I had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Algeo, a speaker, coach, and mindfulness teacher who helps millions of people around the world tune into their life’s purpose and activate transformative personal healing and growth. He is the host of SoulFeed Podcast where he interviews inspirational leaders like Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Gabby Bernstein, and more. Shannon was named one of the “Nicest Instructors in New York City” by RateYourBurn for his work as a yoga teacher and his coaching intuition has been called a “gift to the wellbeing community.”
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! What is your backstory?
I am the oldest of 3 and grew up in a wonderful family with a significant amount of unresolved physical and emotional trauma. My mom is a survivor of sexual abuse that her family denied and shamed for decades. My dad grew up in a poor Irish Catholic family who found alcohol as the most effective tool for handling the traumas and challenges of life. I developed the skill of being sensitive to other people’s energy from a very young age. This skill has served as a blessing and sometimes a challenge for me and is what led me to my work as a life coach, healer, writer, and host of SoulFeed Podcast.
I learned firsthand that intergenerational trauma is real. If we aren’t actively and consciously working with the trauma we’ve inherited, then it will play out through us in the form of unconscious (and often toxic) patterns.
With the holiday season almost over, many people have been visiting and connecting with relatives. While family is important, some of them can be incredibly challenging. How would you define the difference between a difficult dynamic and one that’s unhealthy?
An example of a difficult family dynamic is when one sibling wants to go to the steakhouse and the other wants to go to the plant-based vegan bistro down the road. The family has to come to a decision about where they are going to dinner. Naturally, when families come together (often after spending time apart in different cities, states, and even countries), there are going to be differences of opinion. If you have a family, then it is natural to encounter difficult dynamics and some traffic jams. It can be difficult to navigate a solution when opposing desires and intentions are present in one room.
An unhealthy dynamic is better described as an unhealed dynamic — this is an opportunity for healing. It’s pretty simple to know the difference: if it feels like a wound, it probably is a wound. If something as simple as choosing a place to eat dinner brings up physical and emotional pain, there may be something unhealed that is rising to the surface of your consciousness.
Now is the time to heal the dynamic.
Families have a large part to play in our overall mental health. While some members may be champions for wellness, others may trip triggers. What advice would you give about engaging both types of relatives?
It’s super important to protect your energy and remain open-hearted to your family. The first step is to take care of yourself. I know in my family, there is an unspoken expectation that we do everything together. Naturally after 2–3 days of this, it can get exhausting. I live in Los Angeles and my family lives in Washington DC, so when I see my family, part of me wants to spend a lot of time with them.
I’ve learned over the years the power of taking a step (or an afternoon) away and practicing some self care. This can look as simple as going for a run, heading to the gym for a workout, taking myself out for a coffee and doing some journaling, meditating, etc. I’ve found that the smallest act of recharging goes the longest way when you are spending time with family — especially around the holidays.
If your cup is empty, you have nothing to give. It’s important to take care of yourself and fill up your cup so that when you begin to engage with family members who may need some loving attention and special care, you have the capacity to give them your attention.
One of my most powerful tools for engaging with family around the holidays — especially family members who trigger me — is remembering that I don’t have to respond. When we are triggered, we tend to react and want to offer a quick retort or snide remark.
The practice is to breathe and stay present. Notice the sensations in your body. Scan your body for where the trigger is arising. It’s so much more empowering to be the observer of your own response so that you can consciously respond to the situation instead of unconsciously react.
We often hear about “toxic relationships.” Do you believe there is a difference between a toxic family and an unhealthy one? If so, how would you advise someone to handle a toxic family member?
We label something as toxic when we feel powerless and incapable of healing it. We don’t know what to do. We feel threatened by someone’s behavior and energy, so we label it as toxic because we know — on some level — that being around that person or persons is not healthy for our overall well-being.
The danger here is that we run from the problem instead of developing the strength to face it and potentially play an active role in the initiation of family healing.
In the last several years, my whole family has entered into therapy. My Dad, Mom, brother, sister, and me. We’ve even joked about paying our family therapist to join us on vacations and on holidays. So far, she’s giggled at the idea but graciously declined.
I share this because I once referred to my family as toxic because I was rendered hopeless and helpless. I couldn’t see a path toward healing. Now I see my family healing. It’s taken decades and even generations, and we’re making progress.
The goal is not to heal your family over the holidays. This is not your responsibility! However, you cannot heal a family dynamic that remains unhealed within yourself.
Ask yourself, “What is the person’s suffering teaching me about my own healing process?”
When we have compassion for our own suffering and pain, it can be easier to stay present in the face of someone else’s. Usually when we turn our back on someone else’s suffering and pain, that’s an area that we are unwilling to look at within ourselves.
If you have a toxic family member who is not doing well, can you see through the toxic outer shell and see into the hurting little boy or girl who is suffering?
Can you share about a time where you helped someone overcome a challenging family member?
One of the most difficult things we deal with is watching our loved ones suffer from addiction. Whether it’s an eating disorder, alcohol, drug addiction, gossip, social media, or otherwise — addictive patterns are some of the most challenging to bear witness to.
I once helped a coaching client process her feelings around her brother’s alcohol addiction around the holidays. It was unbearable to watch and broke her heart.
Here are some important points we covered to handle a loved one’s addiction:
- It is not your responsibility to (nor are you capable of) healing the person — they must do that themselves.
- “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” — Don’t forget to lead the horse to water. Make sure your addicted loved one knows that there are resources available, that you care, and that you can listen and be present for them.
- Normalize recovery. “So many people are doing the work and you can too!”
- Demonstrate another way. People (especially those close to us) won’t always listen to what we say, but they’ll watch and learn from what we do. Offer a better way of being by demonstrating it through your behavior and actions. You can be the inspiration your loved one desperately needs.
Managing mental health in high stress situations is challenging and although gatherings are only a few times a year, they can make a major impact on overall wellness. What 5 strategies do you suggest using to maintain mental health when faced with an unhealthy family dynamic?
- Square Breathing.
- Inhale for 4 counts.
- Hold the breath in for 4 counts.
- Exhale for 4 counts.
- Hold the breath out for 4 counts.
- Repeat 4x — Repeat as needed. Cannot overdose.
- Body Scan. When we get triggered, we lose connection to our body and our center. When you feel triggered, can you scan your body and notice where you are feeling the trigger? Breathe into that space in the body that feels tense. Notice if you can release it on the exhale.
- Exercise. When we’re around family, we tend to hold some stuff in. When we hold stuff in, we need an outlet to release. Definitely find some time to slip away and release your energy through running, swimming, yoga, boxing, dance, or whatever form of exercise makes you feel good. It makes a huge difference.
- Phone a friend. If your friend is unavailable, journal. My journal is one of my most reliable friends: she always shows up with a completely blank page for me to brain dump. If your friend is available, it can be great to connect with someone who “gets it” and gets you. My sister and I always text each other for consent first, “Can I VENT?” This way, the person you are communicating with can be prepared to consciously enter into a venting session. It’s important to respectful boundaries around this.
- Leave the Room. For emergencies! It’s okay to leave. It’s okay to say, “Hey, I need some space and am going to grab some fresh air.” Do not force yourself to stay in a situation that feels toxic to the point of inner or outer explosion. You can leave and come back when you’re ready — even if it pisses someone off. You got this.
What advice would you give to family members who are allies of someone struggling with mental illness at these gatherings? How can they support strong mental health without causing friction with other members of the family?
Find a moment when you can pull your family member who is struggling with mental illness aside, and say, “Hey! How are you doing? Let’s go for a walk and catch up.” Ask questions. Listen. Be present. Don’t try to fix anything — see if you can simply be available and open. Your neutral presence and attention are the most healing gifts.
What is your favorite mental health quote? Why do you find it so impactful?
“Don’t puff up. Don’t shrink. Just stand your sacred ground.” — Dr. Brene Brown
I love this quote because it reminds us to locate our center and stay grounded. You have nothing to prove. You have nothing to hide from. Simply show up and be you. Trust that you are enough. Trust that you aren’t too much. You are here, standing your sacred ground.
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?
Thank you this was so inspiring!