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Elle Russ - Confidence

103: Overcoming Shame and Increasing Your Confidence – Elle Russ

Elle Russ is a bestselling author, TV/Film writer, and seasoned life coach. She is the author of Confident As Fu*k and The Paleo Thyroid Solution – a book which has helped thousands of people around the world reclaim their health. Elle is also the show host for NYT’s bestselling author Mark Sisson’s popular Primal Blueprint Podcast.

Elle began her writing career in sketch comedy and is an alumna of the world-famous comedy theater, The Second City – Chicago, and also a main company alumna of the renowned Acme Comedy Theater in Hollywood, where she wrote and performed in over 100 live sketch comedy and improv shows. Her extensive writing resumé includes TV & Film scripts, books, and articles.

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • How Elle uniquely defines confidence.
  • How downer people are dragging you down. 
  • Ways that shame prevents us from being confidence.
  • Practical steps to increase your confidence.

“Empowered to Rise” by David Trotter – available on Amazon now!

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Interview Transcript

Elle, thanks so much and welcome to the show. Great to have you.

Oh, thanks for having me. I’m just so appreciative to talk to you about this.

Yeah, absolutely. I want to start out by just having you define the word “confidence”. You do it well in your book, but for those who have not read your book yet, how would you define it? Also, why did you choose to write a book on confidence?

Let me start off with why I chose to write the book and then I’ll go into how I define confidence, because a lot of people define it differently and I think a lot of people have misconceptions of it. One of the reasons I was compelled to write it, I’m already an author. I wrote a book called The Paleo Thyroid Solution. But one of the topics that has come up often in my life, is that I have attracted people. Most of the people I’ve attracted into my life, friends, colleagues, you name it, in some sense have needed the ability to speak up, they need confidence. They come to me for cheerleading when they need to go ask the boss for a raise. Or they  need to stand up to a friend who’s being a bully, or whatever it is.

I noticed this theme over all these years, but on the contrary too, that seems very one-sided. Like, “Oh here I am, some confidence teacher and everybody flocks to me for this.” Well, the following is what these people have taught me and can teach highly confident people. So highly confident people also have pitfalls. Some of those pitfalls are that we are very inaccessible because we are very opposed to showing any kind of vulnerability or any kind of weakness of any kind. So what we also have issues with is diplomacy. Sometimes we can speak and get a little bit too hot before we really think about it. Because we are really confident and we’re confident in our position. Confident people can be very alpha and bold that way. So there’s that.

Then also too, sometimes people who need help with confidence, are also very good at receiving. They’re good at allowing other people to take control in certain situations or they’re okay with delegating. Highly confident people usually are not. It’s not that it’s a control freak thing, but sometimes it is like, “You know what? I can just do it better and faster, so I’m just going to do it.” Not really trusting or allowing other people to do that. We can also take over and enable people, like someone comes to you and they’re like, “Hey, I need help writing a letter,” and you’re like, “I got it.” Versus helping them learn how to do it.

You’re talking about my life here, Elle. What the heck? You’re describing me, what the heck?

Or guide them. This is what I’ve learned over the years. Now here’s the thing, vulnerability, I’m not asking everybody to wear your heart on your sleeve or do a Facebook Live about your vulnerabilities, but at the end of the day, you’re going to have deeper connections with people when you share certain parts of yourself that you are thinking perhaps look weak. But I would argue that Being Confident as F – my book – FU*K. I don’t know if we’re going to use the word.

You can. You’re welcome to.

Okay, so Confident as Fu*k. What do I mean by that? I mean, inside and outside. This is not about teaching people how to be performers like myself. I can get on a stage in front of five thousand. If that’s what you want to do, that’s absolutely something that can be attained. It can be learned. I have seen people go from the shyest people in the world and be able to get up on the stage. That’s just performance confidence. That’s not really what I’m talking about. Although I would say that that’s a valid skill for a lot of people. If you have a story that you want to get out, or you’re an author, yes, then you might need to learn that skill.

But you also need confidence if you’re a stay-at-home mom and you’ve got some bitch at the PTA meeting or some kid’s parents who’s patronizing you. Maybe you need to speak up and stand ground on something. You need confidence in every area of your life from the board room to the bedroom. It matters everywhere. So being confident as fuck to me is inside and outside. So that is really, I guess, interchangeable with self-esteem. It’s not about, and acting if pontificating and going out there. A lot of people who aren’t confident get offended when they hear that word, because they sometimes think confident people are braggadocios, loud mouthy, negative connotation of an alpha, let’s say. That’s really not the case, because that’s not confidence.

If you feel like you have to prove yourself to somebody, you’re just fucking insecure. That’s not confident at all. It’s really not confident. There are people that get up on stage and are New York Times bestselling authors and they have performance confidence and outward confidence, but man, woo, on the inside, total mess. Total mess, totally insecure, and some self-esteem issues going on there. So that’s also not what confidence is. That’s what con men are. So confidence men. The reason con men get their way and steal money from people is again, people trust confidence. That’s why you want it. Because you’re going to be the better employer. People are going to listen to what you have to say. It’s most authentic.

Confident people, truly confident people, that’s what I’m talking about, confidence people. They are the most authentic and authenticity reigns supreme in this world in every area. So you want that. Now some of the most confident people are the quietest people in the room. That’s really important for everyone listening to understand. Again, this is not about being the life of the party, mister charmer. I would guarantee that half those people probably aren’t really confident as fuck. But the guy standing alone in the corner at party who everyone’s going, “Oh, that poor guy. He’s all alone.” Not poor guy, he’s comfortable in himself everywhere he goes and he’s just observing. That’s confidence. I’ll leave it there.

Elle, my goodness. I feel like I just got a firehose full of confidence. That was a lot. I love it. That’s a lot. Tell me about some reasons why we lack confidence. What are the reasons why people will experience over the course of their life? I see it even with young kids. My wife is a kindergarten teacher, so even at five or six years of age, some kids are super confident and some kids you can tell are just having challenges and not that confident. Again, maybe some kids start out with confidence and then something happens. Help me understand why we lack confidence.

Upbringing does have a lot to do with it, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t come from a household where parents, siblings were confident, and there’s one sibling that maybe isn’t. That could be based on conversations that they’re having with their friends or experiences at school. Part of the thing I talk about in my book is, it’s not a book of acronyms and to-do lists. It’s here’s what life is like through specific stories that are relatable to everybody, so you can read them and go, “Oh, okay. I get that one.” Part of that is overcoming parental garbage, as I call it. One of the examples in my book is a guy named Brandon. Brandon grew up, normal household, no one was beaten, nothing tragic. Middle class, so everyone was supported and had a roof over their head. Educated family. Seemingly the best of America in terms of what you could be born into.

Yet, the father would for example, not be able to find the hammer and then blame Brandon for stealing it, accusing him of it. Brandon didn’t steal the hammer. He’d be like, “I didn’t take it.” They’d get into a fight. Then the dad would find the hammer and never apologize. Now these things went on, they would happen regularly. That imprinted in Brandon this, “I’m wrong.” How did that translate into confidence? Well, Brandon got older, was in the workplace as a contractor. And he continually got patronized by the head of the project. What would happen is, something would go wrong that wouldn’t even be Brandon’s fault at all. Same story. See where this is going? So something would go wrong, he’d be chastised and patronized in front of the whole crew and everything else.

Do you feel like he was just putting out this vibe?

One hundred percent.

It’s just in him?

Again, this is a story that you’re projecting and expecting. Again, how did we clean that up? First of all, my thing was, “Hold on a minute Brandon. This doesn’t happen to me or ten hundred people I know. It’s not that I’m a better employer and you’re not. Where is this coming from?” Finally we talked about childhood. We looked into that and I was like, “Oh my gosh.” So the first thing was just really having Brandon see this childhood story and realizing where this came from, and that he didn’t have to be wrong. The second part was mustering up the confidence to speak up next time he was patronized.

Now, this took some work, because listen, he had to prepare to basically walk out of a job and possibly accept that hit of money. Because that would have been a bold self-esteem move as it was, and it did work. But it could have backfired. He could have gotten fired on that job. So we had to kind of work around that, making sure he was comfortable. Finally, it happened again of course. Because if you don’t bully a bully back or you don’t call a bully on their shit, it’s going to keep happening to you. You’re going to be perfect pray. Most of the time when you call a bully on their shit, they will acquiesce. They will crumble most of the time.

Finally he geared up, the situation of course came right in. Something happened, it wasn’t his fault. Chastised and patronized in front of everybody. He stood up, said something to the degree of like, “Hey, if you can’t speak to me like a normal human being, I’m walking out of this job right now. So until you change your tone, not available.” Something like that. Now as what often happens is, that was scary. It’s not to say that was a comfortable thing. But what’s more uncomfortable? Being patronized and going home and going, “Damn it, I wish I said this. I wish I could have said that.” No, that’ll seep into your soul and eat away for years. You’re going to be thinking about what you could have, should have done.

Finally, mustered up that. It can be an uncomfortable moment. Mustered it up, spoke up, and again, like classic, the boss acquiesced, apologized, never did it again. However he had one tester that came up. Usually when you’ve conquered a thing, I believe the universe will kind of throw you an extra tester down the road to go, “Are you sure you want this lesson?” Whatever you challenge is. So after that, Brandon started to bring in jobs and contracts with employers that were so grateful and nothing went f’ing wrong. Nothing went wrong. Not only that, he would get emails afterwards saying, “Oh my God, we just loved working with you. Everything was so smooth. It was great.” You should have heard the calls from Brandon being like, “Oh my gosh, what a whole new world.”

This happened to this person at the age of forty, okay? So it’s never too late to change. But all of t hose years spent being like, “I’m wrong.” Or “I’m going to be wrong.” Again, you are putting that energy out there. I have a totally different employee story. I’ve always been a great employee. I’ve always gotten accolades. I’ve never been fired, so of course I’m not manifesting that. I only manifest more of that same thing. Of just being appreciate in the work place. I have another area I needed to work on. Everyone’s got their little area. We don’t know what it is for you. So that’s where parental garbage, and that story.

That’s a big one, I know, that impacts confidence. Any more couple that perhaps come to mind?

Yeah, being around toxic, negative people that are downers. The downer effect. I mention nine of them. We’ve all been downers. We’ve been around downers. So if you’re laughing thinking, “Oh, I know a bunch of downers, you’ve also had downer thoughts.” So if you don’t want your confidence messed with, you better stop messing with other peoples. It comes in the form of dumb comments that are seemingly are innocuous like a friend says to you, “I want to start a new business.” And your response is, “Ooh, be careful. Because fifty percent of new businesses fail.” It’s the skeptic. It’s always the skeptic or the quote “realist”, or someone again, downering, your idea.

So back to a Steve Harvey quote, “Don’t’ tell your million dollar ideas to hundred dollar people.” We’ve got to get rid of these toxic downers because listen, people are going to project their lack of confidence in a thing on you. What the hell are you going to do? Are you going to let that person? No you’re not. Not you’re not. Not if I can help it. Not if I can help it. So some of these downers come in the form of people that love you, and support you, and are generally not downers. I had it happen/ Man, I have so many examples in the book, but I’ll tell you a strong one, which is when I wrote my first book. Now I had been a writer before. I had written some sketch comedy, and some sitcoms, and a documentary, but I had not written a book before.

Sure, by the way. As you’re writing this, as I’m reading this section, I’m grimacing and kind of laughing at the same time. It’s just a painful section to read in the book. Okay, tell the story, it’s so good.

It’s so painful. So I go to a family member who loves me, is supporting me forever.

Of course, yeah.

Amazing person. Normally encouraging. Not a downer in general, okay? So I went to them. I was so excited because Mark Sisson, my publisher. You can look him up, he’s an amazing guy for those of you who don’t know him. We talked about me possibly pitching him a book called The Paleo Thyroid Solution. He said, “Great, I’d love to hear it.” So I tell the family member, “Hey, I’m going to go pitch this book to Mark.” Their response was, “‘Well, you’ve never written a book before.” With that skeptical, good luck with that. I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m a writer though. It’s just another format. Big deal.”

Brush that off. Although it hit. I’m not going to lie, it hurts. It hurts when these things come at you. When downers come at you, there’s a moment. Which you have to be able to self-talk out of it and go, “Uh uh, watch this mofo. Mm-mm, you’re going to be wrong.” It’s not about proving them wrong, it’s about proving yourself awesome. But there is that element of, “No, no, no, you do not get to dictate my confidence. I’m going to do that. Even though you just hit me. You just came at me.” So then the second was, finally Mark said, “Yes, I’m going to publish your book.” I went to the same family member and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, Mark is going to publish my book. I’m so excited.” They go, “Well, now you have to write it.” I was like, “What the?” Really, oh my gosh, what a downer.

There was no, “Oh my God, that’s so exciting. Congratulations.” Nothing. It was, “Well, now you’re going to have to write it,” in a voice and a tone that was like, “Uh, I don’t know if I think you can really do this. You might f’ing fail at it.” That’s really what that is. Then I was like, “Oh damn, okay. Of course I’m going to write it.” So then the third hit was the book is done and they’re about to publish it. Barnes & Noble had called the publisher and said, “Hey, we’d like a thousand copies of this book,” and they hadn’t read it yet. I call the family member and I’m like, “Oh my God, this is so exciting. Barnes& Noble bought a thousand copies.” They said, “Well, that’s really silly. Why would Barns & Noble buy a book that they haven’t read?” and they kind of laughed about it.

You’ve got to quit talking about this family member, Elle.

You know what though? Here’s the thing. I love this family member. They’re actually really supportive. That’s why I’m saying, it can come from a hit from anywhere.

Right.

So when I finished the book, I actually showed them the section. I go, “That’s you.” You’re the downer.” They read it and they were like, “Oh my God, I didn’t mean any of that in that way.”

Wow.

And I said, “Right, but do you see what you said and how fucked up and what a downer thing that was to do to someone who’s in that process?” They were like, “Oh my God, I’m sorry. I do. I get it.” Now, while I’m writing the book, one of my best friends from high school, we have never gotten into an argument. Maybe we got into a mini political debate at one time but we don’t fight. We’re very good friends. We’ve really never had any issues. While I was writing the book, before it was done, the first one. He called me in a panic as if a parent were talking to their child and their child had a science project due the next morning and it was twelve midnight. They were like, “Dude, what are you doing? Are you writing? How far along are you? What’s going on?” Just like that. Very skeptically.

You can hear this in my tone. Oh my God. I just spoke up and I said, “Yo, you are being a frickin’ downer. I know that you may not have the confidence to write a book, don’t you dare project that shit onto me. The last person I need in the world is my best friend downering my situation. Also, you’ve known me for forty years. When have I ever not finished something I started? Come on. Come on, man.” They immediately were like, “Oh my God, I’m sorry. You’re right.” Now that’s also a really nice thing about having confident as fuck friends, because you can do a mic drop like that and it’s a two minute conversation and there’s no bitterness. But again, I call them on it. I’m not going to not do that with my close family members and friends, okay?

So some of these kind of comments can bring people to tears, I get that. But again, everyone around you, there’s going to be someone. Downers are everywhere. What are you going to do?  How are you going to fuel your confidence in the face of that? Again, yes, you might go, “All right, definitely don’t talk to Nancy because Nancy’s a downer. I’m not going to tell her about my project and my dreams until it’s finished.” But I guarantee you that even when it’s finished you’re going to get some downer comment. I had a friend who did an animated kids series that I ended up writing with them. They did a little iPad children’s book. A digital children’s book. They had an Emmy award winning animator who was willing to do it. They were telling their downer friend at the time, “Hey, oh my God, I’m so excited this Emmy award winning animator, I’m going to talk to this guy about my book.” And she goes, “If he has an Emmy, why would he want to do your book?”

Yikes.

Okay, everybody’s heard shit like this. It doesn’t matter what it is. So what are you going to do about it? You either get rid of these people, you call it out, you speak up, but you’ve got to do some internal work to get past it. Because it will seep into your soul. That’s another part of things that affect confidence, are being around those people. Being any kind of victim. So one story in the book, it’s just a real simple one. I’ve got a bunch of them but I have a section called “Your Victim Application has Been Denied”. In there I talk about a fifty-year-old woman who I heard at a gathering. Her mother was there in the backyard or something. She was kind of excusing to us, I guess she obviously felt defensive and insecure about where she was in life with success and money or whatever.

She said, “My mom, if she just pushed me further. I tell you what, I’d probably be somewhere else now.” But you know what? She just, duh duh duh duh. I said, “Hold on a minute. You’re fifty. So when did you discover that maybe your mom wasn’t the best parent or wasn’t the best guide? What age did you figure this out?” She was like, “I don’t know, maybe when I was thirty.” So I go, “You’ve had twenty fucking years? You’ve had twenty years to pick your shit up from your bootstraps and get it together for yourself?” But instead, she just allowed her mother to have power over her and continue this victim story. I’m sorry, cancelled. Cancel that everybody.

That is allowing someone else’s opinion of you to completely dictate and help create your future. Are you really going to allow that? Because clearly you don’t respect that person. I mean, you don’t respect that behavior. You don’t admire that thing that they did or didn’t do. You’ve got to give it to yourself. But enough victimhood. So being a victim, wallowing in that. That’s why this book’s, I know somebody who bought it for every family member. Because the book is like, if you’re not willing to tell people in your life that they’re a downer and a victim, I will. I’m doing it. So just hand them the book. The other very important thing that can affect confidence is shame. I have a whole entire chapter on “Shame Disables Confidence”.

Can I ask you a quick question before we go there? Because that is just an incredibly powerful part of the book. Whoa.

Yeah. Yeah, let’s get into it.

How would you distinguish between someone who’s giving feedback versus someone who’s being a downer? You know what I mean? Trying to be constructive in some way or being helpful. Perhaps it’s a close friend. How would you distinguish between those two?

We know the difference because when someone’s a downer, it doesn’t feel right. We all know when people have bad vibes. We all know when someone is internally rolling their eyes going, “Yeah, good luck with that.” We know it. We feel it. That’s your indication.

It’s more about them than it is about me.

One hundred percent it is. It’s about their belief in whether or not you think you’re going to do that thing. Now here’s the thing, let’s say someone comes to you with an idea and you think that they’re going to fail at it. If you think it’s a horrible idea, you can give constructive feedback. Go, “Well, what about that?” or “Have you thought about this?” There’s books on giving constructive feedback. However, some of the time you’ve just got to let people fail. Even if you know that they might fail at a thing. What’s so important is that they’ll remember you encouraged them.  You’ve still got to get behind them.

I had people come to me with crazy ideas and I’ve been like, “Look, I don’t think that idea is what you think it is. Let me give my opinion on where I think you want to go with this and what you think it is. I think they’re conflicting.” That’s just a regular, normal, philosophical conversation about a thing. But it’s classic because creative people get more downers from everyone in the world. So for example, I talk about in the book about a random stranger who said, “Hey, what do you do?” I said, “I’m a writer.” This is literally verbatim was their immediate response. “So are you a real writer who makes money at it? Or do you work at Starbucks but you write on the side?”

I said, “That’s fucking rude. Would you say to a real estate agent, ‘Do you just have a license to sell houses or do you live at home but you don’t actually really make money at it?’ They go, “No, no, no, that’s different.” I go, “No, it’s not different. No it’s not. It’s rude.” I said, “But here’s the thing,” and I talk about this perspective in the book. I said this to the guy. I said, “Luckily when negative naysayers like you roll around, it only fuels my success. So you just launched me to a whole new level, man. So thanks.” They were left feeling like a dumbass, hopefully they learned a lesson about not being rude like that.

A downer.

A downer. Here’s the thing. I could have defended myself and been like, “Yes, I’m successful writer. I wrote a bestselling book.” No, no, no, instead I was getting slightly bullied and I bullied back and said, “F-U, you’re just rude and this is why. F off.” That to me is what fuels confidence. Now you’ve got to choose your battles wisely. I don’t go looking for fights. Some things are better left unsaid. Sometimes you don’t speak up, particularly if you think you’re going to get your ass kicked. I’d rather have my ego punched than my face. Let’s be reasonable, right? You know what I mean? But at the end of the day, when you’re defending, again, you’re kind of feeding into their skeptical-ness.

I talk about this in the book. I have a twist on an old quote but no one ever built a statue to a skeptic. We don’t ever see a statue in a park or a national monument anywhere in the world where the placard says, “This guy didn’t believe in anything and thought nothing was possible, argued with everybody.” No, we erect statues to people that thought things were possible when others didn’t. So again, you’re just going to get hit with quote “reality”, particularly if you’re in a creative profession. Because like, “Oh, I want to be a writer. I want to be an opera singer. I want to be a musician.” People are going to be like, “Ooh, that’s really tough.” I had someone say to me after telling them I’m a writer, “Ooh, it’s really tough, isn’t it?” I go, “Is it?” Because it doesn’t seem to be tough that are doing well at it, so what do you have to say for them?” So how about I be on the fifty percent of the side of the businesses that succeed? Stop being a downer bro.

Yeah, sure.

We’ve all been downers. We do it all the time through vibration, through rolling our eyes inside. We know what that is and when we do it because we are judging and it doesn’t feel well. We’re often annoyed at the person for even thinking of such a grandiose plan or whatever. That’s when you need to check yourself and go, “Hold on a minute, man. Who cares if they fail? So let them. I’m going to encourage them anyway.” You don’t want to let people do insane stuff. I would definitely warn someone against something crazy if it were life threatening maybe. But even then so, there’s people that climb mountains and people think that’s insane and dangerous.

That’s their thing.

But that’s their thing.

Sure.

So again, avoiding downers, try not to be one. That’s that.

I want to talk about this issue of shame and how shame holds us back from being confident. This was, I would say, the most compelling part of the book. Where you share your own story of dealing with shame. Would you mind unpacking that just a little bit?

Sure, yeah. So it is actually one of the best chapters in the book, and really revealing. So I have been very confident my whole life, not with moments. Teenage years, awkward stuff. Random bitchy girlfriends in high school. Obviously, we all go through stuff like that. But when I was twenty-two years old, I had graduated from college and I really wanted to make a ton of money. I just wanted to retire early, that was my goal above all else. I wanted to do other things. I actually wanted to be an actor and a performer and all this stuff, but I was like, “That’s unreal.” I downered myself. I was like, “That’s unrealistic. That’s total BS. I’m going to go make a ton of money.”

So while I was applying to law schools, I got this salaried paid job with a company and they were the fastest growing company in San Francisco at the time, the tech boom. Next thing you know, I’m the seventh person hired and at the age of twenty-two, I’m managing a hundred people throughout the state of California. I have my own office. I’m wearing Armani suits. I have six-figure income and I’m about to make a quarter of a million dollars a year with my next promotion. So for me at the time, I was like, “Oh, I am done. By the time I’m thirty-five, I’m going to have Porsches in the driveway and a couple homes.” I was just set. Things were looking great.

Until one day, my arms failed me. I talk about this in detail in the book, but essentially I sustained a hand injury that gave me chronic tendonitis and tenosynovitis in both of my arms leading up to my neck. I was in chronic pain 24/7. When I mean chronic pain, my arms were like huge and inflamed. I could not hold a fork to my mouth. I could not wipe myself. My arms went numb every night. I couldn’t talk with my hands. I couldn’t hold a cup in my hand. I couldn’t run my fingers through my hair. Every activity. If you’re listening now, you’ve probably adjusted your hands a million times. If your hands are in great shape, you better count your blessings on this because this is a hand based world.

There is not one job in this world that doesn’t require the repetitive use of ones hands eight hours a day, five days a week. Except for speaking, acting, or dictating, or translating maybe. But other than that, other than using your voice as a radio show host or something, you have to use your hands. You can’t work at a Starbucks without using your hands eight hours a day. You can’t be a waitress. You can’t be a checkout person in a grocery store. You can’t be a babysitter. You can’t hold a baby in your arms for too long. So immediately, at this time, I thought initially, “Oh, it’ll just go away or something. It’ll get better.” It clearly didn’t. I suffered for a very long time.

The company didn’t put me on workman’s comp right away, because I was making so much money for them. So they tried to hire someone to be my hands for me but I still couldn’t get away with getting up in the morning and getting myself ready. I still had to make phone calls. I still had to take notes. The person they hired for me wasn’t there for me 24/7. At some point my arms were just literally dead. I couldn’t use them at all. It was just a total disaster. So they put me on workman’s comp and they were like, “Bye. See what happens.” I was like, “What?” I was twenty-two. I didn’t even know what workman’s comp meant. I really didn’t. The doctor too said, “You’re going to have this for the rest of your life. It may get better and the pain will go away but if you continue to do this job or jobs like it, you’re never going to be able to do that again. It’s got to be something else.” Because it’s going to come back.

It’s like a baseball player. The pitcher throws it all year. He’s out for a year because of the tendonitis, then he comes back. He gets it again. It’s what they call a repetitive strain injury. We use our hands 24/7, so you can’t get away with just resting your arms all the time. So at the time, man, you have no idea. When I realized that this thing was permanent and that I’d never be able to go back to that job, I had a moment in my apartment in San Francisco where I sat there. I had two thoughts. I had an accidental thought of gratitude. Because I wasn’t practicing it intentionally then like I do now. And that thought was, “All right, well my arms may be useless, but at least I have them.” So there was that.

Then my other thought was this horrible instant sense of shame and low-self-worth, which was this. I thought, “Oh my God, who is ever going to want me? Who’s ever going to want me? I can’t be a wife, a mom. I can’t. Who’s going to want me? I don’t know that I’d want a guy who’s arms were dead at the age of twenty-two. Who the fuck is every going to want me?” I want to bawl my eyes out right now thinking about how sad I was sitting there with that sense of shame. Because when I look back, shame is really a sense of unworthiness. It doesn’t matter if you have a mangled toe you’re embarrassed about or you killed someone because you were a drunk driver twenty years ago and you feel shame about that. Or you got molested and you feel shame. Or you haven’t come out yet and you’re gay.

I don’t even care what the shame is about, it will debilitate you. I was still confident. Obviously I went and pursued a career in voice, it took me many, many years. I’ll give the good end first, is that, yay, I host a podcast. I write books with my mouth. I can use my hands. I am not in chronic pain any more. I still have the issue. I can play a game of ping pong with you for fun but I’m not going to be in a league. I still can’t sleep on my sides. Again, this is not about pity partying, but I still have the disability. I’m technically forty percent disabled by the state of California. This has been twenty years now. So, so grateful to not be in chronic pain though. I’ve done a lot of work on that.

Back to that sense of shame, the way that it affected me was not in general areas. I was still really confident and people would look to me for that. But where it disabled my confidence was in romantic relationships and friendships. I was so mortified. Because when you have a hand disability, especially one that you can’t see, the world is unforgiving. They understand when you’re in a wheelchair or you’re missing an arm, they totally get it. They can have empathy. But they do not understand it when it’s something they can’t see. They question you. Some of them doubt it. They give you a ton of advice. You get tired of hearing that because you’ve tried everything in the world. Believe me, I’ve tried everything from hypnosis to acupuncture. I’ve done it all.

Then too, I had people that were jealous of me because my company had a long-term disability policy and that was probably the hugest hit. Back to earlier, where confident people don’t want to appear weak. I couldn’t get over the fact that I was receiving money regardless of it being private, it’s not like tax payers were paying for it, called disability. Called long-term disability. That I was now dependent on an insurance company. The salary, I’d gone from making six-figures down to forty-five thousand a year in California. Doesn’t get you very far. Especially when you have to be an entrepreneur to be able to take whatever money you have to then now use my voice. I had to put money into that.

It was really tough. A lot of friends were like, “That’s so cool. I’d be in Paris one week and Hong Kong the next.” And I was like, “I’m worried about survival.” Because now I’m like, “Who’s going to want me?” How am I going to support myself? What’s my life going to be like?” It was the scariest thing in the world. I sobbed all the time. It was so depressing. The way it screwed with my life big time was with romantic relationships. I was so afraid of being a financial liability or being rejected by the person. Or just again, having to maybe even question it, to not believe it. When you’re a person that has a disability you can’t see, physical therapists and doctors can feel it. They can feel inflammation. They can feel bumps. They become your best friends because they actually understand and they’re validating your thing.

You feel seen.

You feel seen. But when people are looking at you and you look normal like me, that’s also how I got away with it. Because I don’t have something visible, I got away with hiding the shame. So I would, let’s say, date somebody. I would be crippled by the idea of having to tell them at some point. I didn’t for most of the people that I dated. Or I would wait until the relationship got to a certain point and they said, “I love you.” To make me feel safe, that I could tell them. I was crippled with tears. And beyond choking up snot, just awful, every time I would even bring it up.

The other thing is when you have shame about something, it doesn’t matter what it is, but with my situation, people, family members, everybody would be like, “I don’t understand why you’re ashamed. It’s not your fault. No one’s going to care. You got injured.” It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s your fault or not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that’s really discounting. Again, it’s well-meaning. I get that. they’re trying to say, “Who cares?” But that’s really like telling the person who’s got shame that they’re ridiculous for having it. It’s discounting it. The bottom line is that it makes you shut up even further. Because every time you bring it up, people go, “I don’t know why you’re so –.” And then you’re just like, “Thanks, now I’m just going to go further inside and just shut up and keep it to myself.”

So this really affected me and it really came to a head about six years ago. I really thought I met the guy I was going to marry. To this day, I have nothing bad to say about the guy. Amazing human being. But he was emotionally inaccessible. He would show me he loved me. He was very affectionate and all that. But he just couldn’t speak any words of emotional intimacy whatsoever. I’m really a words person. I need that more than anything in the world. We couldn’t get there. We ended up really breaking up over that. I was so upset I called my life coach. I’m bawling my eyes out. I’m saying, “This seems like such a cruel joke. I do all this work in my life. I’m intentionally creating my reality. I’ve gone through these types of men. I meet this incredible human being. What a cruel joke that the one thing is this thing and it’s a big deal breaker. We get along, we never fought. Damnit.”

I said, “Why would the universe play a cruel joke on me like that?” I was just bawling my eyes out. He said something to me that was so harsh, and so true, and so amazing. He said, “Did you tell him about your disability?” And I said, “No, I didn’t.” And he goes, “Well then, guess who’s the robot? You are. What were you expecting to attract in another human being if you could not open up and be vulnerable yourself in a situation?” We dated a year and I never said anything. It was so harsh. It was such a painful ride. It was true. Oh my God, okay. This can’t happen again then. Because I do want to have a marriage. I can’t go through life like this. This has got to stop. Because it’s now happened so many times.

So I just started to be like, “All right, you’ve just go to learn to be a little bit more vulnerable. You’ve got to start small and maybe it’s revealing it to a friend you didn’t tell. Maybe you start there.” So I did. So here’s what’s really miraculous. I decided to finally be like, “All right, I’m not going to have any shame about my shame. I’m just going to say it, “F it.” People have to accept me for who I am. If they don’t like it, then I don’t want hang out with them anyway. So I had a fellow podcaster, who you know, Karen Martel, and she was just asking me a question one day. She’s like, “You do all these things. What’s your main source of income?” I was like, “Uh oh,” because that was the question that led to me even having to admit a thing called long-term disability.

I had a split second in my head where I’m like, “You can carry the charade on and keep dancing around this topic with semantics or you can just be honest. Try it out.” Didn’t know her that well at the time. I just told her a cliff notes version of this, and this was her response. “Oh my God, Elle. I also have a hand disability. I was a body worker for fifteen years, really intense hand work.” She was a rolfer. If you don’t know it, look it up. But it’s intense hand manipulation and bodywork on a human being.

She said, “I ruined my hands and that’s why I became a podcaster and a health coach.” I got off that call with her and I started bawling my eyes out. Because if that wasn’t a sign from the universe that I was going in the right direction, I don’t know what is. The first case of me coming out to a random person and she happens to also have a hand disability that you can’t see. Then it got even more crazy, because a few weeks after that, I had someone say, “You should interview this woman [Jeslin Moyer 0:38:56].”

I know [Jeslin 0:38:57]. Yeah.

You know [Jeslin 0:38:58]. “You should interview [Jeslin 0:38:59], she’s a got a really interesting health story.” And I thought, “All right.” I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t ask. I figured I’d find out on the podcast. I’m interviewing her and I had to put the mic on mute because I was bawling almost instantly when she said the following. She said, “I got into a freak accident that nearly severed every tendon and nerve that led to my left hand. After waking up after eight hours of emergency surgery, I couldn’t feel my hand.” And she had this thought of instant shame and low self-worth, which was this. She said, “I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, am I ever going to feel a man put a ring on my finger?’

Again, immediately, you wake up one day, you’re immediately different than the rest of the world. You are now disabled. You are now fucked. You also now immediately have an understanding of your relation to others. It’s one of being different and one of possibly not being accepted. It’s a horrible sense of self-worth and shame. What are the odds that within a few weeks of me being honest and open, and just coming out about this, and being vulnerable and open about it, that I run into two women with hand disabilities that are permanent that you also can’t see?

Wow.

You know? So there’s so much more to the story as you know from the book.

Sure, of course. Yeah.

But I knew that I was on the right track. Then I finally said, “Okay, I’m going to do a speech about it.” And at Paleo FX last year, 2018, I did a speech called The Shame of Disability and the Disability of Shame. Because the shame was really more disabling than the disability itself. And it wasn’t just romantic relationships. For those of you listening, it was friends. I always stayed on the outside of certain groups because, God forbid, someone would get to know me better and start asking personal questions. Then now I have to get into my disability story and tell them how I made my living.

I just couldn’t handle it. I just couldn’t handle being seen as weak, and being vulnerable, and open. Now obviously I have no shame about my shame. I never thought it would be a success story. I never thought it would be inspiring. I just thought I was totally screwed. Then I got to interview Bethany Hamilton, who’s missing an arm, the famous surfer. I watch her movie Soul Surfer once a year to keep my shit in check, okay? Because someone always has it worse than you. You may be in chronic pain but at least you have your arm. Okay, you don’t have your arm? Okay, all right, do you have your legs?

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

I never got surgery for it because it’s inoperable but I do see a hand surgeon for many years for cortisone shots once a year, a couple years. I talked to him about this and he said, “Elle, my patients that are in wheelchairs know that if their arms get screwed up, they’re done. They’re finished.” I have never had a more intense appreciation for my legs. I also do have such an intense appreciation for not being chronic pain anymore. I do get flareups occasionally, but then I’m able to rest because I don’t have to go back to a computer and type eight hours a day and keep igniting it and making it worse.

One time I was having a pity party for myself. I was driving in Los Angeles and I had a hand flare up. I was in pain. When that happens, it sometimes is a rough reminder. That and going to the doctor. And I talked to [Jeslin 0:42:21] about this too. We both commiserated, because having to go in for stuff about your hand, it reminds you of the whole scenario. It’s not necessarily like PTSD trauma, but it’s a little bit of that. It’s just again, if you’ve been living good for a while and you’re feeling pain free and then you have a flare up, it’s like, “Damnit, I still have it.” It’s a reminder.

I was having this moment where I was just crying about it in my car and I turned the corner and I kid you not, there was a coffee shop and a guy outside who was drinking a cup of coffee. He had one arm. I was like, “All right, universe. I get it. I’m going to shut up now. I get it.” I could have been a victim about it, but I didn’t. I did everything I could to use my voice and propel myself forward instead of just saying, “Oh, well. I guess this is it for me in life. I’ll just sit around and collect this money and watch TV all day.” Again, not that there’s anything wrong with that. If that’s what makes you happy, go for it.

It’s now become really an inspiring thing. Most people that know me, because they know me of being the author of The Paleo Thyroid Solution first, were very shocked to hear of this because I never talked about it. People were like, “What? I had no idea.” I think that that’s good because people can see you and go, “Oh, yeah, you’re a pretty blonde. White privilege. Educated.” Not everybody’s got a rosy story. Not everybody has had it easy. It’s not to say that mine’s worse than yours. I have a friend who has a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma with a ten percent chance of living, who I talk about in the book. He’s walking around talking and helping other people do that. His whole thing is like, “I can’t say which one’s worse.”

You can figure that out in your head and make those  judgements if you want, but certainly it was something that I’m so glad I shared. Because when I did do the speech at Paleo FX and I have talked about it. A girl came up to me afterwards and she was crying. She was twenty-six years old and she said, “I didn’t even know who you were, I just saw that there was a speech about to begin. I sat down and it blew my mind because I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was nineteen.” Which is something you can’t see sometimes. She said, “My friends didn’t understand. They’re all twenties and everybody’s having a good time. They’re like, ‘What’s wrong?’ People question, they don’t get it.”

She said, “I thought that I had dealt with the shame stuff. I really did. But after hearing you talk about it, I realized I’ve got some more work to do.” So my message is, do not let twenty years of your life go by letting shame disable you. It doesn’t mean a Facebook Live or an interview like this, but it does mean therapy, life coach, friend, get it out. Deal with it. Get to a point where you have no shame about your shame and be okay with it. Somethings are better left unsaid for life. That’s cool. You don’t even have to tell your story. But if you’re feeling intense shame about it, I thought this one little area in my life that was hiding over here wasn’t doing anything. It was just like, it’s not doing any harm.

But it was impacting a lot of things.

It was.

Yeah.

It was. And you can’t get away with it because it’s all connected. So that was my biggest hump of becoming confident as fuck inside out, was that. Because I didn’t have it anywhere else. Again, some might say, and still to this day people would say, “What’s there to be ashamed about?” And I love that they attached, “Well, it wasn’t your fault you got injured.” Who cares whether it’s your fault or not?

You still feel the shame, yeah.

Shame is shame.

Yeah. It’s beautiful. Beautiful. I want people to be able to get the book. Obviously Confident as FU*K, and The Paleo Thyroid Solution. Both of those books, we’ll link to in the show notes of course. They’re both available on Amazon. You’re also the host of the Primal Blueprint Podcast, and so we’ll link to that and encourage people to listen to that as well. They can find you at www.elleruss.com, of course that’ll be linked in all the show notes.

Elle, you are a fireball of confidence and energy. I can just tell, not only do you represent yourself, but you have this powerful ability to represent others and help them represent themselves. That is so beautiful. I can just feel it. You pouring energy, you pouring courage, pouring confidence into people so that they can then stand up and be confident themselves. So thank you for doing that for people, and me today. I feel more confident just hanging out with you.

Aw, thanks. Look, you’ve got to get. You’ve got to get after it. You live this one life and it’s going to make your life better, and all of your relationships in becoming confident as F, inside out. I love helping people, whether it’s overcome a health challenge with thyroid issues or whatever it is. Or overcoming shame. Or it’s just again having the confidence to go in and get the proper salary for a new job. You can do it. Again, I just want to give one example. Someone I know debilitatingly shy, even if you can’t talk to people, that’s ground zero of confidence. If you can’t even speak to people, you can hire a social coach. They can take you to a mall. They can help you go talk to a cashier. Because people who work at places are going to be nice to the customer.

They have to be.

Yeah, there’s always somewhere to start. I have seen people come from there and now they walk into a room, they’re introducing themselves to everybody, completely confident. Do they have moments? Yes. But they’re talked out of quickly and gotten over pretty fast. So even if you’re at ground zero with confidence, you can do this. Again, it might not even be to preform, but it might be to just go ask someone out in public at the grocery store, or just start a conversation with someone. You can do it. Everybody can do it. I wish everyone the best.

ElleRuss.com, so we guide everybody there. Pick up both of your books. Thank you so much, Elle. I really appreciate it.

Thank you so much.

thank you!