Last week, Glennon Doyle and I got together on Instagram live for some real talk inspired by her new book, Untamed, and how it applies to everything we’re going through now.
If you’re not familiar with Glennon Doyle, let me give you a quick bio. She’s the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Love Warrior, as well as Carry On, Warrior and her newest memoir, Untamed.
Glennon is also the founder of the nonprofit organization Together Rising, which she runs with a dedicated team that includes her wife, Abby Wambach, who is a soccer legend!
Together Rising transforms collective heartbreak into effective action. They’ve raised more than $20 million since 2012, supporting everyone from American kids to Syrian refugees to pregnant women in Haiti. (More on Together Rising below.)
Glennon is truly a powerhouse and a force for love, and it was a huge joy to talk to her. I love this conversation and the wisdom she shares, so I decided to break it down here on my blog.
My untamed conversation with Glennon Doyle
You can watch our talk below. You can also keep reading for some of my favorite highlights from the conversation!
On her new book, ‘Untamed’
Glennon recently published her new memoir, Untamed, which I’ve been reading before bed. It often moves me to tears — and it’s also got me laughing my butt off. It’s a beautiful book that I hope we all read. So let’s start our conversation there.
Gabby: What came through you when you sat down to write Untamed? What was the message that came through you?
Glennon: I think the message has been bubbling up in me since I was 10 years old. When I was 10, I became bulimic and I think that that was a direct result of me learning from a million different places that I was too much, that I was different, that my feelings were too big, my anger was too big. My doubts were too many.
I started to numb myself with food. For 20 years my life became addiction, and eventually mental hospital and diagnoses.
But there was a little part of me the whole time that was like, “I don’t think I’m crazy.” I actually think I was just paying really close attention.
Why would a little girl get an eating disorder? Why would a little girl in our culture start to believe that she cannot trust her hunger, that she cannot trust her emotions and that she needs to do whatever it takes to stay very small?
Maybe because that’s the message that little girls get from everywhere. Maybe these people that we call broken are actually just responding quite appropriately to a broken system, right?
So the message of Untamed has been, and the reason why the first half is written the way it is, it’s little stories proving how little girls and women are tamed over time. How we’re shamed out of who we are and how we’re put in these cages. And when we live in these little teeny cages, we try to be good girls and quiet and polite and ladylike and small and pretty and dainty. And then we wonder why we feel crazy in our cages.
And then we’re gaslit. When we start to express, “Wait, I don’t like this. I feel caged. I feel like I have more in me.” And then everybody goes, “Oh, just be grateful for what you have. What do you mean? You’re crazy.” It’s a universal gaslighting. So my entire message in Untamed was about how I was never crazy.
How to support (or get support from) Together Rising
Gabby: I want to acknowledge all the work you do for children and for supporting community. You’re an epic writer and a beautiful speaker, but supporting community is what you’re really about. Tell me about it.
Glennon: Every word that I write or speak is really about Together Rising. Speaking of that, go if you need help. A lot of people know us because of our big projects, like at the border and with refugees.
But we’ve been first responders for a decade. We spend most of our day fielding emails from women who need to keep putting food on the table or keep the lights on in their houses. If you need us, we’re working triple time. Go to Together Rising and ask for help. And if you have extra right now, go to Together Rising to donate.
We’re very lucky to have some donors who pay all of our administrative costs. So 100% of every penny that you give to Together Rising goes directly to people in need.
Handling your feelings during COVID—19
Glennon: What’s happening is, we’re scared. Things are scary outside. But also, we’ve had to stop. And we don’t stop. We’re like snow globes — we keep everything shaken up. We scroll, we shop, we snark, we overwork, we stay busy, we stay shaking.
When the snow settles, there’s something in there. And right now the snow is settling for so many people because it’s been forced upon us, and we’re stuck with the truth of who we are.
And the truth of who we are — there’s nothing bad there. It’s just that being fully human is painful. There’s a lot of pain there and there’s regret and fear and loss, and a lot of us are sitting in that for the first time.
Gabby: You’re exactly right. The snow globe shaking is how the majority of people function as a way to stay safe, as a way to avoiding being in the childhood wounds, being in the truth of what’s up.
And so when we sit down and try to be still, or we are forced to be still, we can go mad.
I think that’s why we have to keep coming back to the conversation of, “How do we allow ourselves to regulate our energy?”
Deepak Chopra gave this really beautiful Facebook live recently. He said he believes in the power of positive thinking. But he also said that right now, if you’re in full-blown fear, trying to be in the power of positive thinking will only make it worse.
This the time to be untamed in a healthy way. Feel how you feel.
Glennon: Here’s the thing. I am sad that my book tour is canceled. I feel a little bit selfishly weepy about it and thinking about what could have been.
And then there’s this layer that’s like, “But you shouldn’t feel that way, because so many other people have it so much worse.”
That is true… and it’s also unhelpful for making it through human emotions. Saying, “I can’t be sad because other people are sadder,” is exactly the same as saying, “I can’t be happy because other people might be happier.”
The only way to make it through that feeling is that I give myself, as long as it takes each day, just to feel really sorry for myself. And then I move on and I get on Together Rising and I do some good things for people.
You can get through it. You can let yourself get through it instead of telling yourself you can’t feel a certain way.
Practicing the Spiritually Aligned Action Method
What Glennon just described is what I call spiritually aligned action. She let herself process how pissed off she was, how upset she was, how disappointed she was, and she let it move through.
Once she moved through all those feelings, she cleared space for inspiration. So she wasn’t taking action just to numb out disappointment or push through anger. She took action from a place of having processed her rage and sadness and disappointment, and she was clear enough to then go serve others.
We’re all spiritual activists and we’re all feeling called to do our Facebook lives and share and give and help the world. But if you’re not taking action from a place of spiritual alignment, then that action will actually have a negative effect. It will be detrimental to your well-being and to other people’s well-being.
How can we be untamed in a grounded way?
Glennon: Right now I would say we just let ourselves be however we are, right? We let ourselves feel however we feel, and we let our people feel however they feel.
One thing that I find very funny is that the easiest part of my day right now is when I’m doing an interview like this. The reason is that I’m in a room alone right now, and the rest of my family is out there. Right?
Who was it that said you might think you’re enlightened until you spend a week with your family? One of the reasons we all want to get online and do something right now is because we want to get away.
We’re realizing that not only is it difficult to sit with ourselves for this long, it’s also difficult to sit with our people for this long.
One of the ways we can be untamed right now, I think, is to resist fiercely this idea that even during this time of global shutdown, we will entertain the lie that we are all producers. That all we are meant to do is produce.
One of my friends sent me a frickin’ meme two days ago that said, “Don’t forget Albert Einstein discovered the theory of relativity while he was quarantined.” And I was like, “Eff you very much. So now I’m not only supposed to make it through this scary time, but I’m supposed to create the best work of my life?”
We need to lower our expectations for ourselves. Right. Most of us are trying to just do the bare minimum. We’re trying not to lose our jobs. We’re trying not to lose our minds. We’re trying not to lose it on our kids.
Parenting in a time of quarantine — and letting our children grow
Our kids will learn something important during this time. It might not be reading skills. It might be that, actually, we aren’t in control. It might be that all that matters is that we take care of ourselves and take care of each other. And that might mean that you frickin’ let them watch eight hours of TV a day. It’s okay.
My sister, who is just the most loving mother I know, called me yesterday and told me that she had tried to sit down and do a reading lesson with my nephew and that she just lost her shit.
And I said, “Okay, why were you doing that reading lesson yesterday?” And she said she felt like she was supposed to. That they’d been watching too much TV.
And I said, “I feel like my nephew will be less scarred in the long run if you just let him watch TV all day than if you force him into reading lessons and lose your shit.”
Lower expectations. We take this time for what it is, which is a very scary, uncertain time. And we let our people be whoever they are. Everybody handles these things differently. I’ve got one kid who’s pissed off, one kid who’s very quiet and afraid, and one kid who has maybe not noticed what’s happening.
Gabby: I want to speak to this also as it relates to our little people, because I have a 15-month-old little man. We have the most incredible woman who’s part of our family now, my son’s nanny. She typically comes during the week while we work. But she’s home with her family right now.
Oliver’s uncle and aunt are here staying with us. He doesn’t really know them very well. He sees Mama and Dada now much more throughout the day, but we’re tethered because we’re running a business.
And he’s feeling it. So I really want to speak to the moms who have small children and say that they know. They can feel everything.
They know what’s up at the youngest age. It’s never too soon to hold them close, acknowledge their feelings, let them be, let them cry. Let them feel what’s up. Don’t stifle.
I keep saying to baby Oliver, I say, “Ollie, I understand things are different right now. You have people in your home who you don’t know.” He understands me. He may not understand every word I’m saying, but he understands that I understand him.
That ability to co-regulate with the child is the biggest gift that we could give them right now. It will save them from PTSD. Because what happens when we get into any kind of trauma state is that our ability to process our emotions is stifled.
Glennon: We’re always trying to fix each other. Every group of parents within a culture at a different time gets a memo. Our memo was: “Protect your child from pain…. Make sure no one’s ever mean to her. Make sure she never frowns or is in the vicinity of anyone who frowns.”
I’ll never forget this. I was at a parenting convention and a woman raised her hand. She said, “Glennon, my family is broken and there’s nothing I can do to fix it. My little boy is in so much pain. Every day I look at him and I think, ‘I had one job. My one job was to protect him from pain and I couldn’t do it.’”
And all the other moms are like, “Yes, me too.”
I said, “Can you give me three words you would use to describe the kind of man you’re trying to raise?”
She said, “I want him to be brave, I want him to be kind and I want him to be wise.”
And I said, “Okay, awesome words. Tell me, what is it in a human life that creates courage and kindness and wisdom? It’s pain.”
It isn’t not having anything to overcome, right? It’s overcoming and overcoming and overcoming. It’s resilience.
So is it possible that our parenting generation has been tamed into stealing the one thing from our children that will allow them to become the adults we dream them to be? And is it possible that it was never our job nor our right to protect or grab our children’s pain?
It was our job to let them have it and to use it to transform. We usually don’t! Anything hard happens and we’re like, “We’re gonna fix it. Your feelings aren’t real. Feel better! Don’t cry.”
Gabby: Or, “It’s okay.” That’s the worst thing you could say to a child. I see this now, even with my marriage and my friendships — the greatest gift we can give someone is just to honor their thoughts and their feelings.
The greatest gift we can give someone is just to honor their thoughts and their feelings.
If you think about, “If my parents or my teachers or whoever honored my thoughts and feelings, how much easier would my life have been?” You write about this in the book. When you feel your feelings, your thoughts, your emotions being shut down, that puts you into an immobilized state.
If we don’t have the necessary tools for resilience, for feeling through a feeling completely, allowing it to move through us, allowing our body to express it completely and fully, it not only gets stuck in our psyche, but it also gets stuck in our physical condition.
So if you have gut issues or physical back pain, these are psychosomatic issues. We have a lot of power in being untamed, allowing our emotions to be free, allowing our words to come through naturally. Giving voice to what is real.
Moving through our feelings and letting others move through theirs
Resilience is the greatest resource we have. Particularly right now, when all external safety been taken away from us. Our true safety lies in our ability to process our feelings and our thoughts, not to tame them.
Glennon: If women actually returned to themselves, allowed themselves to feel all of it, trusted themselves and unleashed themselves, power structures would change completely. The world as we know it would end, which is exactly what we want.
Because we want to rebuild families and institutions and governments, built on equality and justice and freedom.
The reason why we steal our children’s pain from them is because that’s what we were taught.
If we were taught that every time our wild welled up we had to shove it back down, what we learned over time is that who we are is not good and it’s not safe. And feeling our feelings is not good and it’s not safe.
If we’re told that over and over again as we’re children, we wonder why we go to the pantry every single time we start to feel our wild. Why we start scrolling, why we turn to the hatred and the snark. It’s the pattern we learned as a child.
Let’s just go back to the book tour being canceled as an example. I am a feeler and Abby is a fixer. I’m so sad because my tour is canceled. I’m being sad in the privacy of my own home with my wife.
My wife, who loves me so much, dies inside every time she sees me sad. So what she does immediately is she starts saying, “This is okay. It’s the best thing that could ever happen! Everyone’s going to read it. It’s good.”
And I just start getting so mad. When you present your feelings to someone and they tell you all the reasons why it’s going to be okay, that’s invalidating.
And here’s the other thing: We don’t share ourselves or our feelings to be fixed. We share ourselves or our feelings to be heard and seen. Everybody wants to be the hero of her own situation, her own life. So when I share myself with you and you go right away to hope, you’re stealing my role.
“We don’t share our feelings to be fixed. We share our feelings to be heard and seen.” —Glennon Doyle
I want to be the one that eventually moves us towards hope, because it’s my situation. And when you steal the hope role, you’re cutting in line. I want to tell you how much it sucks. I want you to hear how much it sucks. I want you to look at me and say, “This sucks.”
Then I will step in five minutes later and be like, “But you know what? It’s going to be all right because of this and this and this.” And I get to be the hero of my own situation.
Practicing the Abraham-Hicks emotional guidance scale
Gabby: What you’re teaching right now is actually the Abraham-Hicks emotional guidance scale. Abraham-Hicks say that you can’t go from despair to joy. You can’t leap there. In fact, it will make things worse because the vibrational frequencies are so far apart.
The emotional guidance scale is such that you could go from despair to jealousy. “I’m jealous they launched their book three months ago and I didn’t.” That jealousy is a better-feeling vibration than despair.
And then you can go from jealousy to boredom. “I’m bored right now. I don’t know what to do. I’m supposed to be on my book tour but I’m bored.” That boredom is a much better vibration than the jealousy.
What we have to do right now is allow the people we’re surrounded with to get themselves out, to use that emotional guidance scale. We don’t even say anything, we can just sit with someone and say, “Tell me how you feel. Talk to me.”
We all genuinely want to feel better. We all have the ability to naturally guide ourselves into a better-feeling vibration. A better-feeling vibration from despair could be rage. So Abby’s greatest gift to you right now could be to just let you rage.
We all have the ability to naturally guide ourselves into a better-feeling vibration.
I’m a former fixer, so I really understand where Abby’s at. That need to just be like, “It’s okay. I don’t want my wife to be upset.” I used to do this with my husband all the time. He would say the same thing that you’re saying: “Let me feel.”
This morning Zach and I woke up and I was like, “Just say everything. Put it on the table right before the baby gets up.” And he was like, “Okay, this is what’s up with this thing, and I want to make sure we’ve locked in the mortgage rate” — because we’re doing a project. And this and that, and this and that. And he’s like, “I’m not totally worried about that, but I need to say it out loud.”
And my job was just to hold the space. Hold the space.
Glennon: This is a big one too, with the kids. We have one child who has really big feelings.
This is a child who, if she couldn’t tie her shoes, it was like the entire family would shut down for 12 minutes. There was no difference between, “Everyone I know has died” and “I can’t tie my shoes.” It’s always a 10.
What I learned with her was the worst thing I could do was explain to her why it wasn’t a big deal that she couldn’t tie her shoes. Nothing would make it worse than that.
The strategy we still use with her now, and actually Abby has started using with me, is this idea of: You bring your problems to me. You tell me your feelings, and then I say, “Are you ready for the solution?”
Nine times out of 10 she will say no because the fact is she knows the solution. In the back of her head, while she’s having the feelings, she knows there’s a solution to this. She’s a smart person and she’ll get to that solution. She doesn’t even need us for that. What she needs is for us to say, “I see how you feel.” That’s it. And give her space for it. And then eventually she regulates herself.
Gabby: It’s about seeking relief rather than solutions. Because when we get back into that place of relief, solutions intuitively come to us.
We’re always trying to fix and find and solve. And right now we cannot fix or find or solve. We can be part of the solution by seeking relief.
Glennon: I think that taming is always connected to shaming. We are tamed when we’re shamed out of who we are in order to fit in a box that makes other people comfortable. Whether that’s about our sexuality or gender or emotions or our feelings, whatever situation it is for you.
For example, if I say I’m sad about my tour and Abby says, “But it’s going to be great. Your words are helping people in their homes. Think about the doctors, think about the nurses.” I will say, “You’re right, I’m grateful.”
But I only got there through shame. I didn’t work out my own path because somebody held space for me to travel that journey. I will just be shamed into gratitude.
I learned it early. We all do, we all are tamed out of our wild through shaming. I think that one of the scary and hard parts is that usually we are tamed by the people who love us. Many of us had very difficult childhoods, but most of us had a few good years of freedom. And then we become culturally and socially aware.
Social programming is what I call taming. It’s, “You’re a girl and good girls aren’t bossy. Good girls are pleasant. You’re a Doyle and Doyles do this. You’re a Christian, and good Christian does this.” We spend our entire lives chasing other people’s expectations and ideals, and then we wonder why we’re exhausted, overwhelmed, bored, weary, uninspired.
The core message of ‘Untamed’
Gabby: Somebody posted in the comments, “This happened, but it’s not too late.” And I think that that’s probably the core message of this book. For people who are reading Untamed right now, what’s the core message you want them to walk away with?
Glennon: I have two things to say right in this moment about that.
One this that we all want to be good. We want to be good mothers, good wives, good women, good people, and that’s okay. We must create our own definitions of what is good.
I almost missed out on the love of my life. I almost abandoned myself again because I decided early on that I could not follow my love for Abby because I needed to be a good mother. This is all when I was 42.
I said, “I can’t leave my marriage because good mothers don’t break up their families. Good mothers don’t break their children’s hearts.” One day I was braiding Tish’s hair and I looked at her and I thought, “I’m staying in this marriage for her. But would I want this marriage for her? And if I would not want this marriage for this little girl, then why am I modeling bad love and calling that good mothering?”
[I’d learned that] mothers are martyrs, right? Right. That’s what a good mother does, she just slowly dies for the rest of her life in honor of her children.
What a good mother does is that she just buries her emotions, her desire, her dreams, her ambition, and then she just calls that love.
Watch carefully what they taught you about what makes a good daughter, a good wife, a good woman, a good Christian, a good mother. Because all of those messages and those ideals will in one way or another tell you to slowly disappear, to become smaller in body, mind, spirit, ambitions, dreams, so you don’t threaten anybody else.
Mothers are martyrs. What a burden for children to bear. To know they are the reason that their mother stopped living. And one day, when they become parents, they will need to just slowly disappear for their children, too.
If we hold up martyrdom motherhood as the ideal, then our children will spend their whole lives trying to reach that. Which is why Carl Jung said, “There is no greater burden on a child and the unlived life of a parent.”
I want to be a good mother. I just made my own damn definition of motherhood. That a mother is not a martyr — a mother is a model. That I will not slowly die for my children. I will show my children how to bravely live until the day I die. Because I believe deeply that our children will only allow themselves to live as fully as we allow ourselves to live.
“A mother is not a martyr. A mother is a model.” —Glennon Doyle
The call of motherhood is to not settle for any relationship, community, conversation, nation, world, that is less true and beautiful than the one we would want for our babies.
So, fine — be a good girl, be a good woman, be a good mother, be a good everything. But you make your own damn definitions of what is good. Unearth the invisible beliefs that have been planted beneath you to control you.
Do what Whitman said: Re-examine every single thing you have been taught in church, in a book, in the world, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul.
That’s what untaming is. It’s just unearthing all of these fake beliefs and planting our own damn roots beneath ourselves. Because when we plant our own roots, we finally start growing as huge and majestic and strong as we were meant to be. And the fruits, the fruit of our lives suddenly become our own. We look around and say, “My outside life now reflects my inside, my wild self.”
Gabby: That’s a pretty damn good core message. I want every single person here to go to Amazon, buy Untamed, and let this book be a power of inspiration for you.