What is your life story? Do you feel like a victim of your circumstances? And if so, how does this affect your future? In today’s show, our guest James Sweigert, who struggled out of a traumatic childhood, shares how the power of his thoughts and the spoken word changed his life.
Are you ready to make some edits to your life story? Tune in and James will help you go from your head to your heart so you can win the game.
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Guest information for ‘James Sweigert- Reframing Traumas’ Podcast Episode
James Sweigert’s childhood was challenging, to say the least. James struggled to be seen and stay safe amid the chaos, eventually turning to drugs and alcohol to cope. This self-destructive pattern continued until he changed his story—and his life.
Today James is a successful executive producer and director in film and television and coaches many creative executives and celebrities in Hollywood. He has built, run and sold several multi-million dollar, award winning production companies in Hollywood. He writes about a key truth: the way you conceptualize your life—the story you tell yourself—makes it what it is. If you say so.
As a motivational speaker and “Life Cheerleader”, James’s ultimate purpose is to help others change their old “stories” to transform their lives so they can flourish and be amazing!
About The Psych Central Podcast Host
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘James Sweigert- Reframing Traumas’ Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome to this week’s episode of The Psych Central Podcast, calling into the show today, we have James Sweigert. He is a television and film producer who has worked for many major brands and studios such as Apple, Netflix and Hulu. He’s also the author of the new book, If You Say So, which discusses the power of the spoken word and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Welcome, James.
James Sweigert: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.
Gabe Howard: Can you tell us a little bit about your story and how and why you changed it?
James Sweigert: Sure, the title of the book, If You Say So, the subtitle is My Story and How I Changed It to Save My Life. And I came from a pretty tumultuous childhood. I was the youngest of 12 kids. There was a lot of abandonment, abuse. It was chaos. It was complete pandemonium. And so as a result and being the youngest, I got left behind. A lot of people think, oh, you’re the youngest, you’re the baby of the family. But there were just too many kids. And my mom also ran a daycare out of the house. So it was pretty crazy at the house. And having gone through a lot of things like being left at gas stations and left at school and left at grocery stores and that sort of thing, I started to develop stories around these events that happened to me, including abuse. I was molested by relatives and a neighbor from the ages of seven to 12. Because of just overlooking, I just felt like I didn’t matter. Nobody was out there protecting me. Everybody was too busy on survival mode. A lot of the older brothers and sisters found drugs and alcohol, which I eventually found at the age of 12 and used as my coping mechanism through adolescence and early adulthood. And I ended up a drug addict, alcoholic, dealing with severe depression and suicidal tendencies and ultimately a suicide attempt that I was lucky enough to survive.
James Sweigert: So we all have stories, right, because we’re all going to be victims of something in life. And it’s how we respond to that. Out of these events, I started to develop stories early on that I don’t matter. I’m broken, I’m unlovable. They’re going to figure me out. I’m a phony. All of these stories that I tended to loop into my head well into adulthood and they didn’t serve me. In fact, they just compounded my depression. And I was just pretty sure that the world would be a better place if I wasn’t in it. What happened for me is I asked for help at the age of twenty five. I was despondent. It was following a suicide attempt and help arrived in the form of a number of teachers, a brother that helped me find those teachers. And I was able to get clean and sober at twenty five. And I met some amazing teachers that helped me realize that I was telling myself stories that weren’t true and that I could change the story. And it’s through a lot of hard work. There’s a train metaphor I use about doing the work we have to do to go process and feel these unfelt feelings. You know, we have a baggage car, we have a passenger car, we have a bar car and the caboose.
James Sweigert: Some of us spend a little too much time in the bar car. That was part of my story and on the caboose, reflecting on what coulda, shoulda and woulda been. And then also spending too much time in the baggage car, just looking at all my bags and staring at it and not doing anything about it. And we’ve got to get rid of that baggage. We’ve got to feel those unfelt feelings and process that stuff so we can move on and be free from it and forgive and ask for forgiveness. And ultimately, the work I need to do is being up in that little steam engine locomotive with my overalls on, pick up the shovel and start shoveling coal into that furnace, which powers my train and moves my train forward. And that furnace is an analogy for our passion, our soul’s desire, if you will, and there’s work to be done in order to come out of our old stories. And that’s the shoveling coal part of doing the work we have to do, whether it’s going to therapy and feeling those uncomfortable feelings and processing them. Someone once told me a great line. They said, if you’re going through hell, keep going. So that’s kind of how I changed my story.
Gabe Howard: I love any analogy that involves a train, I think that it is an underutilized form of transportation and analogy. Let’s talk about the book for a moment, because in the book,
James Sweigert: Sure.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that I noticed is that you mentioned helpers and takers. Can you explain
James Sweigert: Yes.
Gabe Howard: How those two groups differ?
James Sweigert: Absolutely. And thanks for pointing that out. You’re the first person to pull that out of the book and ask me that question. I think there’s two kinds of people. Ultimately, there’s helpers and there’s takers and the takers are easy to spot in this world. I think we can see who the takers are. But the greatest people in history, the greatest people of all time have always been the helpers, the Mother Teresa of the world, the Princess Di’s of the world, the Martin Luther King’s of the world and their helpers, their selflessly giving of themselves was taking a lot of risk. And really just following their passion and their passion was to help people, to help liberate people, to help give people dignity and to show love. And to me, I want to be on the right side of history. And that’s why I’ve been really blessed with a great life. I was able to come out of the darkness into the light and ultimately succeed at being a very successful producer in Hollywood and living in Beverly Hills. My life is a dream. So now that I’ve accomplished so much, it’s really my intention to give back whenever I do a speaking engagement. I also offer an unpaid speaking engagement to an underfunded program, inner city schools, charities. And if anybody listening to your podcast has an organization where they feel they could benefit from me coming to speak, talking about the power of the spoken word and how we can change our stories and how we can actually change our stories to find happiness and true fulfillment, I’m happy to come and talk. What I do and I just love helping people and fulfills me. It gives me a great sense of purpose and duty. And when I get a letter back or a note or a comment on how my book even has changed so many people’s lives already in a short period of time, it just that’s everything for me. That’s my furnace. Right. That’s my soul’s desire is to help others to find what I was able to find.
Gabe Howard: Let’s talk about how you described your life as blessed and the reason that I’m going to zero in on this is because in your introduction, you talked about having a really, really rough childhood. But of course, that’s not what you’re focusing on. You’re focusing on where you are now and all the success that you’ve had. I imagine that’s difficult for some people. It’s a lot easier to dwell on the well, the really traumatic things that happened to us as people. How did you manage to escape that?
James Sweigert: Yeah, for me, there’s a great line, I heard somebody said, you’ve got to hit your head on the bottom of the pool in order to find out how deep it is sometimes. And for me, that was the case. Like I said, we’ll all be victims of something. And I think when we’re in enough pain and that’s when it comes time for us to be willing to change and to change the story, because we see those people out there who are negative all the time and you have to pay attention to what you’re focused on. I just can’t focus on the darkness because I’ll get more darkness. The universe will give you whatever story you tell it. And we know those people out there that are cynical and negative and they’re watching the news all the time. It doesn’t matter if they’re blue or red consuming the news all the time. It’s just the negativity and the the sensationalized news on either side of the aisle. It’s hard to be happy. And if that’s what I’m focused on, the noise, all that’s going to come out of me is noise, and it’s going to be impossible for me to be happy. And so what I had to do is I had to really pay attention to what I’m focused on. And it’s my choice. Every morning there’s a great Abraham Lincoln quote that people are as happy as they make up their minds to be. And for a long time gave I didn’t know I had a choice. And that’s really the intention of my book, is to let people know you have a choice. You are not the victim of circumstance.
James Sweigert: You have to take personal responsibility for yourself and you can actually create your own, whether today it’s just the law of attraction. You get what you’re focused on. And I have people that have come to work for me where their cell phone screen is always broken. They’re late to work. The computer’s cracked and it doesn’t work. And you hear how they speak about themselves in the world and they’re just negative. And it’s we’re never going to make it and they never make it. Conversely, when you see people who are focused on what’s good and what’s working and they’re speaking positively about themselves and others and they’re speaking in the direction of truth and love, like Don Miguel Ruiz’s four agreements, the first of the four agreements is be impeccable with your word and don’t speak against yourself or others and always speak in the direction of truth and love. And I think for any malady, whether it’s depression or alcoholism or drug addiction or suicide, the remedy for that, it’s a body, mind, spirit, solution. Dr. Karl Young wrote about it. William James wrote about it in the eighteen hundreds that it’s not just mental and it’s not just physical, but to there has to be some sort of spiritual shift. And I don’t care. I coach people who are Muslim. I coach people who are Jewish and Christians across the board. As long as you believe in something that is great and that is love and that is in favor of all peacefully cohabitate, because that’s an important ingredient. As you can hear, I’m very passionate about this subject, so.
Gabe Howard: It’s a great subject and I’m inclined to agree with most of it, because you’re right, we can all agree that words can be used for good or evil. And it’s not even really about the words. It’s the context. It’s how we make people feel with our words. It’s about how we make ourselves feel with our words. And that’s what you explain in your book about how the power of words can shape your life. And
James Sweigert: Absolutely.
Gabe Howard: You really talk a lot about the power of the spoken word. Can you expand on that for our listeners?
James Sweigert: Absolutely. If you think about it, Adolf Hitler in the 1930s used the power of the spoken word to almost exterminate the race of people, and that was using the power of the spoken word for evil and for hate. It’s incredibly powerful. I think that’s a testament to it. Conversely, let’s think about what we could do going the other way with it. Think about the intention of the power of the spoken word in the direction of truth and love and compassion and support and encouragement. Someone asked me the other day, they were like, you’re like a life coach. And I said, no, I’m more like a life cheerleader. You know that you already have the playbook inside of you. It’s my job just to help you go from your head to your heart to crack open your playbook so you can win the game. And that’s really the best way to describe what I do and how I help people, because I’m not going to tell people what to do. And that’s the beauty of the title of this book. My niece Julia is she’s smart as a whip, and she gave me some great feedback on the book in relationship to how I was going to navigate writing about my family because I didn’t really want to hurt anybody. This was not a tell all book. This is a helpful book.
James Sweigert: And Julia came to me because you know what I love about the title of your book? She said, you can’t argue with it. And I love that. I just love that I’m not out here trying to convert anyone because that can be a real turnoff. But what I do want to do is reach the people that don’t know they have a story or they don’t know they can change it. And it starts with how we speak about ourselves, because people who have come through childhood trauma or any kind of trauma, for that matter, they create a story about that. And I’m not talking about the true stories. I’m talking about the stories that we tell ourselves in the dark when we’re sick and we don’t feel well. Those are the stories that I want to get to and that I want to shed light on so that people can see those. And in my workshops and in my seminars will do that. People start to uncover their stories and shed light on that. And then we start to talk about what do you want your new story to be? And let’s focus on that. Let’s write that. What’s the news story? And one of the things I do is I get people to really look at their lives and say, look, are you grateful? Is there something in your life you’re grateful for? And I’ll have them close their eyes and think about that.
James Sweigert: And I said, focus on that thing. Whatever it is, it can be your dog or cat, be your wife or your husband. And I said, Now, what I want you to do is open your eyes, stand up and say, I am so grateful and I love my life and yell it together. And all of a sudden you see, using the power of the spoken word, you can literally change your now because I said, do you feel the energy change inside of you when you yelled that out loud and everyone said yes, overwhelmingly, did you feel the energy change in the room? Absolutely. And so that’s one little exercise that people can employ right now. Just think of something you’re grateful for and then just yell it out loud how grateful you are for it. And that literally can change the energy in your now. So bring your chin up a quarter inch so you can start to focus on what’s good, what’s working and start to move in the direction of your happiness, your dreams. And that’s true success to me. I don’t know. Money’s obviously not the measurement of success, but you know how fulfilled you are and how happy you are is really the measure of your success.
Gabe: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Gabe: We’re back discussing the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves with author James Sweigert.
Gabe Howard: Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment, because I know there’s somebody listening to this and saying, so what you’re saying is if I’m in a bad way, I just tell myself I’m in a good way and poof, all of the sudden everything is better. And I imagine that that’s not what you’re saying. There’s a lot more steps than that. But to somebody listening to this and says, listen, you’re just repackaging the power of positive thinking and reselling it to me. What do you have to say for those people?
James Sweigert: I have a young man that I mentor and and this goes back to what I was saying earlier, where we’re all going to be victims of something in life. And I’m not talking about a Pollyanna attitude where you just ignore difficulties and challenges in real life events. It’s not what I’m talking about. It’s how we respond to those, because they’re going to happen, right? There’s going to be death, there’s going to be loss, there’s going to be pain. And one of the young men who I mentor, he’s about thirty seven. He and his wife had a baby, little Charlotte, just about two or three years old. They got pregnant again with their second daughter, Lily and Lily. They were doing the early tests while Fran was still pregnant. It was determined Lily did not have a right ventricle. And they did all of the research. They talked to all the doctors. They in particular happen to be Catholic. So they talked to their priest and their clergy about what should we do here? And basically some of these kids, when they’re born, they go into open heart surgery right away. And some of these children survive and have normal happy lives. Some of them don’t make it. And so what they did with their faith and they prayed on it and they said, we’re going to give the best chance at Lily having a good life. So they chose to go through with everything. And right after Lily was born at UCLA Hospital three days later, she went in for open heart surgery as this tiny little fragile infant. She was hooked up for about a month and a half, two months on life support and tubes and wires.
James Sweigert: And we went up there. I was up there every day with them. And I’ll just back up and say there’s nothing in this world more painful than losing a child. There just isn’t. And this is what they were faced with. And so by employing their faith, their courage, they walked through this event with so much dignity and so much grace. And we’re of service to that child. And there’s a couple of months later, there comes the time where they have to take the baby off life support to see if it can survive or not. And in that time, it come and they pulled the baby off life support and the baby didn’t make it. Now, I will say to you this. I do not have children. I was not able to have children. But there is nothing more painful than that. And I watch because when we were praying for Lily, we had prayer circles. And at one point I out loud, I was praying for Lily to survive and the medical issues. And Devon, her father, looked over to me, put his hand on my shoulder and he said, you know what? We’re not going to pray for Lily to live. We’re going to pray for God’s will. For Lily do is like a ton of bricks hit me in the chest because I realized that he knew that child belonged to the universe. The child didn’t belong to him and his wife. It showed me such extraordinary faith and courage and dignity.
James Sweigert: And the way they walked through that was absolutely incredible. Of course, it was painful. Of course, there was anguish and mourning grief. And we all went through that. And I was by his side every step of the way. And we went through that horrible situation, that tragic event in their family. And they moved on. They kept her memory alive and they acknowledged her in the home. They didn’t do it. A lot of people do. We’re not going to talk about it again. I have some friends who’ve lost siblings, and they’re just the families said we’re not talking about it ever again. But they kept it alive for Charlotte. They talked about her sister, that she’s with God now. And what was amazing to me was that because of their faith, in my opinion, they didn’t give up. And two years later, a friend got pregnant again. They had a beautiful new baby daughter, Zoe, and now they have two wonderfully beautiful children. And this memory of how they were able to get through something very difficult, but not let it dictate their future and ruin their lives, because I’ve seen that happen to people where they make it about themselves and they want to play the victim and they remain the victim for decades. So if you’re out there struggling, I hear, how do I use the spoken word? What if I don’t believe it? This is where the spiritual component comes in that I believe in a great spirit and the power of the universe. I believe in a spiritual entity that wants us all to be happy. I really do.
James Sweigert: I think plants and trees and the great sequoias, they grow up defying gravity. And I believe that the universe wants that for us as well. And so you have to believe you can start today by saying, you know what, my best days are ahead of me. You might be in a hole right now. You might be in a dark place. But there is hope, because even for when I was having suicidal thoughts, my mentor said to me, he said, James, what if when you killed yourself, the pain didn’t go away? And he said, worse yet, what if when you killed yourself, the pain got worse? Because we’ve read about people who’ve died and started to go to the other side and seeing light and all these kinds of stuff, and there’s the guy that jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived it. The first thing that he thought when he left off the bridge was, oh, my God, what am I doing with regret? So that’s why I tell people like I just start saying my best days are ahead of me. And people say, how are you doing? Not so great, but I’m getting better. And you’re leaving room for improvement, leaving room for opportunity. So I don’t believe in denial and not acknowledging where you’re at, what’s going on. You have to address that stuff, but you have to believe it can get better. And then there’s some people that just want to sit in the mud. And I’m like, the universe will give you whatever story you tell it, but you do have a choice.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that you say, of course, is that the universe will give you whatever you tell, it will give you in, and I certainly believe that in many ways. But but in other cases, like really extreme examples, war or poverty or of course, in the lives of children, that rings less true. Is there an outer limits to if you say so, where does it end or where does it begin?
James Sweigert: Interesting questions. Let’s talk about the and you’re in the business of the mind, so let’s talk about the power of the mind. One of the examples I will point to is the placebo effect. Right. What’s the explanation that a sugar pill give a human being the same benefit, the same medical benefits that the actual medicine gives people? And I’m talking about significant numbers that there’s people who actually benefit from just the thought that they think they’re taking something that will help them in their condition. That’s the power of the mind and that’s the power of belief. You’ll get whatever you believe. And so if you’re believing negative thoughts, you will get that your point in that shift towards the dormancy. You’re going to get rough sailing. If I point that ship towards the beautiful sunset, it’s going to be smooth sailing. It’s just the law of nature. That’s just the way that things work. There is no limit. There’s a limit. If you say so, you’re talking about war. And a lot of people throw this out. When I start talking about the law of attraction, when I say that life is always good, it’s just our perspective of it that changes people fight me on. What about 911? What about school shootings? And as I mentioned earlier, that we don’t have control over everyone else, but we do have control of ourselves over what we’re focused on, what we’re saying about ourselves and what we’re saying to others. That’s what I focus on is what I really have power over of my voice and my word. And so we’re all going to be victims of something. I love parents who always buy their kids a goldfish when they’re children.
James Sweigert: It’s a great lesson of this experience in this human life that this imperfect world where we’re animals. So when a kid has a goldfish and then he comes home one day from school and the goldfish is floating on top of the water, what do you do? You grieve the loss of the goldfish. You have a little ceremony in the backyard. You bury it in the flower bed, you put a little headstone and you grieve the loss of your goldfish. And that’s to prepare us for bad things happen in life. But we’re not in control of all of that. But what I do know is this is when I’ve changed my story and I started to speak differently about myself and others. And when I started to pay attention to what I was focused on and I started focusing on what’s good and what’s working in my life, I attract a lot more of that. And I’m a lot more peaceful in my life. I have a lot more healthy, loving, nurturing relationships of people that make me a better me. And I’m happier and I’m more content and I’m comfortable in my own skin and that’s my evidence. And literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions of other people in the world that do the same thing. Because I was stuck in the darkness, I did not know I had a choice. And that’s really bringing it back full circle to this. That’s really what the book is about, is to let people who are struggling know that, hey, there are some things you can do right now to start to turn this thing around.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that you talk about openly is that you’re a survivor of sexual assault. I just like to give you the opportunity to talk about that because it goes into what you were saying, that people always push back. What about 9/11? What about war? What about famine? You have your own personal hell that you’ve dealt with. Can you expound on that for a moment?
James Sweigert: One of the greatest pieces of feedback I got on the book was got it’s really raw. You’re incredibly vulnerable in that. And yes, I had to tell my story because I don’t want to keep looping the story about all the negative, horrible things that happened to me and things that I had done. I wanted to put a period at the end of that story and move on. And again, what I’m really focused on, you know, how I am so lucky and blessed and grateful of this great life that I have. But I write about a lot of really tragic events. And what I’m finding is I’m having a lot of people direct message me on social media saying, you know what, that happened to me to thank you for sharing that. I’ve never been able to talk about that when a lot of the work that I do, especially with men, because I think for men, the stigma around M.S., the shame that comes with that and the stigma around that was one of the things I said I would never, ever tell anyone. And someone who one of my great teachers and great inspiration to me is the famous champion boxer, Sugar Ray Leonard. And he wrote a book called The Big Fight. And it was about his battle with alcohol and drugs being the biggest fight he ever had in his life. And he wrote in his book about how he was molested twice when he was a young teenage amateur coming up in the boxing ranks.
James Sweigert: And and I was so moved by his vulnerability and his honesty that it inspired me. I said, you know what? I need to tell my story. I need to share my truth as well so that I can help hopefully crack open other men and women who kept that a secret because we’re as sick as our secrets and those secrets and those resentments and that rage and that anger that we have towards our offenders, that breeds illness, breeds tumors, it breeds I had asthma because of it. I had colitis because of it, because I was suffering from this rage inside of being wronged and being violated. And not until I was able to learn about forgiveness. And ultimately, when someone explained to me that forgiveness isn’t about letting anybody else off the hook, it’s about letting ourselves off. And that was a huge revelation for me. So, yeah, the world’s not perfect. And that’s exactly what my book is designed to help people and how they respond to tragic events and horrible things that have happened to them. Because if I continue to fight things but there’s a saying, what we resist persists, stop fighting. I put my weapons down and now I’m really focused on what’s good, what’s working in my life, focused on gratitude, focused on love and focus on helping others. And as a result, I couldn’t be happier. I love what I do and I love everybody I do it with. And I’m really lucky.
Gabe Howard: James, I love everything that you’ve said, I love your outlook on life, and of course, I’m I’m really glad that you’re out there helping people. Where can people find your book?
James Sweigert: My website is JamesSweigert.com, and that’s S W E I G E R T, JamesSweigert.com. You can also get the book through there. You can also book me for speaking engagements. Or if you’re looking at lifestyle coaching, I’m happy to help anyone I can. And yes, the book is available on Amazon, hardcover, paperback, Audible as well as Kindle.
Gabe Howard: James, thank you so much for being honest. Thank you for being here and we appreciate your time.
James Sweigert: You’ve got it, Gabe. Thank you so much for having me on your podcast. I appreciate it and hope you have a great day. Unless, of course, you have other plans.
Gabe Howard: Thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in this week to The Psych Central Podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of Mental Illness Is an Asshole, which is available on Amazon, or you can get a signed copy with all kinds of cool swag, including stickers from The Psych Central Podcast for less money just by heading over to gabehoward.com. Let me tell you about our super-secret Facebook page you should absolutely check out, just go to PsychCentral.com/FBShow. And remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling any time anywhere simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We will see everybody next week.
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