Episode 09: The Keys to Creating the Best Relationship of Your Life With Vienna Pharaon

Melyssa Griffin

27 min



The Keys to Creating the Best Relationship of Your Life With Vienna Pharaon



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Today’s discussion is one of my favorites on this podcast so far — I’m welcoming Vienna Pharaon, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and founder of Mindful Marriage and Family Therapy in NYC. If you’ve ever wanted to have better relationships, work through the “stuff” from your past, and become more aware of who you are at your core, this episode is for you.

I discovered Vienna a couple years ago through her popular @MindfulMFT Instagram account, where she regularly shares quotes and insightful thoughts about relationships — both the ones we have with other people, and with ourselves. Seriously, you HAVE to check out her account — it’s one of my all time favorites. This girl gets it.

Vienna is also the expert relationship contributor for Motherly, an international speaker and presenter, and the co-founder of the Relationships 101 program she presents around North America. Basically, she’s a baller shot caller in the therapy and relationships world, and I’m stoked to share a little piece of her awesomeness with you!

The Keys to Creating the Best Relationship of Your Life With Vienna Pharaon

Vienna believes that we all have the capacity for beautiful change and fulfilling relationships, but that in order to come face to face with that change, we need to take on vulnerability, explore our past, and find ways to express and expand ourselves and our needs in a healthy and connective way.

During this chat, we talk about things like what THE most important quality is in a romantic partner, what the prerequisite is before you can be in a happy, healthy relationship, and how to actively work through any negative experiences you had in the past, that are still disrupting how you feel in the present. You knowww you want to listen to this one, don’t you?

Check out the episode below:

In this episode, you’ll hear about things like…

  • How Vienna’s own past and her parents’ painful divorce became a catalyst to what she does in her work now.
  • What THE most important quality in a romantic partner is (and it’s probably not something you’ve heard before).
  • The prerequisites YOU should fill before you can be in a happy, healthy relationship with someone else.
  • Vienna’s unique definition of self love and how to achieve it (hint: it involves more than bubble baths and telling yourself affirmations in the mirror).
  • Where people go wrong when trying to be vulnerable, and a better way to be authentic.

Links from the interview:

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Thank you for listening!


Read the Interview Transcription Here
Hey everybody! Today’s guest is Vienna Pharaon, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and founder of Mindful Marriage and Family Therapy in New York City. She’s also the creator of the Mindful MFT Instagram account, which is literally one of my favorite accounts of all time, because every single day Vienna shares insightful, compassionate thoughts that help me feel more grounded and inch me closer to what I feel like is my best self. So you absolutely have to check out her Instagram. It is stellar. Now Vienna is also the expert relationship contributor for Motherly, an international speaker and presenter, and the co-founder of the popular Relationships 101 program that she presents all around North America. Now Vienna believes that we all have the capacity for beautiful change and fulfilling relationships, but in order to come face to face with that change, we need to take on vulnerability, explore our past, and find ways to express and expand ourselves and our needs in a healthy and connective way.

So today’s discussion is honestly one of my favorites on this podcast so far, because Vienna just has so many great insights and actionable tips and steps for anyone who wants to experience better relationships, more confidence, and finally work through those stories that maybe have held you back throughout your life. During this chat, we talk about things like what the most important quality is in a romantic partner, what the prerequisite is before you can be in a happy, healthy relationship, and how to actively work through any negative experiences or stories that you have from your past, that are still disrupting how you feel in the present. So you’re going to love this episode. Let’s dive in.

Melyssa Griffin: So Vienna, you have this natural wisdom that you share with your followers online, and to me, it’s deeply insightful and empathetic. This might be a generalization, but I feel like people who are great therapists or just really empathetic people, are those who have gone through something in their life and kind of made it to the other side, and now want to help other people do that too. So do you feel like there was anything in your life that was a catalyst for the career, the path that you’re on now?

Vienna Pharaon: Sure. I agree with you first that oftentimes obviously, we all have our own experiences and our own stories that are unique, but there are pieces to our story that are familiar to many of us. And so, certainly like having lived certain things out can help us connect to others quite easily. I think yeah, what sort of propelled me into this career was my parents’ divorce. They got separated when I was in first grade and they went through a pretty long winded divorce. I think it took them nine years.

Melyssa Griffin: Wow.

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah, really stretched it out there for good measure*.

Melyssa Griffin: We’re going to this as painful as possible for you.

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah, right. I am an only child, and so, it was an interesting experience for me to sort of witness their process and their journey through it. Really, really tough in the beginning and then they became really good friends. I think, so for me, as I kind of walked along that journey with them, it did show me that there is transformation. Obviously, it happens in its own way for many people, but it just sort of piqued my interest and curiosity to say like what makes relationships work, why do we choose who we choose, what gets in the way. And so, I got really interested in relationships and our role within our own family systems. I was either going to do sports psychology or marriage and family therapy. I found this great program in Chicago at Northwestern at the Family Institute. Their program was just so aligned with the way that I thought just naturally. I got in and it was sort of this – they just throw you into it. You start seeing clients right away. It’s a really incredible program. Going back to your original question. I mean for me, it’s having been a part that family system. It was definitely very difficult for me at times, and certainly my own romantic relationships contribute to it as well. Just a lot of growth and learning and self-reflection and awareness that I had to tap into in order to get to the other side. There’s always another side. It’s like come out this other side, and then like there’s one more coming. Right now, we’re just sitting in the space right now and waiting for what’s to come. Right now it feels pretty peaceful.

Melyssa Griffin: I love that you said that because I feel like there’s this kind of idea or perception that when you get over this issue or you get to this kind of transformation, then you’re good. Life is great and you don’t have to worry anymore. What you’re saying is really that there’s always a next level to our lives.

Vienna Pharaon: Yes, absolutely. Somebody on another podcast asked me what do you know for sure. I was like I know for sure that I’ll always remain a student. I think that’s so important because we’re sort of as a culture, fairly addicted to this self-awareness, self-growth and like okay, just get to the other side. Once I have my healing then I have my healing. It’s never ending. That’s just been a good learning lesson for me and I think for most of the people around me.

Melysaa Griffin: Absolutely. So I’m curious. I’ve been to therapy several times throughout my life. The first time was when I was 17. The most recent time was as recent as a couple weeks ago. So for me, therapy isn’t something to start going to when I’m feeling like at rock bottom or depressed. It’s something that I like to go to whenever I notice that I’m being triggered more frequently by some sort of negative thought pattern. I feel like for me, it’s going to be a lifelong thing, where I’ll just keep going back when I feel those feelings. I see it as more of this self-development practice and awareness. So whenever I talk about going to therapy, I feel like there’s more of this perception that people feel like they have to coddle me or that I must be depressed or have a serious mental health issue. I feel like that keeps a lot of people from working through their own issues to become their highest self. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on just the perceptions of therapy and who you think should see a therapist.

Vienna Pharaon: Sure. I mean I think the stigma is moving in some ways, but it’s still there. I think the research shows that couples come to couple therapy about four years too late. I think that’s the research. I think we tend to want to be able to do it on our own. I think a lot of people want – they’re like okay, I can get through this on my own. What does it mean to ask for help? What does it mean to kind of voice that, acknowledge it and actually follow through on it? I find that many people feel like they can do a lot of it on their own. Listen, the truth is we can do quite a bit on our own. I believe that we can process a lot if we have some self-awareness and introspection. We can do a lot of that work. And then, I still think it does take other people to kind of walk alongside of us and shed some light on our blind spots, pull back some of the blinds, ask questions that have us thinking about things look quite differently. I think oftentimes people come to therapy when they’re in crisis mode and that’s okay. We can do that and we can work through things. My recommendation is always for people to – it’s sort of what you were just saying, is like when we’re realizing that there’s a part of us that’s feeling stuck or a part of us that’s feeling kind of out of alignment, that’s a little flag in the sand saying okay, maybe open yourself up to the help, receiving a companion, kind of walk this journey with you. And so, this kind of preventive idea and I think maybe what you were describing, is just like it’s going to be a forever thing for me and that’s okay. It’s not because there’s necessarily anything wrong. It’s just this is where I go to have my release and this is something that brings me peace and freedom in my life.

And so, when we shift the story that we tell ourselves about therapy, then its meaning changes. I think where people get caught up is when the story is a negative one, where there’s a negative connotation to it, where there’s a stigma attached to it, or we say that things must be terribly wrong for you to be in therapy. In larger cities, I find that not always to be the case, like at least out here in New York. People state quite openly about therapy, not everybody, but there’s a lot of people who sort of throw it into the conversation like I’m going to go get my nails done and then go to my therapist and I’ll go grab dinner with you.

Melyssa Griffin: Wow, that’s so interesting. I love that.

Vienna Pharaon: So it’s spoken about maybe a little bit more openly at least here from what I hear. Listen, I love therapy and I think everyone should use it at any point, because there’s always something to learn and something to kind of understand differently about ourselves and our partners or our families.

Melyssa Griffin: Right. It’s like you said, there’s always that next level or there’s something else that we could be working on. So you, in one of your recent newsletters, you shared what you think is the most important quality in a romantic partner. For anyone who didn’t get to read that newsletter, what was that quality?

Vienna Pharaon: So I labeled it as self-awareness in another person, and certainly ourselves too. I have so many clients who, they’re caught in this, in the dating world here. They’re finding themselves in the same pattern and they’re getting frustrated, and then they sort of declare – what should I be looking for in a partner, like what’s the most important thing. And for me, I think self-awareness is sort of the canopy over so many other traits. So when people talk about kindness and generosity and thoughtfulness and compassion and vulnerability, like absolutely, those things are so important to see in a partner, but what I find to be the most important is a person’s self-awareness, because when one is self-aware, they’re able to be those things or they’re at least able to understand what’s getting in the way when they’re not being those things. And so, the articulation of that is so valuable. There’s obviously research. I think I put in the newsletter that the research shows that kindness and generosity are the two greatest traits for long lasting marriage and relationships. That’s true, but I think what I see, at least with the couples in my office, hundreds of thousands of people that I’ve worked with at this point, is that the couples who are self-aware are the ones who are really able to take conflict head on and resolve it, and use conflict as a way to create connection and deep intimacy with one another. I think I also mentioned in the newsletter that if we’re kind, that’s great, but kindness doesn’t necessarily mean that we know how to go through the trenches with one another. Self-awareness for me has everything to do with that.

Melyssa Griffin: What would be like an example of self-awareness in action? How can we see that in a relationship when there’s conflict?

Vienna Pharaon: Sure. I mean I think a big – I talk a lot about the pause. I’m like respect the pause. So people hear me talk – I talk about pausing so much. For me, in the pause is the space where we’re able to take a look at ourselves and deeply connect to what it is that’s going on. So when I think about self-awareness within conflict, it’s taking that step back, it’s pausing and being able to understand what’s the story that I’m telling myself about what’s happening now, where have I felt or experienced this before, why does this feel familiar, what’s the wound here, what’s the pain, what’s going on here, and what is it that I’m actually seeking. When we complain and are frustrated or we’re criticizing another, for me, what I always tell my clients is that beneath that is a deep emotional need that’s not being met. And so, when we are able to connect to what that emotional need is and ask for it to be met, and become curious about our partner when he or she is also triggered and getting stuck, in that space, we can start to create that connection and deep understanding of each other. I always tell people that when there’s conflict that no, it’s not exciting, but when I think about conflict I’m not like, “sign me up for it.” I become curious because it’s exciting in the sense that I know that I’m going to learn something about myself and my partner. That to me feels so rewarding. Obviously, conflict isn’t fun. Nobody loves it, but I think when we can shift our perspective and change out our lens and say, “Hey, in this space is something really valuable.” We want to be acting this way. We want to be reacting this way if there wasn’t something important here. And so, if we can shift to that space of learning and curiosity, there’s so much intimacy and connection that can happen there.

Melyssa Griffin: I love that. I love that reframe on just the beauty of conflict versus just thinking of it as this thing that means the relationship is bad or something is wrong, but it’s really just this learning opportunity like you said and a chance to deepen that connection. So I love that.

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah, we have such a negative connotation attached to conflict, where most people stories around conflict are negative. When we pause to think about what is the story around conflict, where we saw conflict first is likely in our family system, like what happened when our parents or caretakers or siblings were in conflict. Did people brush it under the rug? Did people scream and fight? Did somebody leave and abandon the family? What happened there that makes us want to avoid it and puts us in a space where we are fearful or frightened of it? Inviting in a new story that says yes that was true, and that may have happened, and that is the story. There is a new story that can also play out, one where conflicts can become connection and intimacy. It’s scary, but I do think that that’s a great place for people to start to invite in this new story to say, I don’t know how to do it yet and I’m willing to try to learn.

Melyssa Griffin: Yeah I love that. So aside from self-awareness, do you feel like there are any prerequisites for being in a happy, healthy relationship? Like anything that we personally need to work on or do before we can fully love someone else.

Vienna Pharaon: I mean I know obviously super cliché, but there is value in having the self-love and the self-compassion. I know everybody says it and I think people get confused, like what is self-love. People are like is that just a bubble bath and a massage, like going hiking or spending a night out. It’s like people have a really hard time understanding what self-love is. I’m not sure that we necessarily have the greatest definition in the world for it, but I tried to take a stab at it once. I said I think self-love is the balance of compassion and ownership for oneself, because I think that when we are too compassionate with ourselves, where people are like that’s bullsh*t, that’s not okay – you can’t just let yourself off the hook too much. That’s where people really get rubbed the wrong way. So bringing in that ownership piece is really important. It’s not about just saying like it’s okay, no matter what you’re fine, it’s okay to make mistakes, and okay, but have love for yourself even though you said something that was really nasty or you let somebody down. Yes, it’s the acceptance that we’re human and there’s room for us to grow and learn. There’s room for us to take ownership and acknowledge the wrong pivot point or the mistake – I use that loosely, but the mistakes that we made or the ways that we’ve let other people down when we’ve said the wrong thing. And so, that balance of the two: compassion and ownership; reminding ourselves we’re human, we’re allowed to make mistakes. It’s also required that we own it.

Melyssa Griffin: Love that. I feel like that advice that you shared earlier about just pausing, is the perfect thing to do in order to find, like am I being compassionate with myself in this moment, am I taking ownership for the things that I need to be taking ownership for. So I love that combination of advice there.

Vienna Pharaon: I think for me, as a marriage and family therapist, so much of the work is understanding the – like the systems that we’ve been a part of growing up. When I say systems, I’m talking about family systems – kind of any relationship to me is a system, which we use at work quite often – so for the listeners. For me, what I find to be incredibly valuable – and I think you used the word prerequisite before, is really an understanding of our wounds of our story, of our family’s story, of the role that we held within our family system. Because oftentimes, what I see is that in our adult romantic relationships, we often hold a similar role in some ways; this is what I’m allowed to do, this is what I should be doing, this is what I shouldn’t be doing. That’s not necessarily accurate for everyone, but I do find that is fairly common for a lot of people. And so, just the exploration of our family of origin which is the family in which we grew up, and really just understanding the roles, the messages that we received, because those messages turn into the narratives that play out over and over and over again in our lives. And so, when we have a deep understanding of what has fueled us and we are in a position as adults to check those messages to say like do I believe that anymore, like how does that land for me. Because so much of what happens day to day is running from our subconscious. And so, we need to be able to check that to make sure the way in which we are living, the way in which we are operating, that is something that we’ve given permission to. Did it make sense?

Melyssa Griffin: It totally does, yeah. You completely hit on something that I wanted to talk about as well, which is very much just like how those stories from our past guide our decisions for the present and future. So for example, about a week ago, I met someone new, who, she’s running a multi-billion dollar company. She has a beautiful family. From the outside, just seems like she has this wonderful life. I’m sure she does, but she’s also very much held back by fears that stem from how her dad and her mom treated her, and just things that happened in her childhood. I feel like so many people have a version of that story, where maybe they’re successful or maybe something in their life is going right, but they’re still not tapping into their full potential because of something that happened in the past. I know that that’s been my own story too that I’ve had to work through. How do you feel like our listeners can begin to identify those negative patterns that are holding them back?

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah, I mean I think it’s the exploration of our limiting belief system. So a lot of times in therapy, I’ll ask people to consider the implicit and explicit messages that they’ve received around communication, around love, around sex, around education, around money, around communication, around sports, around masculinity or femininity – anything and everything, I may have repeated something there – to really take time and write out the messages that were received. It’s not just from our family. This is society. This is from our coaches. It’s from our teachers. It’s from friends. I mean it’s from anybody who had an impact on us. It’s religion. It’s culture. It’s tradition. And so, to slow down to say okay, what story is running here and what were the things that were said or what were the things that were done that left me feeling a certain way. Did you know more of that woman’s story? You said that the parents had impacted her. So was there – were there certain messages that stood out there that were limiting…?

Melyssa Griffin: Yeah. So a lot of her – how it shows up for her now is that she doesn’t ask for help. That can show up in how she hires people or how she puts her business out there, but she doesn’t want help from anyone which stems from just this place of feeling like her parents didn’t want to help her in a lot of ways.

Vienna Pharaon: Sure, yeah. And so, it’s not really about not wanting help. It’s about having to defend against needing help and feeling let down and rejected in that space. So the wall comes up that says I don’t need anything, I’m fine on my own. We won’t out her, instead, I’ll just talk about myself. I think for me, as an only child, I – and again, in the beginning of the divorce and separation, it was pretty chaotic. It was really messy and a lot of emotion. I think as a child, I looked at that and I thought to myself, I better not need much because they’re so chaotic and they’re not okay. So if I’m not okay, it’s going to make the system even worse which is such a bullsh*t story. As a little girl, you’re looking at this and you’re like oh gosh, okay mom and dad are not doing so well and I better not add anything to this. And so, from a young age – I didn’t know this at five, this through a lot of work, but I think from a really early age, I became super independent. I got good at just about anything and everything so that I didn’t need too much help. It’s not because my parents didn’t want to help me. So that might be a little bit of the difference there. They were totally willing, contributing participants and really wonderful parents in that way, and yet, I still built up this wall that suggested like I can do it on my own and I shouldn’t have to need anything from anybody. Because if I need something, I am fearful that it’s going to crash and burn the system.

And so, my work was around giving myself permission to step out of that role and allow myself to ask for needs to be met, to realize that I don’t have to do it all on my own, that some people are going to be able to show up. Even amidst chaos too, that things don’t just have to be rosy in order for people to show up, that we can have conflict, we can have chaos, and we can still have needs that are met. So there’s many, many, many more details to that story, but I think just in terms of the quick, like what do we do. Okay, we look at this and we see that role and we acknowledge it. Because for me, one of the greatest breakthroughs I think in my life was the recognition and then the acknowledgement of it, and then putting it into practice in one of my relationships, where I was like I’m not like the classic Vienna I used to be, like I’m okay. That’s not a problem, like everything’s alright, because I didn’t want to add anything to the system. And so, finally giving myself permission to tell someone that something wasn’t okay, was this like major breakthrough, this aha moment that just went further, because it wasn’t just like aha, I know this now. It was like aha, and I did it. That felt so good. I think what I realize is once you do it once, you’re like “got it”. For me, it was like once I did it, it was like oh. Check this out! I know what I don’t like and what I do like and what I need. It really changed a lot for me.

Melyssa Griffin: That, just like my brain exploded for a second because that is exactly my story too. I actually, I’ve done a lot of therapy and work, but hadn’t come to the conclusion about that specific trait that you did. So that was actually really helpful for me, because the whole time I was like yeah, yeah, that’s exactly how I felt Yeah, little did I know.

Vienna Pharaon: Little did you know you were stepping into a therapy session right now.

Melyssa Griffin: Seriously. This is awesome though. It’s actually funny because I recently was meeting with a therapist, and one of the things that they said was that I have trouble with intimacy. I never thought that before because I feel like I don’t. I feel like I allow myself to be vulnerable with people and share the things that I’ve gone through, but as I dug more into it, I realized it’s the exact same thing you were talking about, where I always make sure that I’m okay and that I don’t rock the boat. I only talk about those vulnerable moments after they’ve – after I’ve worked through them and not while they’re happening in the moment, because I don’t want to seem like I’m needing help. So I completely resonate with that. Thank you for sharing that. Personally helpful.

Vienna Pharaon: Good. I mean – right, there is a difference between the storytelling aspect of vulnerability. Hey, this happened in my life. Hey, look I got to the other side and look how pretty it is, and it’s packaged up now and everything is good. I’m not a mess anymore versus like oh my gosh, I’m going through it and let me drop into my heart and share what I am feeling. I think a lot of times when we do the storytelling afterwards, there is still – yeah, there is intimacy there and yes, there is vulnerability there for sure, it’s just a different version of it.

Melyssa Griffin: Right, exactly. It’s almost from this place of like I’ve conquered it versus this place of like I’m in the trenches and it kind of sucks, and you might judge me more because I’m not this expert at this situation now. What do you feel like – yeah, a lot of entrepreneurs listen to this podcast. I know that for many of them, they want to be more vulnerable with their audiences. They see the value in using vulnerability as a tool to build community, but I would say some probably feel like me, where they have trouble sharing stuff that’s happening in the moment. How can we improve on that or should we?

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah I mean – where people go wrong sometimes with vulnerability is when it starts to become a little bit inauthentic, and also when it starts to become oversharing. And so, are you familiar with Brene Brown’s work?

Melyssa Griffin: Yes.

Vienna Pharaon: How she talks about the difference, like how we often confuse vulnerability with oversharing. A lot of people walk that line then sometimes jump off of it onto the wrong side, where it’s actually something that detracts from and makes it really hard for people to connect or their viewers or their listeners or whatever platform your listeners use, that people then start to want to shy away from it because it doesn’t feel connective. So for me, I think when we’re sharing vulnerability with people who haven’t necessarily “earned” the right to it, what is really important is that we have – really kind of what you were just saying, is that there’s a package to the vulnerability. When we’re sharing vulnerability with people we don’t know (followers or whomever), we ought to share the vulnerability when there’s a message and a lesson there that can be clearly articulated versus like I’m a mess right now and like this is not okay. It’s kind of confusing messages, and sometimes they contradict one another. I’m not saying that there has to be a pretty package or a pretty story. We can share the story and say like well look at how ugly it was, and look at how messy it was, and this is how I worked my way through it. This is different though with vulnerability, with people who have earned the right, like partners, best friends, family members we trust. Anybody we trust is quite different then strangers or people who are just kind of following from afar. So I think if there was a piece of advice or something to just consider, it would be to think about the way in which we’re sharing that vulnerability, and making sure that the way that we’re sharing the vulnerability is with a purpose attached to it. Not just hey, show up for me and feel this way for me and connect to me, it needs to be still about what we are gifting to the people who are reading what it is that we’re writing.

Melyssa Griffin: That’s such a great distinction.

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah, because I think that if we need something in that kind of messy space, then we ought to go to the people we trust, to the people who have earned the right to that, not to people who are strangers, not to people who are not bought in. So when we’re entrepreneurs and we want to share our story and actually be transparent and real, and not pretend like our lives are this beautiful concoction of all of these things. I get the need and the desire, the want to be transparent and honest, but do it in a way that gifts something to people. Do it in a way that is generous.

Melyssa Griffin: I love that. Yeah, it’s so true, like having a message attached to it versus not having one. It’s almost like this selfish act if you’re kind of just sharing the stuff without the purpose or the message. So I like that distinction. I’m just thinking like what’s the message that I’m conveying to people, how am I helping them with this.

Vienna Pharaon: We don’t have to have the message when it’s people who love us and people we love. You don’t have to have the message then. That’s where we get to be like here it all is and I have no idea what I’m doing. Those are the people who are meant to show up for us, but not the others. They’re meant to receive the message. They are receiving our generosity, to say here is where I was, this is what it looked like, this is what I learned, and here is my offering to you.

Melyssa Griffin: Love that. So I think it’s obvious that you have so much beautiful knowledge to share with people about relationships of all kinds. I’m curious. If you would fill in the blank for this sentence, how would you fill it in? So if people just did this ___ their relationships would improve.

Vienna Pharaon: …to understand.

Melyssa Griffin: What do you mean?

Vienna Pharaon: Listen, I would fill in that blank with probably so many things.

Melyssa Griffin: Well here is my personal list, but…

Vienna Pharaon: Right, here’s my personal list. Is my partner listening? So what I mean by that is generally, when we’re listening, we often listen to respond. Listen, I am guilty of it. I think that we’re all guilty of it from time to time. We are usually on the defensive. It’s really easy to get on the defensive when somebody is telling us something, especially if it has to do with us or if it has nothing to do with us, oftentimes, we are listening to problem solve, listening to fix, listening to offer some suggestions or ideas. The intent is incredible; okay, I’m going to fix this, I’m going to help you solve this problem. The impact sometimes misses the mark. And so, I find that relationships really do improve when we listen to understand, when we listen to just be present to connect to what the other person is saying without thinking about what it is that we’re going to respond with, or how it is we’re going to react, or what the sentence is that we’re going to use in order to defend ourselves. If you think about it yourself, how often does somebody say something to you and you’re already thinking about how you’re going to respond or what you’re going to say next? When we’re doing that, it’s impossible for us to be fully connected and present to what they’re saying. There’s important stuff there. That’s the thing, is like when we’re not listening, we’re missing things. When we’re busy trying to figure out what is that we’re going to say, then we can’t be busy being curious.

Melyssa Griffin: Yeah. I had an experience kind of like that recently, where I was going through something with work, and was telling my boyfriend about it and feeling very upset about it. His natural reaction, which was so sweet, was to want to fix it and to offer advice. For me, I just said I just want you to listen and hug me. I don’t want – I don’t need it to be fixed, I just need you to listen. I feel like that advice that you gave is so relevant and so helpful even for little situations like that.

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah absolutely. I mean to think – and what you realize was that it was sweet and it was coming from a great place. You just needed to shift into asking for what you needed. That’s the thing – and sometimes it’s hard for partners because they do want to fix it. They want us to not reside in a place of anxiety or panic or fear, and sometimes we just need to be in that space and have that hug. Obviously, it’s much harder when the person is talking about us or we’re talking about them because there’s more defensiveness that can rise to the surface, as opposed to like complaining about a boss or complaining about something that’s happening on the periphery. I do think that that piece of advice is relevant and valuable to us all, and just a reminder of like let me listen to understand, let me shift into understanding instead of shifting into responding. Because we’ll always have an opportunity to respond at some point. I’s not like the opportunity disappears all of a sudden just because you listened to understand for 10 minutes first.

Melyssa Griffin: Right. I love that advice. I told you earlier that I love your Instagram.It’s just so insightful, so much beautiful knowledge. I know just even based on this conversation, how much you probably help your clients too. Sometimes I look at the things that you write and I think, does this woman have any flaws because she seems so self-aware, so understanding. I’m curious if there’s anything that you feel like you are working on right now?

Vienna Pharaon: Oh sure. That’s very kind of you. It’s very nice to hear. I mean I would say that I am fairly self-aware. I do think that I’ve done a lot of work to kind of arrive at this place. So I’ll certainly pat myself on the back for that, but I still have to work on not being avoidant. It’s especially easy for me as a therapist to be a really incredible listener. I don’t always do a great job of sharing. When I share, I can have the tendency to lean into the thinking part of things instead of dropping into my heart and talking about how I’m feeling. I have an incredible partner who is so good at calling that out. He has really helped me with that, but I still have to catch myself around that because I can really just go into the analyzing and the rationalizing of things instead of just the feeling of things and allowing myself to know that it’s safe and it’s okay. That brings me back to my original story, being an only child, kind of being isolated in that space, dealing with a lot of emotion on my own. And so, reminding myself of the new story that I do have people, and especially in my partner, I have someone who wants to hear and really does care about how I’m feeling. So that’s certainly an area that I continue to challenge for myself. The second I have a tendency to – like if I’m upset about something, I can quickly go to how would you feel if… whatever it is. It’s so avoided, and it’s so funny because he calls me out on it all the time when it happens. That’s so avoided, like just tell me how your – like stop telling me about myself, tell me about yourself. So I have some of those avoidant tendencies, but yeah, I mean I think…

Melyssa Griffin: I liked what you said about replacing the old story with the new story. I feel like a lot of us forget that that’s even a possibility. We just think well we had these parents, we had this story when we were growing up so that’s just who we are. That’s just what’s going to be our life. I love that gentle reframe of well you can have a new story if you choose to have one, if you work to have one.

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah totally. Yeah absolutely. I mean it’s tough because so much of our story is implanted and ingrained. I think that there’s a lot of research around the subconscious now that’s coming out and realizing how we operate from a non-conscious space. I think it’s like 97 to 99% of the time, mind blowing. All of the thoughts, beliefs, what it is we’re doing, most of that is already in place between the ages of zero and seven. All of those things that we are observing, seeing, hearing, listening to all of it, it’s all being imprinted by that time. So our belief systems are given to us from such an early age and we’re not giving permission. How can a four year old, a six year old give permission to those things? Yeah that was the story, and now as adults, I think it’s our responsibility to check that story, and to start to shift whatever it is that we need to shift out.

Melyssa Griffin: What do you feel like are some actionable steps people can take to shift that story or to create a new story or move on from those things that they felt?

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah. Well listen, I’m such an advocate for therapy. I think it’s a really great place for people to start, who have a hard time just doing it on their own. Because just walking alongside of somebody who can lead you and ask the right questions and be a really safe space for you, is a really good place to start. Yeah, so I think it’s just – also what I said before, when I was saying like checking the messages. So one could pull out a paper right now and write down like okay communication, love, sex, gender, religion – whatever, education, sports – all of these things. Start writing out all of the messages that we received around those things and then translate them to what those narratives are about the same things today. What is it that our inner self – we call it kind of like the inner voice or oftentimes like the self-critic when it’s yapping away and not being very kind. Checking those narratives to say like what am I telling myself, because we talk to ourselves more than we talk to anybody else. And so, clearing those things out and replacing them with something. That really is at both end*. It’s not about wiping our story at all. You can’t erase it. It is what it is, but there is an “and”. That’s the part that’s really important, is we reflect and we’re aware, and then we expand and we express, and we shift   into a life of joy and fulfillment by choosing what that looks like for ourselves and asking ourselves is what I’m doing, is what I’m about to say, is how I’m about to react the reflection of living this new life, this new story that I want to lead. Take self-awareness, I mean it comes back to that, because if we’re not able to shift ourselves into a conscious space to be aware, then we lose track of that and we fall back into what it is that we’ve always done because it codes* that way. Our system has done it for decades, so you can’t just say like I want to do this and then do it. You have to be conscious about it. You have to practice it. It’s like muscle memory almost.

Melyssa Griffin: Right. One of the things just to add on to that, in addition to therapy that helped me really figure out what’s triggering me and how I can move forward from it, is to take up a regular journaling practice where I write out kind of just stream of consciousness, whatever comes up. I notice that the more I would do that, the more I would see patterns or like connections between certain experiences, and that would give me the awareness to work through those things too. So that’s been really helpful also.

Vienna Pharaon: Journaling is amazing. Pen to paper is so important. It’s different than typing it on a computer screen. It’s different than entering it into your notes section on your phone. Really, really powerful. I think it’s meditation for people too. That can bring us back forward. I think having a good friend system is amazing. I love the quote, the Jim Rohn quote, “We are the average of the five people we keep closest to us.” For me, when I think about the five people who are closest to me, I am so thankful and grateful for these humans in my life, because they draw attention to things that I need to spend time on and they’re willing to say that to me lovingly. They’re willing to say it and they love me so much that they don’t want to let me stay in something that might be blocking me or keeping me stuck or leading me down a path that I shouldn’t go down. So having good people around us is underrated sometimes.

Melyssa Griffin: Yeah I agree. I’ve been kind of meditating on that thought too, that just good relationships, friendships, any kind of relationship is the point of life almost. It’s the key to happiness and unlocking all these other great things. So I completely agree with you. A couple more questions for you. Amazing knowledge you’ve shared so far. I know a lot of the people listening are entrepreneurs who put themselves out there online a lot, and sometimes that can result in getting cruel comments, negative feedback or just spirited people kind of coming into their world. What advice would you give or what should we keep in mind if our followers or somebody in our tribe says something really cruel to us?

Vienna Pharaon: It’s really hard sometimes to receive that message. No matter how calm we are, no matter how at peace we are, it still stings. There’s some nasty stuff that’s out there for sure. I think certainly we ought to practice the pause. So before reacting and writing something nasty back, it’s really important to take a moment and step away. I think a great reminder that’s always been there for me, is just remembering that people are dealing with their own stuff. It’s more a reflection, generally, tends to be more a reflection of what’s going on in their lives than anything that we’ve put out there. Now here’s the ownership piece. It’s important to look at ourselves to say okay, did I say something or put something out there that may have been misinterpreted or came across the wrong way. And so, there are times that people are reacting for good reason. Now saying what they say is a different story. Of course, people can communicate disappointment or a disagreement in something without being vicious and nasty. I think remembering that people are operating from the place, like the best place they know how, and for many people, that’s pretty low. It’s true though. For some people, all they know is conflict, all they know is aggression, all they know is vindictiveness. It’s so hard to have compassion for someone who is doing that, but we ought to think about what their life and what those relationships must have looked like for them to feel like it’s okay, or that it’s their right to operate that way, to talk to people that way. It’s never right. That’s the boundary. It’s never right. It’s not okay. Yet if there’s any way to bring in some tiny, tiny, tiny, small strand of compassion, we should challenge ourselves to do it.

Melyssa Griffin: Yeah I love that. I see your definition of self-love in there too, which you said was the combination of ownership and passion. It’s like compassion for yourself for knowing that either this is not true or maybe it’s true. It’s something that you can work on. Ownership of that, maybe you triggered them in some way or maybe you did do something that kind of started this comment, but compassion to this person too, who like you said, probably this is what they learned in their life. This is how they treat people because that’s how they were treated. Something that kind of helps me, it’s very similar, is just know this kind of changed how I viewed negative comments, was knowing that happy, secure people don’t go out of their way to be cruel to other people. So it’s very much what you were saying that if somebody is doing that, then they’re coming from a place of unhappiness or insecurity, most of the time.

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t put us into a reactive place. Sometimes the best thing that I can do is like take a screenshot of something and show it to a couple of my friends, and just have some validation from them, to be like oh gosh, just don’t listen to that. The good news, I don’t tend to get too much – I don’t really get too many nasty remarks, but from time to time, people vehemently disagree with something.

Melyssa Griffin: I love that. I love that advice for dealing with that. I have one final question for you that I love to ask all of my guests. That is: what do you feel like humans could do to live more meaningful and fulfilled lives?

Vienna Pharaon: That’s a great question. What can people do to live more meaningful and fulfilled lives? Listen to themselves. Yeah, I mean I think I could probably ramble. Everyone’s podcasts have these great final questions and you start answering them, and I’ve tried to get better at like pausing and just giving a really succinct answer. I guess my first answer is to listen to ourselves because I do believe that we have these answers within. And so, when we actually sink into ourselves and drop in, we can start to listen to what it is that we actually need, what it is our little girl needs, what it is the little boy in us needs. Listening to those parts, because once we start to identify those parts, then we’re able to either ask for what we need, step into our purpose, our passion, give ourselves permission to do something that maybe not everybody agrees with, our parents don’t think that we should go down this career path, but we do it anyway because it’s meaningful to us. I think if we can start to listen to ourselves, if we can start to give ourselves some peace and quiet, and like actually honor our voice and give ourselves the courage to speak up, even just to ourselves, we can probably start to live more meaningful and fulfilled lives, even just like inching our way there.

Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, that’s beautiful. Thank you so much Vienna. This has been a beautiful conversation. Everything that you – I’m personally going back and listen to this. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah, thanks for having me, this great conversation. I will love to listen back to it too.

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My name is
Melyssa Griffin

I believe that an unstoppable mindset can be your #1 business tactic. So, my job is to lead you back to yourself and to help you reprogram the limiting beliefs and patterns that are keeping you small. 

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