Join the YCL community for the #ProvocativeQ challenge, all during the month of July! Click here: to get started with the subscriber-only worksheet and information on how to participate.

One of the most powerful lessons that I’ve learned is this: any time someone tells me something that I really, really dislike hearing, there’s something in what they’ve said that I really, really need to hear.

This started in couples therapy, which my now-husband and I started years before we were ever married. He’d say something I didn’t like hearing, perhaps something as kindly phrased as, “I notice that when you ___________, I feel __________,” that was totally endorsed by our counselor, and I’d think, “What a jerk; He’s just making excuses.”

It didn’t matter how kindly he was delivering his feedback. I was irritated with him for offering any suggestion that my behavior needed to change as part of creating a better relationship.

Really, though? The issue was my own shame. I was so ashamed of my behavior that owning my part and truly taking responsibility for it felt like more pain than I could handle.

To that end, for years most of my self-help work existed on a periphery, on edges. I’d meditate on chakras; I’d recite affirmations; I’d try to manifest goodness; I’d “focus on the positive.”

I was not willing to look at anything that involved me actually taking responsibility for my behavior (because that triggered my shame). I was not willing to hear critical feedback with an open mind (because that triggered my shame).

If it was airy, light, positive, and flowery, I’d meditate on it with discipline.

If someone tried to get me to hear five minutes worth of feedback in which it was clear that my behavior and choices had been unattractive, directly in conflict with my vision for my life, or the like, I could easily justify ten reasons why they were the asshole who was trying to “bring me down” and hurt me.

What We Choose, Instead

This is a common issue that I see in the self-help world, and it’s easy to see why it happens:

If you take a whole lot of people who have spent a whole lot of time either being criticized and berated by others, or criticizing and berating themselves, the world of self-help feels like a relief.

We want chakras and crystals and affirmations more than we want getting really, really, really real about the ways in which we, as adults who no longer live with mom and dad, will go out into the world and choose the circumstances, manipulate the game, and then go back and blame it on mom and dad…over and over.

Doing this a few times indicates a lack of consciousness. Doing this again and again indicates a lack of taking responsibility for one’s life.

For example: when a coach decides to go into business for herself, then bogs herself down with overwhelm, then refuses to actually choose to use any of the numerous tools she’s already invested considerable time and money into learning to alleviate any of the overwhelm that she feels, then throws up her hands and declares that she can’t make her coaching business work…

…she’s making a choice not to take responsibility for her behavior.

The problem is only exacerbated if that coach then goes to a friend or a coach or reads a self-help book, and tells herself, “I just need to breathe, and relax, and be gentle with myself,” and leaves it at that.

I’m aware that all of this is very provocative to say. If you’re imagining someone saying all of this in a voice of condemnation, you’re probably about ready to click elsewhere (so, hey–perhaps notice if that’s the choice you’re making and the “story” you’re attaching to my intentions for this piece).

Here’s the full picture for that coach:

She does need to breathe.
She does need to give herself some time to relax.
She does need to be gentle with herself.

She also probably needs to say to herself, “It’s not surprising that I’ve arrived here, if I evaluate and then take responsibility for my choices. I’ve been taking on too much. I’ve been comparing myself to others. I’ve been buying into a story that the money I make or the number of clients I have determines my worth. I’ve been getting overwhelmed and not taking time for self-care. These are the choices I’ve made. I can take ownership and responsibility for all of this, without making myself into a bad person. These were my choices. I accept the results of my choices and now I’m committed to shifting them.”

The friend, or coach, or book (or blog post) that actually asks you to yes be gentle and kind to yourself, while also not shirking from self-evaluation and taking responsibility for your choices is the resource that truly has your best interests at heart. When we do not try to save people from the consequences of their choices, we are practicing an incredibly courageous form of love.

Provocative Questions

The problem is, self-help gurus and coaches and the like often avoid asking provocative questions. Why? Wanting to be liked; fear of triggering pain; not wanting to come across as judgmental.

Even I have a fear of these things as I write this post.

Yet I really want to ask you some provocative questions, because it’s been my experience that when someone asks them of me, and I sit with them and truly go deep instead of resisting them, I discover something about myself. What I discover about myself is often deeper and richer than zoning out with a few crystal meditations or looking up my horoscope to see how my planets are aligned.

You can sit with provocative questions and go deep, without actually berating yourself. You can just get honest.

Getting honest is time efficient. It’s a relief. (Click to tweet that:

For example: Let’s be real. Most of us whine and complain. People tend not to point it out when we do that, because they…want to be nice. They want to not hurt our feelings. They want to be supportive.

So what if you were asked the provocative question: Are you justifying your whining and complaining?

At first, you might push against that. You might say, “She’s a bitch for saying that to me.” You might deny that you ever whine or complain. You might go behind the person’s back and declare that they don’t support you.

OR, if you sit with it long enough, though, you might feel the gentleness arise: “Well, okay, yeah…so, I’m a human being having a human experience. Sometimes, I whine and complain. Here’s the truth behind the whining and complaining.” Then you might ask consider that this person was asking a question that was hard to hear, but that your reaction to hearing it is…your responsibility.

From there, you might start to ask yourself what is needed, next. You might ask yourself how releasing the justifications for whining and complaining might make your life…better.

July 2014: Provocative Questions

During the month of July, on Twitter ( or the YCL Facebook page ( , I’ll be asking a series of Provocative Questions. It feels a little risky, a little daring, the kind of thing that will get me labeled as a bitch because people will misunderstand the intent.

Yet, these are all questions I’ve either been asked, or asked myself, and they’ve been really fruitful.

I’ll post one a day during the month of July, and your invitation is to participate by actually a.) asking yourself these questions, and b.) blogging a response to these questions.

The invitation is also to see this as a doorway to greater compassion for yourself. Instead of trying to live up to some self-help ideal where you’re endlessly compassionate and living in the light, you might also own the parts of you that can be bitchy, impatient, jealous, or out of integrity.

In owning them, you can embrace them. You don’t ask yourself the hard questions so that you can make life hard. You ask the hard questions so that you can face what you fear, and work with it, instead of against it.

To join:

There are two steps. One, head here: and sign up for the YCL e-letter (current subscribers, you’ll automatically receive everything!). After confirming your opt-in, you’ll get to access the entire YCL library as well as the #ProvocativeQ worksheet only for subscribers.

Second, head here: or here: and follow on either of these social communities to see what the daily #ProvocativeQ question will be.