition from, this isn’t the ‘me or you’ problem. It’s an ‘us’ problem, and not us problem like that there’s something wrong with us. It’s like, Oh no, it makes sense. I get it. I get when I’m hurting there’s ways that I signal to you that I’m not there for you or I’m not supportive like I don’t believe in you or whatever it is, which hurts you. And so no wonder you now signal to me that you’re even less here for me and WE get stuck. That’s OUR issue. And again, it’s only happening because we love each other. That shift in perspective is the most important thing and it’s the hardest thing and most important thing. So that’s the number one thing that I would work on.

I have this my practice here in San Francisco and we got 12 therapists here at San Francisco on the team and they’re all allowed to be their own people, except for we do the same type of work with couples and everyone else is much nicer than me, but the other kind of business I have is I developed a set of online tools and courses in relationship coaching for people all over America and the world, and that’s empathi.com and that’s empathy with an “i” on the end, not a “y” on the end. I couldn’t afford empathy with a “y” on the end.

Sarah: Somebody’s got to have that.

Figs: They do. I wrote to them. They’re actually not even using it really but anyway, they wouldn’t give it to me. So anyways, empathi with an i on the end.com and you just start with the quiz. Just take the quiz and what happens when you answer these bunch of questions, we then give you this reflection. We call it your self-discovery report. It tells you who you are in love and relationship from an attachment perspective, from this very kind, compassionate voice. No pathologizing. Part of why I built it is when you read books about attachment, Oh my God, I was depressed. I would never want to be in a relationship again now because they make you feel like there’s something wrong with you or something is wrong with your relationship

Sarah: These labels! All of a sudden I’m an avoidant, fearful attachment style. Don’t you want to date me?

Figs: Oh, I know. It’s terrible. It’s terrible. So that’s partly why I built it. This information has to be given to people in a much kinder, more loving, empathic way. So you’d get your self-discovery report, then you invite your partner. And it doesn’t matter – gender, same gender, whatever your pronouns are – we have it set up that it works for everybody in a primary relay, just put a one on one relationship. And then you invite your partner, they take the quiz through the link you sent them, and then they get their self-discovery report. But then most importantly, now that we have both of your answers, we get all those answers together and we have little children in Ireland that do it. No, that’s not true. Automatically done. There’s no child labor. There’s not even a little…

Sarah: There is an algorithm. Who are you kidding?

Figs: Yeah, there’s an algorithm. Little leprechauns literally. They are in some big room dancing away to Kylie’s music. Sorry. So it’s a little algorithm that puts together both of your answers and gives you this is your relationship system report and it illustrates for you, this is the system we co-create and these are the things we have to work on to make our relationship better. And then every week we send you what we call 10 seconds to love better, and it’s a little personalized reminder how to stay inside this loving frame yourself, of your relationship, and as I said, we have got courses and all that, but I would start with if you want to work on this, like how do I start seeing the system? How do I understand myself, the validity of myself and how I feel and act, and my partner and why we co-create what we do? I would start with that quiz at empathi.com.

Sarah: Awesome. I will link that in the show notes. Is there anything else that the listeners should know about or ways to find you today, Figs?

Figs: I don’t think so. I think that’s good. I just thank you very much for having me on your show and it was lovely talking to you. It really was. I do a lot of these shows and I have to say no, I really enjoyed talking to you and I just found that you got it. You got it. Really nice. It was really lovely to talk to you.

Sarah: Well, I just thank you. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your knowledge, all of your years of experience and just the unique approach you do take to this, cause I think there are so many ways to approach relationships and I’m really resonating with this that drops deeper into the limbic system, into our emotions, and allows the child within all of us to be seen and to be validated within this experience as you start to see the system that you’ve created in your relationships as you talk about it. So thank you so much again. I appreciate you being on the show today.

Figs: Cheers, Sarah.


Figs O’Sullivan is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples. He’s the creator of the Empathi method and the certification process for Empathi coaches. His life’s mission is to help couples feel more connected.

Learning to Love Better: The Conflict Solution Course: empathi.com/go

Take the Empath Quiz: https://empathi.com/pre-quiz (I got the RELENTLESS LOVER… shoot me a message over on Instagram and let me know what you got!)

This episode was brought to you by Beekeeper’s Naturals! To save 15% on your first order go to https://beekeepersnaturals.com/healinguncensored or enter code: HEALINGUNCENSORED at checkout!

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January 13, 2020


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