Stop avoiding what you fear. Unless we are talking physical danger, go toward what you fear. Stop strategizing ways around it, and say okay I am going to feel the feelings I fear having by going toward what I fear Yes, it really is your fear of how you will feel rather than the circumstances.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracy Crossley. Tracy is a Behavioral Relationship Expert and Podcast Host, who specializes in treating individuals with unhealthy dating and relationship patterns. Tracy treats clients dealing with a wide range of behavioral issues such as insecure attachment, harmful belief systems, breaking the cycle of narcissistic damage, destructive self-talk, and more. With a background in psychology, an innate emotional intuition, and drawing from her own personal experience, Tracy helps her clients break the patterns that keep them trapped in the repetition of unhealthy singlehood and relationships. Through emotionally-driven techniques, Tracy is able to zero in on clients’ obstacles in order to shift their way of seeing themselves and help them drop the emotional armor to kick anxiety and pain to the curb. The work she does leads to clients to self-acceptance, emotional freedom and the ability to authentically connect with themselves and others. Tracy offers workshops specific to these topics, as well as intensive 10-week boot camps meant to help folks with a dysfunctional relationships, “yo-yo” daters, men and women having trouble moving on from past relationships, leapfrogging from relationship to relationship, bread-crumbing, gaslighting and more. In addition to her mentoring services, Tracy offers her successful digital coaching program called “The 30-Day Emotional Cleanse” where clients can start taking the steps to rid whatever roadblocks keep them from having healthy relationships. Tracy’s popular mental health podcast, Deal With It! offers listeners a different perspective when it comes to breaking the cycle of unhealthy behaviors. The podcast addresses folks who want to deal with their emotional baggage and it helps them to get unstuck from thinking and to start feeling, gain personal responsibility and really learn to love themselves. All of it is geared toward developing a healthy relationship with oneself and the rest of the world. Deal With It! touches on releasing insecure attachment, breaking through unhealthy beliefs and patterns, resulting in acceptance, self-trust and empowerment of one’s authentic self; all things necessary for a happy and healthy relationship. Tracy discusses sensitive subjects using her own experiences coupled with a lot of laughs and even more empathy.
Thank you so much for joining us, Tracy! Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?
I was an entrepreneur from a young age selling popcorn balls to my neighbors. As an adult, I would go from owning my own businesses followed by years working in corporate America. I became a single parent when my kids were young and during that time I would struggle with my happiness with work, myself and of course, dating and relationships.
Almost 12 years ago, I was laid off from my six-figure job. It was the start of the recession and I could not find anything to pay me consistently. It was ugly. And so was my love life. I mean I was always the person on the outside who looked like she had her s**t together, but on the inside, I was a mess. And being in this position had me feeling like I had been found out. I was really the worthless person I had always been running from. I spent a lot of time walking for miles, reading self-help books and trying to fit a square peg of a relationship into a round hole. I had anxiety all the time, if it was not about the money, it was about the guy or being alone or how I was doing as a parent. One of the books I read was “The Wishing Year,” the author mentioned several other books in her book, one, in particular, was “Calling In The One,” it was totally up my alley with my wreck of a love life. It was the start of me catching a clue about what was driving me to one bad relationship after another or from my long bouts of being alone.
The current dating situation was similar to a yo-yo, back and forth, disappearing and reappearing, interest in moving forward and finally falling off the face of the earth, but that just left me pining for something that could never be. This was a pattern for me. I thought I would just call in my soulmate with this book, but I did not. Instead, I pulled in another similar dating situation. My biggest fear was ending up alone, and lonely, as though I was missing out on what I believed others had.
In an effort to “resolve” the situation, I booked an appointment with the book’s author. I was basically broke, but somehow I scraped together $300 to have a session with her. I was hoping she could save me from myself.
While I was at her office, I met her business partner, who needed some marketing and business development work for one of their programs. I jumped in because I loved the work they were doing and it gave me something positive to focus on as I looked for a job. It was also a huge signpost for how I didn’t value myself because I did the work for free; I felt they were doing me a favor.
Fast forward about a couple of months later and I was invited to train as a coach for them. My response was, “Thank you, but no thank you.” I had no interest in sitting through days of training because I had had a ton of anxiety about my current dysfunctional relationship which gave me self-diagnosed ADD not to mention I could not imagine how I was going to make money as a coach. Eventually, after a lot of prodding, I agreed to do it. That is how I literally became a coach. I was still a hot mess with my dating life, and here I was a love coach coaching others on something I had no clue about. I was good at it, even on days when I felt the bottom falling out emotionally, as I struggled to seem “sane” during some of those early sessions.
I learned through the work I did with others, a lot of studying and enlisting other teachers that I was an anxious-avoidant. Meaning I was insecurely attached. I could see it from my early dating life through all my relationships. It had me by the toes, I was either running away from relationships or clinging hard to someone who was not all that interested. I should also mention when I began coaching, I was losing everything that I felt counted, including my house and my wonderfully avoidant, delusional relationship, but when I was coaching those people for an hour a week, I was in focus. I was right there with them.
In essence, my career was a choice I did not put much thought into, it sort of found me and I went with it. I was told I was a natural, which helped with my confidence in the beginning. I struggled through my first few years of coaching and around that time I had an epiphany about myself. I realized I was completely cut off from my emotions. I had this discovery when the relationship I lost started to reanimate itself from dead to living. I was irritated because I realized no matter if this person was in my life or he was gone, I felt the same. I felt stuck, held captive by something I thought was supernatural love, as though he was my soulmate. I could not figure out how to get him out of my system. And it was that moment on the street when I realized it was me as much as it was him, and my own emotional unavailability. This caused me to do a deep dive into changing myself so I could experience something I never had emotional freedom and happiness. I decided I would not break it off with this guy unless I had emotional clarity and resolution. That was hard, because I did not like how I was treated or much of it but I also felt like I was handcuffed to it and so I dug deep, learned a lot about myself and worked my rear end off to get to healthy, happy and functional.
I brought what I learned to my coaching. I knew when people showed up in that anxiety either over a recent break up with someone they were still hooked on or they were in a yo-yo situation like me or had been single for years that I could help them, because I had helped myself. This was the coolest thing because I had believed I was the only one. Many found me from the articles I wrote about my experiences and later they found me from my podcast where I share it all. I think one of the most alluring things about my work for the people who come is that I give a different answer to what is the cure than what they have heard. Many have heard they need to find a secure mate and that would help, but most people like me who run the gamut of anxious and avoidant could not just enter into a relationship like that. And I help them get there like I helped me get there.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Hmmm…this is hard to answer. I find my line of work interesting all the time. People are inspiring and I attract people who want to change themselves. So….a story? I think because I always felt like I was in a tribe of one, and so the fact that other people related to me and what I put out there it was surprising! I remember when I first pressed the “return” button to submit my very personal stories to elephant journal that I really did not believe I would impact other people. I felt like no one would resonate and then it blew me away to start hearing from people who suffered from many of the same issues. I have found the most interesting thing to be my own personal growth from the work I do. I take everything I say/do and have applied it or reapplied it to my life, I talk it and walk it, I believe it keeps my work refreshing and also keeps me coming up with new insights to share. If you would have asked me 20 years ago if this is how I pictured my life in any capacity, I would not have known how good things could be on the inside.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from -that?
This is a funny question for me to answer, since in the beginning of this career — I was so serious. I had been in the process of losing it all, so I was in the process of trying to hold onto every little bit. And so the mistakes I made were probably along the lines of not finding it funny but feeling I could lose it all. Looking back I see many mistakes, like just working with anyone without actually seeing if they were willing to do the work. I learned to be aware about that. A funny thing that happened this year was when I interviewed someone for my videocast and did the whole interview without recording it. Thankfully, the other person and I laughed a lot and she was willing to redo the whole interview. The second go-round was a lot better than the first. I used to believe you had to catch it the first time or it would be too rehearsed, but I actually find it’s better to not be stuck on an outcome. Just go with the flow.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I currently have a book being shopped to publishers by my literary agent, which is exciting. I also am pretty darn excited about my Kick Ass Bootcamp meant for those who have the same issues I had. And as far as working on a new project; I am developing a coaching hotline. It is meant to help more people who cannot afford the cost of some of my other programs. I hear from people daily who are stuck and looking for tools on how to get out; my goal is to help anyone and everyone to get out of feeling alone in their dysfunctional dating/relationship life and see that they can get to the other side. The side of being self-responsible, not as though they are a victim of life circumstances, but that they are empowered to change how they feel and what they do. It is possible and this hotline will help people to discover what real happiness is, along with true connection and really trusting themselves to choose well — the goal is they lead the lives they always wanted. A lot of times we cannot see ourselves very well and having this kind of help is a game-changer.
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
First, as someone who was lonely most of her life, it is something that I was able to help myself out of through my own deep dive inside. I had to see how the things I was doing were keeping me feeling alone, and at times totally cut off and lonely. It also served as protection; as a way of dealing with uncomfortable emotions. I felt misunderstood and when you feel misunderstood by many, you feel you don’t fit and when you feel you do not fit, you feel pretty damn lonely. Not to mention for me it was my love life or lack of one that had me lonely. When I was married the first time, I used to half-jokingly say that I was married to myself, because it felt like I was alone in my marriage. Reaching further back to being a teenager who felt she did not fit in, even with friends I found that I was lonely at times because I did not have many who really got me. But hey, I didn’t get me. I feel now with everything being online and human beings being social creatures that we miss the face time. I mean real face time. Back when I was single, I could get caught up in social media, but the minute I was done I had a sinking feeling as though the fun I had just seeped right out of me. It was a little different when I was with people. I did not feel the same sinking feeling afterwards, but I did always feel a disconnect, mainly stemming from my inability to be honest with myself. I felt I always had to rescue others or play a part to be liked. This was my own perspective, but in playing a part it is deeply lonely and interaction is not a deep connection when you have a facade. If you would have asked me back then if I was authentic, I would have said Hell yes! But in reality, I was not. Another thing when I would have text conversations with people I met online (and had not met in person) I would feel depleted, and even more lonely when I was done talking to them. It felt like something was missing, so I stopped having long texting conversations with men until I met them..and even then I tried not to have long conversations through text.
I have helped many people learn to connect to themselves which feels healthy and happy. When they stop fearing and already be in a state of suffering about what the future could be, aka I am alone (will end up alone) things change, but it is not as simple as not thinking a thought. If it were that easy everyone would be out of their loneliness of a future that hasn’t happened yet. I help people to learn to not fear their emotions, to get into the present moment’s feelings, and allow themselves experiences outside their norm. It takes courage, but courage is a moment in time, suffering is days, months and years. I have guided hundreds if not thousands of people to become engaged with life at a different level. They stop second guessing themselves to fit in, they stop working at being someone else, they start really valuing and loving themselves, they learn to be empowered. It is not the control they have over life but the control they get from true connection to their emotional state which in turn starts to break down old beliefs and patterns. As Thich Nhat Hanh says: People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar. A familiar zone of suffering is the loneliest place to live, I know, it was my old home.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?
I tend to see the correlation between loneliness and people who are insecurely attached to be symbiotic. People who are insecurely attached are very lonely. In this study, it shows the higher risk for hypertension amongst people from 18–80. In two other studies, one shows the resilience students have when it comes to loneliness and the other with the elderly, and insecure attachment and loneliness.
The biggest issue isolating yourself creates are depression and anxiety. Equal partners in loneliness. When you are depressed it creates a sense of inertia, things feel too hard, especially interacting with other people or trying new physical activities. Anxiety brings the fear to a whole new level. You avoid a certain level of physical and emotional connection like a hot stove. We develop our beliefs about the world as children and as we go with unchecked beliefs we have experiences which appear to make these beliefs true. The more “negative” an experience, the more we withdraw from the possibility of having it in the future. It’s depressing and anxiety-provoking, so our world gets smaller and smaller. When you start to avoid, you continue avoiding unless there is some intervention. To do anything to change your circumstances feels like work, it can even feel impossible (it’s not). Instead of trying to make connections, you make excuses and you get further away from having nurturing relationships.
The second biggest issue is that you perpetuate the cycle of loneliness. If you are depressed and/or experiencing inertia, you start believing that even if you go to the gym or agree to a date or to dinner with a friend that you will feel no better. It is a cycle that you are believing nothing will change no matter what you do, so why do anything different? You do/say/think/feel you will be stuck in this loneliness where no one will really know you or understand you, where no matter what you are doomed. . With technology it gives access 24/7 to a peek into the lives of others who seem to be living successfully and you think something is deeply wrong with you because you don’t really want to leave your house. It makes you start feeling there is something unchangeable — ”it’s just the way I am or its just the way life is” and like I said, that no effort you make will change the loneliness you feel.
The third biggest issue is fear. When you fear something you often create the circumstances you do not want. Many of us are stuck in repetitive patterns in how we see life, ourselves and the lack of feeling connected. We do not have enough self-awareness to get to where our lack of value inside is coming from (yes, this is key) and so we stay stuck in patterns that just exacerbate the loneliness. We tell ourselves the same stories over and over, we fear they may be true but feel helpless to change it. The fear comes from a negative belief we have and it works as a form of protection (at least that is what noble act fear believes it is doing). The fear keeps the stories alive that we ruminate in, it builds rules of I can/can’t, will/won’t, should/shouldn’t and so on, which promotes these auto-pilot patterns of behavior. The patterns give way to the evidence that our negative belief is true, “I am alone, and my loneliness is overwhelming, because no one has reached out to me …or it won’t make a difference if I go out and try to connect, the same thing will happen ‘nothing,’ so why bother.”
We live in a society that projects unrealistic expectations and when you do not feel you measure up, you tend to hide the real you. If you have any kind of self-esteem issues and you are wanting to hide it, you will feel incredibly lonely, even if you look incredibly successful. Looks are definitely not defining of the human experience or the way to know what is true.
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
It is harming our society in a few ways. First, unless we are having experiences with people offline we start to lose compassion. We find it harder to be compassionate with strangers online than we do with someone we have an actual relationship with. So, anyone who perhaps, thinks differently, looks differently, lives elsewhere basically has different beliefs than you do may be seen as the enemy or their humanness easily discarded. Secondly, it makes it a stigma in a sense, where people feel isolated and think not only is there something different about them, but that they are doomed to not connect. It can become toxic when someone gets to the bottom rung of the physical human intimacy ladder. They can disassociate from others to the degree that psychological and physical disorders show up. Third, human beings are physiologically wired to be connected (physically); we are social creatures like elephants, monkeys, dolphins and so on. We lived in communities for centuries, the old saying, “It takes a village,” meant the whole village was inter-connected. You had others you could rely on if something happened, you took care of one another in a sense. When you have this missing at an epidemic level, we are all bound to suffer.
Social media is an issue when it comes to people spewing anger and frustration that if they were standing next to the person they are shouting at in real life, it may not have the dehumanizing factor. The false bravado goes back to being under the surface. People do not take responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings, and actions, instead they look for others’ who see things the same way no matter what the narrative. This keeps them in a false sense of connection, because again — there is a lack of connection to the self, nothing requiring a person to dig deeper to discover why they see things the way they do. In finding others to connect negatively, you may not be alone but you will still be lonely. The loneliness of the true self is ignored when connecting through an emotion such as anger, which is just a reaction to what you “think” is right or wrong, or how you have acted in ways that you wish you did not. Loneliness is not resolved when looking for others who share a prejudice. It is a disconnect, because at a deep level we have far more commonalities than differences with others. To discover that requires people to connect with others they may have deemed problematic and so on. Social media separates a lot of the time, but it can also work as a lead-in to bring people together. A unity from the authentic self, the true you makes a helluva lot of difference.
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this?
How well do we get to know people who are separated by a piece of technology? We can like what is being said or what we are watching through the screen, but the human face to face interaction is missing and with that the ability to truly connect. It is a one-way connection even if you are having a conversation, you do not get to the depth of connection that you do by personally knowing someone or physical contact. It is missing. The other part which I mentioned before is most of us hide who we really are, we do not allow ourselves to be seen as flawed. We can be seen as anyone from afar, but up close it is harder to hide, so even if we feel safer with the technology between us — it is very lonely. We only want to let the bright shiny parts out for fear of being judged and when you stay away from showing your true self out of fear, you are disconnected. The internal disconnect is what is painful.
Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Laziness. It is easier to believe that the world is an unfriendly or hard place, so we do not do the work inside of ourselves to change it. We blame the outside. We stay stuck with the same perception of the world and everyone in it, therefore our action or lack of action reflect it. An example, and I hear this a lot from clients and listeners to my podcast would be someone who is single and wants to date. But he or she is unwilling to do anything different to allow that to happen. They hope they run across someone in the produce section of the grocery store or while pumping gas. They refuse to put themselves out there elsewhere or as I like to say, open all the doors and windows to allow themselves the opportunity to meet someone. By being lazy, you have an excuse as to the reason you aren’t meeting a mate; you can complain, feel bad and stay stuck in believing no good men or women are out there. Laziness at its base is really fear standing in the way of any sort of “risk” you would take.
- Believing emptiness should be filled by another person. Let’s say you threw a party over the holidays where 20 people came. You felt lonely and disconnected the whole time. The thought of interacting felt draining because that meant engaging in conversation and pretending to enjoy yourself. You watched others chit-chat and have a good time, which deepened the feeling of disconnection. You wondered why you couldn’t be happy and carefree like them. What’s wrong with you? Then you beat yourself up for not engaging, which made you feel even worse. You were checked-out because of an empty feeling inside, which you had hoped would be filled by people at your party. But instead you wanted more than anything to escape to your room and shut the door. Even though you were surrounded by people, you felt terribly alone.
- False facade. Trying to be who you are not, because society demands it, perhaps you recoil more into yourself, because you feel you are deeply flawed. The fear of being found out. With people accusing people of all sorts of wrongs, (which are really just an opinion) and giving a list of the right way (again an opinion) to be or do things, it can leave a person feeling isolated. They present a facade to the world. Let’s say you are a sensitive person who dislikes the fact that you are sensitive and so you try to hide it by acting tough as teflon. The guy at work who tries to boss you around, because he seems to see right through your false facade makes you angry. And so you try to act tough, rather than just being honest. It leaves you feeling depressed and out of sorts, totally disconnected. You may feel everyone else at work doesn’t respect you or thinks you are lame in some way. You feel alone. Until you actually speak what is true for you and own it without blame, you will continue to feel victimized and as though you have to be this other person. When you speak up, others will look at you differently.
Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.
- Get off your computer, tv, video game and open yourself. We hide behind these things, so at the same time we are checked out — we are lonely. Look at why you distract yourself with these things instead of spending time being open, bonding with others. It may feel hard, but the more you do it the more engaged in life you feel.
- Check your negative beliefs. Look at how you look at the world. Is there a negative voice in your head? If so, is it telling the truth? How do you know? When you pay attention as an observer to the thoughts, you can question them…is this true? How do I know it’s true? And if you actually believe a negative thought is true, dig deeper. What is the emotion attached to the thought? Keep getting deeper look at your story in your head, the rules which support it and the patterns you do/say and break them. This will weaken the belief in your head. When you break them you now can change how you see the world and your place in it. Loner? Now you may feel more receptive to others.
- Stop avoiding what you fear. Unless we are talking physical danger, go toward what you fear. Stop strategizing ways around it, and say okay I am going to feel the feelings I fear having by going toward what I fear Yes, it really is your fear of how you will feel rather than the circumstances.
- Drop the facade. Be real. Just be you. This is difficult when you have feared how others will perceive you. You need to ask yourself why it matters how people perceive you? Perhaps you feel you will be found out and no one will want to know you, because of that time in 5th grade. When you swore you would never reveal that part of you again. Bring that disowned part of you back. We bond with people when we are being real, when we let all sides of ourselves be seen. Otherwise there is no real bond, there is only an illusion. Allow yourself to love those parts which you don’t like, let others see it and get to know the real you. With you getting to know you and reconnecting and others getting to know you this is where loneliness disappears.
- Stop blaming everything outside of you for your loneliness. Admit that you’re lonely, which is hard to do because you don’t want to take that responsibility. When you get stuck, keep coming back to admitting that loneliness is YOUR responsibility. Stop being angry with others who you do not know, stop looking at everything around you as an indicator to be a victim. When you take responsibility for yourself, your thoughts, your actions and so on, you change your dynamic with life. This is not easy to do, since we live in a society where apparently passing the blame has been the example from leadership on down. It is disempowering to wait for the world to wake up and do what you want, you will be waiting a long time. Instead, when you stop blaming and take responsibility for the choices which have placed you right here, you become a more accepting person. You accept you and therefore it is easier to accept others and who they are and what they do (it doesn’t mean you will want to hang out with everyone, but you can stop focusing on the negative and what you don’t like).
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am all about personal empowerment and world peace. Most people do not know how to get there or what it even means. To truly love and value yourself is not about manicures and massages, it is an inside job. In becoming self-responsible for all of your choices, all of the situations you find yourself in is not easy, but it is freeing. If people took responsibility for everything in their lives they would see that allows them to change things too, rather than feeling victimized by their circumstances. It allows authenticity — no more hiding or pretending to be someone else. And by being self-responsible, you stop trying so hard to be anyone but you and thereby you stop doing behaviors which are toxic, depleting and can have you wanting other people/life to change or do your bidding. When you stop the things you do to stand in your way and expect someone else to fix, your life gets kinder, easier and happier. This is empowerment and if you want world peace, you have to have the tools “inside” of you to be peaceful yourself. I am all about world peace.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I really never thought about this question at any point in time, but I love that you asked! And because I never have been asked these were the first two people I thought of and then it was followed by a couple of others. Please choose whomever you see fit. :) Oprah, Chelsea Handler or Brene Brown. In the order of who I would love to have a meal with I would start with Chelsea Handler. She has a tude and a tone I can appreciate, she has taken a deep dive into her own “stuff” and is on a mission to change the world. Gotta love that! Plus my humor has been compared to hers and Howard Stern with a bit of Oprah thrown in. Oprah, is Oprah and I feel she has done a lot to change the world we live in, she is a woman who has become successful and stayed there. I love seeing and understanding how people have achieved success, especially when so many use the excuse of an adversity or something they allowed to hold them back. Oprah did not. With Brene Brown I read the Gifts of Imperfection in 2010. I was still in the throes of trying to get a deeper understanding of myself. I was a perfectionist and I refer to myself as a recovering one, this book opened my eyes to so much about myself including shame. I would say it helped me to gain a different perspective on why I found myself in the life circumstances I had at the time.
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Thank you for all of these great insights!