Imagine you’re the parent of a 12-year-old girl and she comes to you one day and asks if both of you can go to therapy together. Next, imagine that two years later, she accompanies her good friend to a Twelve Step meeting to support her in recovery. Then, imagine that same girl growing up, and because of the acceptance and authenticity she experienced in both situations, and her courage to face her own codependency head-on, then dedicating herself to becoming a counselor.
What would you think of her?
Well, I think of her as a superhero. And these things we just mentioned were part of her “origin story.”
Now, if you ask Michelle Farris, a licensed psychotherapist and anger management specialist and the person described above, if she considers herself a superhero, I’m guessing she’d shrug off the term with a friendly chuckle and eyeroll. In fact, I’m sure that’s the response you’d get, because I know she doesn’t think of herself that way.
But I do.
Because that’s the way I think of anyone who takes on the extremely difficult work of healing their own “stuff” and not passing it on. Then, to top it off, she actually helps others do the same.
I first “met” Farris when I came across her YouTube channel speaking in a real, human way about codependency and reached out to interview her. As for how to define “codependency,” during our conversation, Farris described it as “a relationship pattern where you focus on others at your own expense.”
A simple definition, yes. But in that simplicity is the key. It’s the way Farris offers all her work. Direct. Simple but not simplistic. Compassionate. And believing in you in a way that helps you believe in yourself.
So, with that, below are 11 takeaway quotes from my conversation with Farris (slightly edited for length and flow). And I’m guessing that, after you read them, you’ll want to watch our full conversation.
Takeaway Quote: On some of the coincidences that led to her becoming a counselor. “When I was 12, I literally asked my Mom to go to therapy with me, and she took us,” Farris said, “The experience of therapy, being heard, being witnessed, was very healing. The next thing, when I was 14, my best friend got sober in a Twelve Step meeting and I went with to support her. People were talking about their issues openly, getting support, laughing, and I had never seen anything like that, where people weren’t pretending to be something different than who they were. Those two experiences, and my own recovery later, shaped me to want to be a therapist.”
Takeaway Quote: On coming home through counseling. “I was codependent and so, as a kid, relied on a Twelve Step program,” Farris said, “Then, when I got to college, I realized I didn’t have any skills to live. I didn’t know how to make friends or feel good about myself and be my own advocate. So, once I got into recovery, it was like, ‘Oh, I’m home. People are talking about things that are in my heart.”
Takeaway Quote: Dysfunction is in the eye of the beholder. “We look at these behaviors as dysfunctional,” Farris said, “but as kids, they work. If you’re a people pleaser, it works. People like you. They can count on you. That’s why it’s so hard to give these behaviors up. At one time, they worked. But then we realize they’ve outlived their usefulness. Then we’re stuck, and we don’t know how to reverse the people-pleasing and actually advocate for ourselves, say no, and insert our own opinions. That’s where the recovery really needs to happen.”
Takeaway Quote: On whether it was easy to become vulnerable in sharing her own story. “As a therapist, you have to be mindful of what you share,” Farris said. “I heard someone once say, ‘Share the scar, but not the wound,’ and that resonated with me. The reason I feel more comfortable sharing now is that I’ve done enough work to see the value in sharing it. So, that someone might say, ‘Oh, I felt that way, too. Maybe it’s ok for me to get help.’”
Takeaway Quote: How she defines codependency. “I see it as a relationship pattern where you focus on others at your own expense,” Farris said. “You’re giving, you’re helping, you’re possibly controlling the outcomes. Of course, there are reasons we do that. The codependent person is very ‘other-focused.’ They don’t really pay attention to what they need because they’ve learned the only way to get their needs met is if they’re pleasing other people and taking care of them and making sure everything outside of them is ok. That’s what kids in dysfunctional families do. They don’t learn it’s ok to have an emotion, to have an experience and to just be a kid. Sadly, avoiding the self and getting our value from outside is really painful because it doesn’t last.”
Takeaway Quote: On the two prongs of therapy. “The beginning parts of therapy,” Farris said, “are about looking at old beliefs that aren’t working for us and being willing to ask ourselves questions like, ‘Is self-care selfish? Do I have the right to get my needs met? Do I have the right to set boundaries? Do I have the right to actually feel my feelings?’ We don’t learn that growing up. If you don’t learn it’s ok to have your feelings, be yourself, and advocate for yourself, then life just gets hard, and relationships get frustrating. At the same time, it’s important to become more aware of our self-talk and how negative it often is.”
Takeaway Quote: We choose the thought after thought. “First, you have to identify when you have that first thought of negative self-talk,” Farris said. “Of course, you can’t change that first thought. It’s random. But you can catch it. Then, once you do, you can say ‘Now, I’ve got to choose something else next.’”
Takeaway Quote: Why meditation scares some people. “When I sit, the feelings will come up,” Farris said. “If I don’t want to be in my own body and my own experience and I haven’t been feeling my feelings and I am really stressed, or I do have a lot of anger and resentment, sitting still is going to bring all that up. Meditation scares a lot of people because it brings them face-to-face with themselves and their own emotional experiences and if there’s a lot there they don’t want to deal with, they’re going to say ‘No, it’s not for me.’”
Takeaway Quote: What to do if you’re overwhelmed by a feeling. “Usually, I recommend tapping,” Farris said. “It’s something they can do on their own. A series of taps on their hand, their face, upper body, and so on, as you’re talking about your stress. A tap on these pressure points can calm the physical reaction of stress. The other thing you can do is sit down for five minutes and literally have a feeling. You may even cry, which is ok, because it can release that pent-up emotion. If you can feel your feelings, you’ll feel more centered in the long run. You may, of course, need help doing all this based on how much trauma you’ve had, how long it’s been going on, and so on. A support system always helps.”
Takeaway Quote: On what she advises when people feel stuck. “Sometimes feeling stuck is part of the process,” Farris said. “Growth isn’t linear and has its ups and downs. I try to humanize that the work is one day at a time. Some people will say, ‘What if I’m doing it wrong?’ As long as you show up, you’re not doing it wrong. Even if you’re depressed, even if your relationships aren’t where you want them to be, the fact that you keep coming back and looking at yourself, eventually that will get better. ‘Stuck’ for me is if you’re not functioning well.”
Takeaway Quote: Why she starts phrases with “What I want for you…” and “What I don’t want for you…” often in her YouTube videos. “It’s what I wanted someone to say to me as a kid,” Farris said. “I wanted someone to say, ‘You don’t have to do this process perfectly, it’s going to be messy and it’s ok. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.’ I want to give people the permission to get into the process.”
Takeaway Quote: On not passing on our pain “It’s when someone says ‘No, I’m not going to pass on my pain. I’m going to feel it.’ And, by feeling it, they change it. Even owning your pain is stopping the dysfunction, including telling your kids things like, ‘I’m not feeling great right now,’ apologizing when we yell, and so on. The previous generation didn’t really have the resources or permission to do that. But we do.”
Learn more about Michelle Farris at www.counselingrecovery.com.
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