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SE 20 | Dysfunction

 

There is no such thing as a perfect family, not even an impeccable childhood. Some may argue that there are, but people from a dysfunctional family will totally differ. Every human being has a different past or childhood experience. Angela W. Stillwell, the founder of Untapped Strengths, walks us down her past struggles in the family, divorce, and how dysfunction transformed her to a stronger version of herself. The creator of Vulnerability Warrior, an online program for people going through major transitions in life or seeking to achieve higher levels of personal success, Angela talks about overcoming dysfunction and dives into the emotions that one must feel and stop to control as she touches on the art of letting go.

Listen to the podcast here:

Overcoming Dysfunction with Angela W. Stillwell

The Power Of Levity

My guest is Angie Stillwell from Georgia. She loves Great Danes. She loves horses. She and I are going to get along. She’s got a barn cat. I’m not sure about that. I’m not a big cat fan. They’re great in the barn because they’ll get rid of the mouse. She can frequently be found on the tennis court, which is where you would not find me. She likes to paddleboard. She loves food. There’s another thing that she and I get along with because I love food. She loves laughing, friends, family and traveling. She and I are going to have a great time. Welcome, Angie, to the show.

Thank you, Art. I’m excited to be here.

Tell us about your story, where you grew up, how you got to where you’re at, what you do.

I grew up all over the place. I had an interesting childhood. I joke whenever I’m doing workshops. You hear people who say, “Our family put the fun in dysfunctional.” My family put the fun and the functional in the word dysfunctional. I grew up where it was my dad. I love him to death. He’s my dad, however, he was not one that could be highly trusted. We’ve labeled him a con artist over time. That was interesting growing up in that environment where we were moving in the middle of the night. There were days when I would ride the school bus home thinking, “Are they still going to be living in that house that I was in this morning?” When you grow up like that, there’s not a lot of stability. There’s not a lot of certainty in life so that models a lot.

Over the years, I changed schools thirteen times between kindergarten and my senior year of high school. It was about halfway through tenth grade I decided to go and live with my grandparents because I was going to change the dynamic of my life. I was going to go to college and do what I needed to do to have myself situated for the rest of my life. That’s what I did. I went to live with my grandparents. My freshman year of college, my mom was murdered. That certainly changed things. She was murdered by my step-father. That shows you the other side that I haven’t even touched on that dynamic of what was going on that side. My mom lived through a lot of mental, emotional and physical abuse. I vowed as a five-year-old, listening to my mom on the phone one time with my dad that I was never going to be like that.

'Leadership is not about leading people. It’s about influencing them. In order to influence them, first you have to connect with them.' ~ Angela W. Stillwell Click To Tweet

I grew up with these big walls around me, self-protective, never trusting anybody, never believing in anybody and for a good reason because being distrusting is what got me through childhood. It helped me get through those things. What I found out after I married in my mid-twenties and then a couple of decades later going through a divorce, those walls I built were not effective any longer. They helped as a kid, but it didn’t so much as an adult. While it shaped me in a lot of great ways, that also hindered me in not being able to build those deeper connections with people. That’s where life gets interesting and fun is in those deep connections. Despite all of it though, I’ve always enjoyed life.

That’s what I’m interested in because we have some similarities in our background, not as drastic and impactful. I was abandoned as a nine-year-old in a very untraditional way. My parents moved from a very urban area to a very rural area. We had no friends, no baseball, anything for me to play with. At five years old, can you think back about the thought process you had of knowing that that’s not the life that you wanted and not how you wanted to live your life? I had that experience at nine years old.

On that particular day, I knew that my dad was always missing. I wasn’t sure where he was. I knew that my mom was unhappy. He would say he was coming home. He wouldn’t come home. I would hear my mom and him on the phone talking. On this particular day, she was saying, “You said you’d be home.” I thought that feels weak to me. I don’t know what made me think that. At that point in my life, I went from being the child to being the adult to being the parent. It felt weak to beg someone to come home to you. I remember the telephone with a long cord. She stood in the kitchen with that long cord and the phone in her hand. I walked in. I could hear this and in my head it was like, “I don’t want to be weak like that.” My dad, despite his shortcomings, was always doing things to make us stronger. He bought us boxing gloves really young.

Was it physically stronger?

Yes. I learned to swim because he threw me in the water. You sink or swim. I equated all of that with strength. To me, that wasn’t about begging anyone to come home to you. I went back to my room and thought, “That will never be me.” It’s a little hardening.

The things that harden us are the things that we learned the greatest from. It’s all about choice because it either defeats us or it propels us. That is a choice that we make. A lot of it is based on our expectations because our expectations are based on faith. Faith is what drives us forward always because even though we don’t know the outcome, we know that in the end, it’s always going to be all right. That is what has always driven people like you and me. In the end, we know this slide doesn’t always give you what you want. It’s more about how you handle it and how you overcome the adversities to enjoy the great moments. One thing we hadn’t talked about yet is I didn’t ask at the beginning of the show, which I normally do. I was very excited to talk to you about what you do for a living, what your company is about, what Angie is about with her business.

My ex and I had both been successful. We have a good relationship now. Going through the divorce, I was doing that introspective work, “What did I do right? What did I do wrong?” What I realized was that those walls that I had built were part of the reason for me failing in the marriage. I wasn’t as open about everything as I could have been and maybe should have been. My needs, my wants, my desires, my feelings, all of that, I kept all of that to myself because I thought that’s how you did things to be a strong person. As I started realizing about tearing down the walls and digging deeper into that hole, I started reading a lot on Brené Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability. There is a quote that goes, “It is through our vulnerability that we find our strength.” That struck me. As I started showing more of my vulnerability and tearing down those walls, what I realized was that doors were opening for me that had never opened before.

I started my friendships. My relationships with my family got deeper and even my business got better. I thought, “How can I take this and do more of this with my clients?” At the time, I was doing freelance work. I was doing some consulting, copywriting and that sort of thing for clients. As I started working with my clients, they too were getting better results by being more vulnerable and sharing their stories. That was when the whole storytelling piece started coming about. Eventually, I put together a program called Vulnerability Warrior. That is for people who have been through major transitions themselves in life whether it’s death, divorce or empty nest. Maybe it’s even that you’ve been successful, but you’ve hit a plateau and you feel stuck now. Any major transition in life where you know that there’s something bigger and better you want to do in life and that you’re meant to do. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here anymore. We all hit that at some point in our lives or if you’re an introspective thinker, you do.

Vulnerability Warrior takes people through the process that I went through without having to spend a bazillion dollars which I did on attending every conference on the face of the Earth, reading 1,400 books on the topic and doing years and years of therapy work. It’s a program that I walk people through that process. With my corporate clients, I do all sorts of workshops for them where I help them build those deeper connections that impact their bottom line and their overall success. They call it diversity training. Diversity training is about building deeper connections. Leadership is not about leading people. It’s about influencing them. The only way that you can influence them is to connect with them. My workshop is built around that same theme.

I have a question for you when you said you used the two terms together that I had some thoughts about marriage failure. I never look at anything as a failure. There are no failures in marriage. It’s a learning experience. Everything we do and happens to us, if we can look at it as a learning experience and take it and grow from it, then there is value in it. That is what is important for people to hear and know. There’s a value in every single thing. I told you about losing my wife to cancer. For three years, I looked at it as total abandonment and loss and all that. I acted like a fool. I was going out drinking, chasing skirts and doing all the things a 63-year-old shouldn’t do. My kids slapped me up in the side of the face and said, “Dad, you promised mom.”

You have to be willing to have those tough talks with people as long as those talks are coming from a place of love. Click To Tweet

When I got my senses back to me and started thinking, I look back and I said, “It’s all meant to make me grow.” I dishonored her by not honoring our legacy that she and I had built. All the trials, tribulations, fights, arguments and everything else that married couples do, it’s all meant to bring us somewhere. That’s what I’m about because it’s what drives me every single day to let people know. One of the big things that’s a big stickler with me is, I’m going to be 72 and people say, “Why don’t you retire? Why don’t you quit and keep going?” I said, “I can’t do that.” It’s never going to happen because I’m doing what I love to do. I’m doing what I’m meant to do. It keeps me invigorated. I saw a guy at the store that I knew. I went, “I look probably twenty years younger than he does. He’s ten years younger than me.” It’s the negativism that came out of him that freaked me out. “I’m tired of being old.” I said, “You’re not old. You’re only old as you think you are.”

I don’t know if it’s because we both have grown up around animals. Animals are very healing. When you were young and going through things, we had horses and cows. I had chickens. I had my favorite pig, Oscar. It followed me to the school bus about 800 yards down the road every day. He would hear the school bus coming. He would lie down the driveway and be sitting there every single day. I came home from school one day and said, “Where’s Oscar? He’s not here.” My brother said, “He’s hanging in the barn.” They slaughtered my Oscar for ham, bacon and everything. It killed me. You get over it. You get another animal. Animals are powerful healers. I love it now with people doing a lot of therapy work with horses and dogs. Did you have animals? Was that a draw to you?

I definitely had animals growing up. I was the one who would beg to pick up the stray dog on the side of the road. I usually end up picking up this stray dog on the side of the road.

My mom used to pick up a strange man along the road.

There’s that too.

SE 20 | Dysfunction

Financial Fitness: Our whole spectrum of emotions is important. We need to be able to feel all of them to be a whole person and understand what it is that’s causing it.

 

My mother, honestly, she would pick up stray people in places she found them. I would come home from school and say, “Where did you come from?” It wasn’t in a loving way. There wasn’t anything not nice about it.

I also had a horse. I don’t want cats inside. Outdoor cats are great. I had several cats over the years. My cats have always had interesting names. I had a cat in high school, this big black with these brilliant green eyes. His name was MC. It stood for My Cat.

That was my father-in-law’s initials, MC. At birth, they didn’t give names. He’s from Oil Trough, Arkansas. His name was MC.

I’m sure it didn’t stand for My Cat. I had all sorts of animals growing up through the years. You and I were talking about how many Danes in all I had when I was going through my divorce. I had four Great Danes, a Doberman, two horses and a barn cat at the time. I had lots of ways to get hugs and oxytocin. I only had the four Great Danes and a Doberman. I did have five dogs.

You got through a marriage, a divorce and all of that thing. What have you learned from all that?

You don't have to be brutally honest. You can be honest and not be brutal about it. Click To Tweet

There are so many lessons. First of all, that connection aspect, you have to communicate with people and communication is not an easy thing by any stretch of the imagination. You have to be willing to have communication. You have to be willing to have those tough talks with people. Some people have tough talks because they like gauging at people.

There’s tough talk and there is talking tough. Some people talk tough to people. Some people do tough talks.

It’s like when people say, “I always tell the brutal truth. I’m brutally honest.” Sometimes that’s not the best way to go about things. You don’t have to be brutally honest. You can be honest and not be brutal about it. Learning to be able to have those difficult conversations with people and to set boundaries for yourself. That was one of the biggest things that I realized going through my divorce. I started making a list a couple of years ago of what are the things that I want in my life and in my future more intimate relationships? What are the things that I want in my friend relationships and in my family relationships?

What are the boundaries that I’m going to set for myself because if we’re not taking care of ourselves, we can’t be there for anyone else? It’s like on an airplane they say, “Put on your own oxygen mask first before you try to help anybody else.” If you’re not doing that, you can’t help anyone else. For me, the biggest lesson was learning that communication aspect and being able to talk to and speak to my feelings and my thoughts and what was going on in my life. Feelings and thoughts, they’re our perspective. It doesn’t matter what anybody else says. That’s our perspective. Until you can learn to have that conversation with someone and reveal what those are, then are you having a relationship with that person?

I do a lot of work around emotional intelligence because you’ve got to have the emotional intelligence to become an effective communicator and effective at relationships. When you look at the history of emotional intelligence, it’s a relatively new area in psychology within the last 30 years. There were some people that had a lot of ideas about it in the ‘70s. In the ‘80s, it grew. In the ‘90s, it started growing. It’s getting powerful now because it’s almost more important than any of the other work. When you can identify your emotions and know how to react to them, you become a better communicator and a better person. It changes a lot of things.

SE 20 | Dysfunction

Financial Fitness: If you are talking bad about your ex, then you are talking bad about 50% of your child’s life. Your child learns to hate that part of them.

 

I am getting a lot of people that I work with that do some emotional intelligence work, identifying their emotions, learning prior to their emotions with anger management and stuff like that where they can grasp them before. We all are born with this innate ability to identify our emotions. We get jaded in our perception sometimes of how we look at our emotions. There are people who don’t. It’s like road rage. They go off, do stupid things and end up in trouble. It’s important. Trouble is one of those things. Trouble can be bad or it can be a little bit of drama. I can get into a little trouble easily and having gradually go into getting in big trouble. It’s another part of life that’s, important for people to identify in order for them to become a whole person. You struck upon something near and dear to my heart and that’s communication because I believe that anything can be solved through communication.

If we learn how to communicate, we learn how to do it correctly, which I think emotional intelligence comes into when we can do all those things, life becomes so much easier and so much better. When you relate it to expectations and understanding that we’re not always going to get what we want, things can be disappointing. That is good sometimes even as hard as it can be. I hated losing my wife. You hated getting divorced. I’m sure you didn’t like it. It was part of who and what we are and how we’re supposed to grow. I’m a veteran, I was in the Marine Corps. I look about all the things that have gone on in my life, I have no regrets. I’ve always done everything that I’ve wanted. I’ve lived a super good life. There have been some bad things that happened that I didn’t want to have happened. I can’t control them. We can’t control those things. They happen.

There is so little that is within our control. Anger is a valid emotion. It’s one that can be useful when you understand what you’re doing with it. People who are angry use anger to control a situation. They’re not controlling the situation. They’re being a bully. Our whole spectrum of emotions is important. We need to be able to feel all of them to be a whole person and understand what it is that’s causing it. Otherwise, you’re in reaction mode. You’re not in production mode. It’s hard to sit in those difficult emotions. A good friend of mine, Dr. Joan Rosenberg, published a new book. She talks about being able to sit in emotion for 90 seconds. People think, “I do that all the time.” You don’t. Most people do not sit in emotion for 90 seconds. If you can sit in that emotion for 90 seconds, then this emotion that you feel like you’re never going to get out of, it goes away. It’s like when someone does an ugly cry. They’ll go, “I don’t want to cry,” because they feel like they’re going to lose control. What happens when you do an ugly cry? At some point, you stop. You don’t keep doing the ugly cry. You allow yourself to get all the way into it. You’re done and you go onto the next thing.

I’m an ugly crier. I’m so emotional about stuff, but I have always used it as my release. I learned something because I’ve never thought about it giving me that 90 seconds to get to gain control. That’s exactly what I do with it. I learned something great.

If you’re feeling angry, sit in that anger instead of blowing or whatever. Feel it for 90 seconds. Dig into it and see, “What is this about? What is this doing?” Any emotion such as grief, sit in it. Many people want to squash it.

Any emotion such as grief, sit in it. So many people just want to squash it. Click To Tweet

When I lost my wife, I was so numb. To this day, I cannot tell you not only a handful of people who I knew were at her funeral, I can’t tell you who was there. I was so out of it. I stayed out of it pretty good for almost three years. I did. When I came out of it, I came out of it strong.

How long have you married?

It was for 35 years. We were together 37. When I came out of it, it was the same way I came out of my pain as a nine-year-old. When I was nine years old, I went to a hilltop and laid on my back and had a conversation with God. I asked him what was going to become of me. I know my readers get tired to hear me say it. I know you don’t know it. I laid on my back and had this conversation with God. I heard a voice inside of me that said, “Just be faithful.” It propelled me for the rest of my life. Vicki passed away when I was 60. That period after that, I went through the struggle and drinking and doing all the things I said I did and my kids came to me.

I went out on the lawn of the ranch that night, laid on my back and had that conversation with God again. I heard this voice and it said, “I’ve given you all the tools, get up and use them.” It catapulted me like nothing in my life. It changed everything for me. It’s our perspective on things. It is so powerful in the choices we make and how we live that make a difference and make us these valuable spectacles here on earth. We have a choice of either being productive or nonproductive. When you live in that space of fear from the past or hurt or whatever it is and you don’t give it up and let God take care of it or however you want to put it, don’t give it away. It can absolutely destroy us. Once we learn that technique of how to use it to propel us, everything changes. It changes our lives.

It’s like when people hold a grudge for so long. I tell people, “You are allowing that person who did something to you six months, three years, fifteen years ago to still control you? You’re still giving your power away. Why?”

SE 20 | Dysfunction

Financial Fitness: If you really want to make an impact, if you really want to have a legacy of leadership, then you pull in all of those aspects of your life because people see themselves through your stories.

 

Anger hurts you more than it ever hurts anyone else.

It’s like wanting to poison someone, but you’re the one who drinks the poison.

It’s a good analogy. People do it all the time.

Since going through my divorce, I’ve coached some people going through their divorces and managing their emotions. People will get so angry and harbor so much hate toward their ex. I’m like, “At some point, you chose that person. What is it that you’re angry about? At some point, you’ve loved that person. At some point, you chose that person. You are allowing that person to still rent space in your head and control your day-to-day actions. Why?”

If they have children, it affects their children too drastically.

Anger is like wanting to poison someone, but you're the one who drinks the poison. Click To Tweet

That’s a whole other conversation. It drives me crazy when I hear people talking bad about their exes to their children. Those children are 50% you and they’re 50% your ex. If you are talking bad about your ex, then you are talking bad about 50% of your child’s life. Your child learns to hate that part of themselves. That is such a horrendous thing to do to your children. I don’t care how bad the person was, you don’t have to talk bad about the person. You can talk bad about the things that they did. You can say, “These are things that they should not have done. As a human being, they’re still that human being. They’re your father.” In the Bible, it says, “Respect your father and your mother,” regardless of who your parents are and when people say, “I can’t do that.” If you haven’t had those parents, you wouldn’t exist. You don’t have to honor what they have done but honor the fact that your life is a result of those two people getting together. They may have been the crappiest people on the face of the Earth, but if not for their DNA coming together to make you, you wouldn’t exist.

One of the things that I do with people when I’m coaching or working with them is when they use the word, “I can’t,” I have them take that word and change it to, “I choose not to.” It’s a choice and can’t is not a word. To me, can’t is saying, “I don’t want to do it.”

That’s what it is, “I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to learn what I have to do.”

It says a lot about them when people start using the word can’t around me. I’m a former Marine. We didn’t know the word can’t.

I’m the same way. When someone says, “You don’t understand my problem. Nobody else has had my problem,” nobody in all of the history of the world has ever had your problem. Are you that special? You’re special, but that’s a whole other degree of special that no one else has ever had your problem.

They are so self-centered. They are so engrossed in their own pain or their own idea that they don’t see anything outside of it. They don’t think about what other people have already been through this or through problems. That gets into a whole other area.

They find comfort in their suffering. Part of it is as long as they’re living that story, other people comfort them. As long as they are living in that situation, they always have someone to tell them, “I’m so sorry that you had to whip through that.”

I am comfortable I have to get doing something. I have to start moving and doing something positive and creative. It’s funny how I know when I’m uncomfortable when I get that urge to start cleaning the house and doing stuff, busy stuff to keep yourself busy, I know something is making me uncomfortable. While I’m working and doing whatever I’m doing, I start thinking about it. I start working through it and get through it. For me, that’s a trigger to know that something has made me uncomfortable. Either that or I’d never get anything done.

I’ve got to have that little trigger to get your butt off the chair and move me.

I’ve always been a physical person. I’ve always been active, did physical work on the ranch, farming and in construction because I worked construction for years and all that. I feel guilty sometimes sitting down at a chair. I had to learn that it’s also creative. I can use it for my creativity.

Some people find comfort in their suffering. Click To Tweet

I’m the same way. Years ago, I owned a financial planning practice. One of my employees, I was talking about some work that I had done over the weekend. I had this load of dirt brought in. I had rented this big front-end loader with a backhoe. When the guy delivered on the big eighteen-wheeler, drove it down to my barn area, had me sign off on it and he said, “Call us when you’re done with it.” I was like, “Aren’t you going to show me how to use it?”

Think of it this way, he wasn’t a sexist.

He thought that my husband was going to do it. He looked at me and goes, “You’re going to use it?” The next week at work, everybody in my office was asking what I had done over the weekend. I told them and they said, “We see you in suits all the time. We can’t imagine you driving this tractor.” I said, “You obviously don’t know me very well.”

When people see us in a different light from work and home, it changes our whole perception of that person. We see them as a complete person more when we can see all these aspects. When you think about it if a lot of that is about communicating authentically. It’s not about seeing the other person, it’s about listening to what they’re saying. When you learn more about people and how they operate and how what they’ve been through, a lot of us go every day not knowing the challenges that the people around us have had. Think about all the times at work where something was said because somebody had something going on in their life that we didn’t know about it. Would we have acted differently had we known about it? It would have changed our perspective of them in giving them a different perspective of us because we would have thought about them in a different light as more maybe caring and more concerned about us. All that changes everything.

It’s one of the things when someone is saying something bad about someone, I always say to them, “Have you thought about maybe what’s going on at their home? Have you thought about what’s going on with their children, their spouse, their parent, their dog or their whatever?” There are so many different aspects that we don’t have any clue as to what’s going on in that person’s life. That’s what Vulnerability Warrior is about. That’s what I do in corporations. It’s how do you pull all of those pieces of your life into what it is that you do every day? Everybody wants to put the solid wall up and completely separate the two. In this environment, that’s not how we operate. If you want to make an impact, if you want to have a legacy of leadership, then you pull in all of those aspects of your life because people see themselves through your stories.

That’s why stories are so important. I hate to almost quit talking to you because I’ve enjoyed this so much. I had a great time. I want everybody to hear what you have coming up, where they can get hold of you, how we can all support you in this work that you’re doing and give you some solid support behind it.

Thank you so much, Art. The best place for people to find me is my website. That is AngelaWStillwell.com. My Vulnerability Warrior program is a great program for people who have gone through transitions. You can get information by going to my website. That’s the best place to go in. Input your name, email and information and we will come to you from there.

Are you on social media?

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, @AWStillwell. They all have the same handle.

Thank you for being on, Angie. You’re a doll. I love you to death. That’s another one of the people that I’m going to have to get to Georgia to see and learn more about. Everybody out there in Shower Epiphanies world, I’m going to say goodbye. Thank you.

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About Angela W. Stillwell

SE 20 | DysfunctionAngela W. Stillwell is the founder of Untapped Strengths, where she helps businesses and professionals create deeper connections with their audience that impact their bottom lines and overall success. She is the creator of Vulnerability Warrior, an online program for people going through major transitions and who are seeking higher

levels of personal success. Angela has also created a line of t-shirts and other products called Love Is My True North.

For the last three decades, since completing her MBA, Angela has been working with businesses in sales, marketing, and business development – from startups to large corporations and organizations. As a business advisor, coach, speaker, and workshop leader, she has helped executives shift into new careers, sales teams increase sales, and businesses grow to six and seven figures plus.

She lives in Georgia with her Great Dane, horse, and barn cat, and can frequently be found on the tennis court, on her paddleboard, trying new foods, laughing with friends and family, or traveling.

 

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