Hello, friends! This is a really great interview with Figs O’Sullivan, a licensed couples therapist, relationship coach, and founder and chief empathi officer over at Empathi. We had an awesome chat and talk about a wide variety of topics related to relationships, intimacy, and attachment.
Before we jump into the interview, a couple of sales announcements. Head to duffthepsych.com/shop to get 30% off all the merch, including the ugly holiday sweaters in the duff the psych store. Use coupon code “anxiousaf“.
The shop promotion will be ending soon, and the course promotion will carry through the Holidays in December. So grab your chance and don’t miss out on these great offers.
Getting to know Figs O’Sullivan
To open, Figs talks about his background and how he came to be interested in pursuing a career in couples therapy. Figs describes how he has spent much of his life, personally and professionally, trying to understand how love works and how to successfully be part of a family. He shares how this stems from his childhood where he had an alcoholic father and a broken-hearted mother. Figs speaks about his personal experiences in more detail and how this crossed into his professional work helping others to create loving, empathic relationships. It has always been Figs passion to help others and despite trying to pursue a different career, he couldn’t ignore his longing to support and aid others – Figs shares how becoming a therapist was the best way to do this, not least to protect himself with boundaries and also be in a position where he is invited in to help, i.e. clients seek out his help – “Therapists are like vampires…they need to be invited in.” We talk about this and Figs also highlights what his main work consists of, which is primarily working as a therapist, something which is incredibly important to him and provides the inspiration for all of his other work.
Relationships and couples therapy with Figs O’Sullivan
Figs talks about some of the trends and most common issues that people tend to seek his help for. Primarily this often includes things such as affairs or other emotional injuries to the relationship. Also repetitive arguments are a common issue, issues with sexual intimacy, and division of labor. Figs highlights how there are many varying issues that arise in his work. However, he explains that there is really only one reason people come to see him and that is because they are emotionally disconnected – we are an interdependent species and all have the need for primary attachment and connection with others. When there is an issue in your relationship, and so a threat to the connection between you and your primary attachment figure, your body reacts and you automatically act in a way to protect yourself and/or protest the situation. Therefore, the problem goes much deeper than the initial issue, being caused by an instinctual reaction that we all have. Figs talks about this in detail and explains how this course can escalate and potentially make situations worse, trapping couples and relationships in a vicious cycle.
The problem is not the problem. The way you’re talking about the problem is the problem.
Figs explains that the only reason this escalates and you talk in this way is because you are so important to each other. When it looks like your disconnected, you get hurt, you get scared, and then things escalate through blame, anger etc. Therefore, Figs describes how in therapy you have to attend to the emotional bond first, and once this has been addressed successfully, you can return to the issue that triggered the situation and work on it as a team. But before addressing the trigger issues, it’s important to build the foundation first and recognize that you are in this position because you love and care for each other and are ultimately upset and afraid because your connection is threatened. Figs spends time explaining this in more depth and also outlines the process he goes through with his clients in therapy to achieve this.
Relationship advice with Figs O’Sullivan
Figs offers advice on what to look out for in your own relationships and what you can do to help. He highlights four points to consider, which he shares with us. Figs explains that if one is present, then all four are.
If I’m in a moment of disconnection with my wife, husband, partner etc…:
- I am hurting inside/having a vulnerable experience inside
- When having this experience, you protest by being reactive in some way
- Your partner/spouse is now having a vulnerable experience too – now their primary emotional bonding partner is not there for them
- They now react/protest the situation, which re-initiates the cycle.
Figs talks about this in detail and how the most important thing you can work on is how can you start noticing that 1-2-3-4, and see if you and your partner can agree to say WE are stuck – It’s OUR negative cycle and WE need to work together to resolve it.
We talk about how it isn’t always easy to accept that this is a joint problem and often couples come into therapy with different narratives and view points – they know all about the problems their partner is causing but don’t necessarily understand how they are contributing to the situation – Figs job is to meet, accept and validate these perspectives whilst working to help expand their viewpoint and understanding of the underlying problems so they can move forward and resolves these together as a team.
Next, we talk about how individuals or couples can get help and advice if they can’t access couples therapy for any reason. Figs has created a web app and process through his websites called the Empathi Quiz which provides a complete set of resources and services for the relationship guidance you need. Through taking a short, confidential quiz, you can receive an insightful personalized report to help you and your partner understand your relationship better and gain tips, advice, and strategies to help you navigate your relationship with success – best of all, it’s free to do. Figs talks about this in detail and explains the inspiration behind this process, why he created it and how it can help.
We talk about communication and Fig’s explains how it’s important not to get caught up in the way we communicate. In instances like this, you need to strip back to the core with simple communication, which can simply be acknowledging that you hurt, and then build up from that point. Getting caught up on the words and communication can inhibit the process – we talk about this in detail as well as how the whole process can differ vastly depending on the stage a couple is at when they arrive at therapy. Figs explains how it is much harder for him to do his work successfully when a person is in denial and he has to strip that back to reveal the person’s vulnerabilities to their partner. Only then can they move forward.
Vulnerability is the currency of connection…your worst parts are your best parts
Figs talks about how are worst parts are our most lovable parts and we need to learn to love those pieces and also let others love them – If we’re not in a relationship to get the most vulnerable parts of us loved, then it’s difficult to see the point.
Figs closes by talking about his web app at Empathi where you can take the quiz we talked about earlier, plus find out more about Figs, his team and the work they do, as well as a bunch of other resources. Finally, Figs tells us about his flagship course, Learning to Love Better: The Conflict Solution, which goes into everything in more detail and gives you the skillset and understanding you need to create better connection and understanding in your relationship. As a special, Figs is very generously giving listeners of the Hardcore Self Help Podcast a special 50% discount on his course! Just head to empathi.com/go and sign up using the coupon code “HardcoreSelfHelp“.
That’s it! Big thanks to Figs O’Sullivan for coming on the show and talking with us, and for that awesome promotion on the course! Be sure to check out the quiz, course and more over at Empathi.
This episode of the Hardcore Self Help Podcast is sponsored by Warby Parker:
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