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An Interview with Gerti Schoen on The Gentle Self

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 14th 2012


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Gerti Schoen In this podcast, Dr Van Nuys talks with psychoanalyst Gerti Schoen about her book, The Gentle Self: How to Overcome Your Difficulties with Depression, Anxiety, Shyness and Low Self-esteem. Gerti Schoen started her career as a journalist in Germany, which brought her to the United States as a foreign correspondent. Inspired by the dynamic energy of New York City, she decided to change careers and became a psychotherapist and, at the same time, a Zen practitioner. She focuses on the study of Heinz Kohut's theory of narcissism and self-psychology in her psychoanalytic practice. Her point of view is that gentle people are always well-liked, and people like to talk to them because they're good listeners, and they smile at people, and they have a soothing nature. But often what tends to happen is that, when there is a counterpart who likes a little too much, the gentle self sort of gets burdened by that person's needs, and are sort sucked into this dynamic of, "Oh, yeah. I'm the listener, so I'm just here to listen," or "I'm the person who has to be there for what this other person wants from me," and their own needs get neglected in the process. So that's sort of the pitfall of the gentle self; that when it goes overboard, people really have to make conscious effort not to allow other people to take over, but to always be aware that it's a balance, that it's a back and forth in relationships.

David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by, covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.

On today's show, we'll be talking with psychoanalyst Gerti Schoen about her book, The Gentle Self: How to Overcome Your Difficulties with Depression, Anxiety, Shyness and Low Self-esteem. Gerti Schoen started her career as a journalist in Germany, which brought her to the United States as a foreign correspondent. Inspired by the dynamic energy of New York City, she decided to change careers and became a psychotherapist and, at the same time, a Zen practitioner. She focuses on the study of Heinz Kohut's theory of narcissism and self-psychology in her psychoanalytic practice. She lives with her husband and her two cats in the New York metropolitan area. Now, here's the interview.

Gerti Schoen, welcome to Wise Counsel.

Gerti Schoen: Thank you. How are you doing?

David: I am doing great, and I'm really happy to be speaking to you now. I've been reading your book, The Gentle Self, but before we get into that, let me ask you some questions about your background. You started out as a journalist. How did you find your way into becoming a psychotherapist?

Gerti Schoen: Well, to be honest, I got a little bored with journalism even though I first got into it because it is so colorful and there's always different things to discover. But I found it a little shallow after a couple of years, and I craved more depth I think. So, as it always is, you come to these things by personal experience, and I had a number of very difficult relationships, and I started group therapy at the time, and I looked at the therapist and I thought, "Wow, I like what she's doing. I wish I could do that too." And that's how I got started.

David: I think a lot of people get into the profession that way, particularly if they have a really good therapist, and they say, "Wow, this looks like good work, and I understand it now from the inside out." And it really makes sense, from what I've read, that I could see how you would be the kind of person who would be seeking more depth. In fact, I saw on the Web that you are licensed as a psychoanalyst in New Jersey, and I've heard of licensed psychotherapists. Do they actually have a separate license for psychoanalysts in New Jersey?

Gerti Schoen: In New York State, actually, they do. That's my primary practice.

David: Oh.

Gerti Schoen: And they just introduced a license a couple of years ago, and New York City is so well known for their psychoanalytic community, I guess a license was warranted.

David: I didn't know that, so that's very interesting. And do you practice classical analysis with the couch and free association, or a more modern face-to-face variant?

Gerti Schoen: No, it's more modern. I have another practice in Hoboken, New Jersey, which is a very young community. People are in their 20s and 30s. And I found that the needs of younger people go more towards, "Well, I have a problem, and I want to get rid of the problem, and then I'm out of here." Rather than "Well, let's do some self-exploration and spend 10 years to figure out who we really are." So it has a lot to do with the population; that many people just really are very purpose driven rather than wanting to commit to a long time and explore - which never ends, obviously.

David: Yeah. And are you doing work, then, both in Hoboken and in New York City?

Gerti Schoen: Yes. I have two offices: New York City and New Jersey.

David: Yeah, that's what I thought I saw on the Web. And I see also that you're a practicing Zen meditator, and that you also teach meditation classes. Tell us a little bit about how you discovered Zen Buddhism.

Gerti Schoen: It all came together, really, when I started to look for different things to do. I read a little booklet by Joko Beck many years ago, who was a seasoned Zen master and just died a few months ago. And she brought Zen to the mainstream. She doesn't really use koans, those little stories, those little riddles that are very difficult to crack and to understand with an intellectual mind.

David: Right.

Gerti Schoen: She just tried to go to the very plain day-to-day life and what we struggle with every day, and explain it in Zen terms. And, as a journalist, that was very appealing to me, sort of that kind of easy language and entertaining stories. So her school, which is the Ordinary Mind school, appealed to me very much because of its simplicity and its psychological point of view. And when I started looking for a training analyst - because if you're a psychoanalyst you always have to be in analysis yourself - I was looking for someone who was also a Buddhist and who could inform our analysis with these concepts, and that's how it got started.

David: Was that hard to find? A training analyst who was also a Buddhist?

Gerti Schoen: Not at all. It's so common now. I'm sure you're aware of that therapy and Buddhism has so many things in common, and both practices enrich each other, and so many therapists are interested in meditation practice or Buddhism. It kind of goes together almost naturally.

David: Yeah. I haven't anybody else say that, but I think you're right, and I certainly have been drawn to it for a long time and lots of therapists that I know as well. And on one of your Web pages I found that you described your orientation as including mindfulness-based cognitive therapy - which certainly fits with the Zen orientation - psychoanalytic, psychodynamic, and relational self-psychology. And one doesn't usually think of psychoanalytic orientation side by side with cognitive-behavioral therapy. How did these two come together for you?

Gerti Schoen: Oh, I think many therapists merge the two disciplines, even though they were trained maybe in only one, just because they really complement each other so well. I think if you - psychoanalysis, I think, in my personal point of view, really has a lot to offer. But if you neglect the cognitive explanation of what is going on in your mind, if you don't draw attention to these simple explanations, I think the process draws out longer than it has to be.

I just heard this interview with Diana Fosha on your show, and she said that everything is about experience; change comes about through experiential input. And I think that's absolutely true, but it's very much enriched and enhanced by the cognitive parts of it. And I think that's what people want. That's what my clients want. When I just sit and listen and make interpretations, they kind of get a little bored with their own process. When I start explain and sort of draw a little bit of a bigger picture of what's going on, they get sort of -- really, they pay attention to it.

David: You know, I'd forgotten that you'd been a listener to my podcast, and I think that's probably how you came to approach me. Is that right?

Gerti Schoen: Exactly.

David: Yeah. Well, thank you. I want to say thank you for listening, and I am so glad that you did let me know about your work and about your book. And I know that you're originally from Germany. How long ago did you come to this country?

Gerti Schoen: I came in 1998, originally as a foreign correspondent. That was my trade back then. And I wanted to live in the United States. Germans have such a fascination with the USA because of World War II. And the German national psyche is so much different from the Americans, and Germans always love Americans for their casual way to converse, and they are so easy and happy in talking. And Germans are still very much -- you know, it's all this heavy background and all these heavy conversations. And people are so enchanted when they get into this light way of conversation with Americans, and I wanted to experience that. So, yes, we're back to experience. That's what drew me here in the first place.

David: Yeah. And at the end of your book, you write about what it's like to come to this country as an immigrant, and we'll be sure to touch on that later in the interview. But let's turn our attention to your book. So what do you mean by "the gentle self"? I mean I was attracted to the title right away. Oh, the gentle self -- that sounds good. How would you define the gentle self?

Gerti Schoen: Well, the way I approach the whole thing is from that point of view that gentle people are always well-liked, and people like to talk to us because we're good listeners, and we smile at people, and we have a soothing nature. But often what tends to happen is that, when there is a counterpart who likes a little too much, we sort of get burdened by that person's needs, that we are -- sort of get sucked into this dynamic of, "Oh, yeah. I'm the listener, so I'm just here to listen," or "I'm the person who has to be there for what this other person wants from me," and my own needs get neglected in the process. So that's sort of the pitfall of the gentle self; that when it goes overboard, we really have to make conscious effort not to allow other people to take over, but to always be aware that it's a balance, that it's a back and forth in relationships.

David: Well, I really identify with many parts of that, and particularly with what you just said. I'll find myself at a social gathering, and I don't really go to "cocktail parties" that much at this point in my life, but it's something sort of along those lines. And I'll be in the position of listening and asking questions and so on. It comes pretty naturally to me. But after a while I do begin to feel a little bit resentful that this person seems totally preoccupied with their self, and they are not really reciprocating.

Gerti Schoen: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. And I think that's very much in the culture, that America is, on the outside, such an extrovert culture, and those people who are aggressive and expressive and louder than others, they are the ones who are going to be successful and media stars and all these things. And this other huge part of the population that is a little more introverted, less loud, less attention drawing is often neglected. And I think that's how that ideal of extroversion and talking and showcasing became such a prevalent way of being in this country.

David: Yes. I've been watching some TV shows, reluctantly, that -- and have actually really become very turned off to -- I like the word you just used -- "showcasing." I'm thinking of The X Factor as one that one of my kids kind of likes to watch. And it's just so extreme, just so extreme. Now, I gather that the concept of the gentle self comes from the work of the psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut, certainly a name that I recognize, but I must confess I really don't know his work. So maybe you can tell us a bit about Kohut and his contribution to psychoanalytic theory.

Gerti Schoen: Sure. Heinz Kohut was an American psychoanalyst originally from Austria. In the '60s, '70s, and '80s, he worked and taught in Chicago. And his school of thought is called self psychology, which deals very much with the self, obviously. He kind of veered away from classical psychoanalysis, from Freud, because it was so -- looked at the ego as an isolated self. Sort of it was always about internal conflicts and the ego as the organization that is responsible for everything.

And I think Kohut took very much into account that we are our environment very much. We're not isolated. We depend on who we surround ourselves with, what relationships we have, and we're very much influenced by that. So he didn't look at the self as an isolated, internal thing, but as something that is very much shaped by external relationships. And his main work is about narcissism.

And the thing that ultimately drew me to his work was because he defines narcissism not just as what we commonly see, or what narcissism is commonly defined as. You know, we all think narcissists are these really annoying people who just always need attention, and who brag, and who have very little capacity to engage with others. Sort of they're very overbearing in their own needs.

But Kohut said narcissism is the same if it sort of goes off to the other extreme when people are sort of always giving the attention away in the service of other people; when we sort of say, "No, no, no. I don't need anything. This other person needs something." And that's sort of the other extreme of constantly neglecting your own needs, which the gentle self so often does. And that there's something out of balance in how our needs are met.

David: Yeah, that makes sense to me. I understand what you're saying. Initially I was surprised to see the gentle self linked to narcissism. I like the sound of the gentle self because it sounds quite positive. On the other hand, as you point out, narcissistic sounds quite negative and judgmental. And I think many people have traditionally been turned off to psychoanalytic thinking because of a kind of authoritarian, sometimes judgmental aura that seems to go along with diagnostic categories. Do you know what I mean?

Gerti Schoen: Oh, very much so, yeah. Psychoanalysis is -- I mean it is, in some ways, a Germanic tradition, where the doctor is the authority, and he knows or she knows better than the patient. And I think Kohut tried to really revolutionize that by saying the client, him or herself, is so much better informed about what goes on in their minds. And the analyst can really only guess and circle in to what he thinks or she thinks is going on. So he, I think, made the whole dynamic between analyst and analysand, if you will, a lot more balanced, a lot more democratic; that those authoritative, hierarchical structures were really deconstructed, and it was more about the relationship between the two of them.

David: Okay. And I guess we can think of narcissism as running on a continuum. On one extreme the very boastful, totally self-preoccupied, overtly self-preoccupied person. And then on the other end, the person who is covertly, perhaps, self-preoccupied.

Gerti Schoen: Yes. I like that, how you say it. In a way, the covertly self-preoccupied person does the same thing as the classical narcissist. We would think, inside of our heads, "Oh, my God, what am I doing wrong? I forgot to do this. I'm not worthy. I'm not liked. I don't have anything to say." I, I, I, I. So it's very much internal that we are so focused on our own inferiority, if you will, and I think that's what he meant by narcissism; that, at the end of the day, even though we take ourselves secondary, it's still so much about the "I' in terms of self-blame and being preoccupied what we might do wrong.

David: Yeah, and sometimes I guess there's a sort of hidden -- I hate to say this because I identify with the gentle self so much -- but maybe there's sometimes kind of a hidden sense of superiority that lurks beneath the sense of inferiority. Is that right?

Gerti Schoen: Oh, absolutely. That that is sort of another part of it, that grandiosity that is out of balance, that the classical narcissists are constantly aggrandizing themselves and what great people they are. And the gentle narcissist often does the opposite, most of the time says to him or herself, "Oh, I have nothing to say or to contribute." But in other aspects there is this grandiosity of, "Oh, I must be the worst person in the world." [Laughs]

David: Yeah.

Gerti Schoen: Which, in a way, is strangely grandiose in itself.

David: Yeah. Now, you talk about the developmental process of how a gentle self develops in childhood due to the parental environment and so on. Perhaps you can take us through some of that, through the highlights.

Gerti Schoen: Yes. There's two ways how the gentle self can come about. One is sort of the more traditional ways how generations, past generations, have handled raising children, which is often by being overly harsh or being neglectful, not really paying attention. So when a child wants to be seen for what she has done, for what she has to contribute to the family, and the parent doesn't really pay attention or even puts her down, saying, "Oh, no. What are you thinking is so special about what you're doing," that whole need to show what we have to contribute is completely stifled. It's like, "Oh, no. Okay. This is what people really want. They do want me to show them what I have to offer or what it beautiful about myself." So that becomes the modus operandi, that those needs and those instincts are suppressed by an overly harsh caretaker.

The other extreme, which is very prevalent in these days, is the over involved parent; that the parent will constantly check in and intrude into the child's space, and wants to know what the child is thinking or doing. And the child ends up being constantly feeling intruded upon and has no sense of privacy or a sense of agency, him or herself. And sort of the constant misattunement, what Kohut calls misattunement of the parent, leads to a lot of anxiety, either in terms of "Oh, no, no. I have nothing to say," or "This is all way too much. I'm constantly overwhelmed, constantly over stimulated, and I really don't have the energy to go out and show myself or make something happen."

David: I wonder if the current social situation contributes to that, contributes to an increase of that second dynamic. What I'm thinking of is that parents these days can't just let their children roam the neighborhood in many places in this country, certainly in urban settings and semi-urban settings. So the parents end up really having to structure the kid's time. And they're driving them to ballet lessons, and then to soccer, and then to dance, and then to the next thing. And so that their lives are very scheduled. And so I wonder, do you think that might be contributing to that dynamic where the parent becomes intrusive?

Gerti Schoen: Yes, very much so, because parents not only are over-protective, worrying about "Oh, my God. I hope nothing is going to happen to my child. It's not going to be abducted or meet a child molester," and all these horrible fantasies that parents have sometimes. But they don't have the confidence that there is a basic safety, but there's this constant fear of something bad will happen.

And the other thing is sort of this ideal of perfectionism, that all parents want their children to already know everything once they set foot in a school, so to speak. You know, every child has to excel and be better than everybody -- than the other kids. And I think sort of this pressure of perfection, of already being somebody when we enter adulthood, really backfires because people just get overwhelmed and don't really know what to focus on and what to choose from any more.

David: When we first started talking about the gentle self, I notice that you used the word "we," and I believe you described yourself in the book as having many of the issues associated with the gentle self. Maybe if you feel free to tell us a little bit about that and how you've been able to deal with those in your own life.

Gerti Schoen: Sure. I mean I think every writer sort of writes to some extent from their personal point of view, and I very much identify with the gentle self myself, having had a mother who was very gentle and loving, but also what people here call a doormat.

David: Doormat, yeah.

Gerti Schoen: So, yes, of course that is part of my upbringing, so to speak, that -- I think what you said earlier, I think my personal story is that of what is now commonly called social anxiety; that when I go to loud bars or to big gatherings, I sort of shrink from the masses. I do a lot better in one-on-one situations, where there's an automatic balance there, and where I don't have to yell over loud music or somebody else's conversation. And I think sort of this feeling of just feeling a lot more comfortable in smaller settings and just in conversation, rather than in constant activity, is very much what I identify with.

When I first entered psychoanalysis, I was very anxiety ridden. I had a lot of anxiety, lots of social anxiety. And my analysis was very enhanced by meditation, by just sitting still, observing the mind, learning about yourself, and ultimately uncovering that all these beliefs, these negative beliefs -- oh, I'm not worthy or people don't like me or I have nothing say -- all these beliefs that so many people carry around with them is really just an artificial construct that has nothing to do with who you are and what goes on in the present moment.

So I think Buddhist practice and meditation practice helped me a lot to overcome these negative beliefs, and sort of brought out the more genuine parts of the gentle self, meaning the positive parts, which is that we are very much able to connect with others, to listen, to empathize, to have compassion with others, to put ourselves in their shoes and therefore step out of that constant self-involvement and really make it about both people involved, not just my own story but the other person as well.

David: Now, that's fascinating to me because I wouldn't, on the face of it, think that a solitary practice of meditation, of going inside, would help you in connecting with other people.

Gerti Schoen: Well, generally, I would recommend joining a group because we do learn so much from how we relate to others and how they relate to us. And then there's always a little bit of teaching in a Buddhist community. There is a lot of the Buddhist teaching there, so we learn about the theoretical background of no-self and just being present, being in the present moment. So I wouldn't necessarily recommend to just have an isolated meditation practice, but to combine it with work in a group.

But if we have that outlet of a group, sitting by yourself is incredibly -- can be incredibly calming. My teacher always used to stress, "Well, if we go on retreat, well, what are you retreating from?" You know, you don't retreat from the world. You try to stay engaged. Meaning that, even if you're anxious and nervous and want to just run away, you stay. You stay with that. You don't walk away, but you stay with whatever negative feelings come up.

And that's basically part of the meditation practice. When you sit in the morning at 9:00 a.m., and you haven't slept, and you had a horrible nightmare, and you really don't feel like sitting at all, you just sit. And you sit with this negative experience. And when you're okay and the world is fine and there are no issues, you sit with that. And that is incredibly soothing to me. And I think that balance of staying with the negative aspects of life and being able to soothe yourself is incredibly nourishing and self-enhancing.

David: What about your work with others? I asked you how you kind of worked with yourself. What are the paths to healing the wounds of being a gentle self in your work with others?

Gerti Schoen: Well, I think so much of the working with others -- and that doesn't just go for the psychotherapeutic relationship, but with everybody -- is to really try to understand where the other person is coming from. And I think that was a big part of Kohut's teaching, is that compassion, that empathy. Which doesn't necessarily mean, "Oh, you poor thing" -- which often is required, sort of the compassion with other people's pain -- but it can also mean, "Well, what does this person need in this particular moment?"

And very often that means soothing of pain, but sometimes it also means needing to jolt this person out of a certain mindset, or reminding him of his own capacities, of his own internal strengths, rather than just seeing himself just as this weak blob of inferiority, but to really remind him you have that in yourself already. We can tap into this. And that also is what empathy means sometimes, to just shake people a little bit when it's appropriate.

Most of the time people crave soothing. They're sad or went through something traumatic, so for the most part, understanding really just means knowing what they went through. But there is that small part of also reminding them that they are tougher than they think they are.

David: I notice that in the section on paths to healing in your book, you have a section about role models. How do role models come into play here?

Gerti Schoen: Oh, role models are incredibly important, and not just for when we grow up having parents as our role models, but throughout life, having people around us that are inspiring and that bring new and exciting things to our life. I think what happens is, in therapy and in every relationship, that we want to live up to those things that we admire in the other person, like if you feel drawn to a teacher who is very strong and very determined and is able to weather difficult times, then there's something in you that wants to be stronger and wants to be able to face difficult situations. So we sort of team-up. We feel drawn to these people, and just by being around them, we kind of take on just a little bit of that - if that person welcomes you.

And I think that's crucial in the parental relationship. If sort of, say, you have a child, you have a shy child and a very strong, powerful father figure, and the child wants to be this powerful person, but the father is dismissive and won't let the girl in and doesn't say, "Yes, of course. You're my daughter and I want you to -- and I care about you." But the daughter feels like, "Oh, no, no. My dad doesn't really like me," then this power becomes negative and feels like, "Oh, I can never be this person." But when this role model is welcoming and inviting and accepting, then we can take on some of that strength and sort of live up to the role model we want to have around us.

David: I like that. And if you've been listening to me very long in these interviews, you know I'm very interested in the Jungian position. And the Jungian attitude is that there's a lot of projection going on, and that the person who feels not powerful has power that they're not owning and that they're projecting out. Does that idea kind of fit, as well, with what you're saying?

Gerti Schoen: That resonates very much with the Buddhist teachings that I have enjoyed that, because of our conditioning of how we grew up, we will see ourselves as powerless or helpless or not colorful at all. But that powerful creature that we want to be is already there. It just has been buried under these convictions and experiences from other people. But it's already in us, and it's really just a matter of looking at it and nurturing and expanding it.

David: Okay. Now, in the last chapter of your book, you do talk about your experience of coming to this country from Germany and both the gifts and the challenges of that cultural transition. So you touched on that earlier, but maybe you could say more about -- you did talk about what you found charming and attractive. Tell us about the challenges of moving from -- moving into this culture.

Gerti Schoen: Yeah, I think there's a lot of culture shock going on for people who come here, because of the mode of communication. Even though I was very drawn to it in the beginning sort of by the ease of communication, it also is sometimes -- stays very much on the surface. That people are very skilled at having just a fleeting conversation on the bus or somewhere in public, but it's difficult to sort of anchor people, to just say, "Okay, this is where we are, and we want to deepen our conversation or create a certain intimacy."

And many people -- and I don't know if that has to do with New York City, because I heard from people who live in New York that it's already different 20 miles outside of town. You may be able to compare that with where you are out in California. But New York City is extremely fleeting, very -- there are so many people, there are so many choices, there's so much to do, that when people run into difficulty with a relationship, they're out. It's like, "Oh, okay, I can't deal with us having a fight or us not agreeing," so they just move on to the next person, hoping that that will provide a certain -- that sort of agreement that they crave. But it keeps relationship at a surface.

David: I've always heard that characterization applied more to California than to New York, and it may have changed, and certainly you are reporting what your experience has been there in New York. The stereotype about New York is that people can be very rough and abrasive and not superficially friendly at all, but that once you get beyond that, you can develop very deep and lasting relationships.

Gerti Schoen: That may be, depending on the culture where you're coming from. Coming from Germany, where small talk and easy conversations are not common at all. People will stand next to each other -- I don't know; on a big, green meadow, two strangers -- and not talk because they don't know each other or haven't been introduced to each other. It's a lot more difficult for Germans to just have this easy flow of conversation. But once they do start to talk, it very quickly goes very deep -- or deeper, at least. And I think that was my particular culture shock, to come to America and be so enchanted by this friendliness, but then having trouble to really dig beyond the surface and go deeper.

David: What would be your advice for somebody who wants to deepen their relationships, who does find it easy for a while to have a social conversation, but doesn't know how to get to that next level?

Gerti Schoen: To stick it out. Our immediate impulse is to just turn away and find something better to do, but to just stay with the being uncomfortable for a moment, to just sort of be sure that that moment of awkwardness will pass, and that there is a way to go to a deeper level. And even if you feel like "I can't connect with this person immediately because we're just different people," to just stay there and try to repair that sort of that rusty connection, to try to then figure out "Well, maybe we can connect on another level," and not be so easily frustrated and look for something else, but to just stay with it and be okay that it's not brilliant in the first second.

David: And I would think that maybe comfort with silence might be in there somewhere.

Gerti Schoen: What do you mean?

David: That maybe there's not -- you know, you reach a place where there's a lull in the conversation, and so maybe you feel like, "Okay, this has failed. There is no connection here." But if one could be comfortable with silence -- I know I was very challenged by that. I'm thinking of when I first began my teaching career at Sonoma State University, and there was a rather Zen-like older professor, and sometimes he just wouldn't -- be sitting in the office with him or something, and he would just be quiet -- and in the midst of what felt like maybe was going to be a conversation. Clearly, he felt a lot more comfortable with that silence than I did, and I always felt uneasy, as if there was something I was -- that maybe I was supposed to make up the next thing to say.

Gerti Schoen: Sure. I mean meeting silence is very difficult to encounter because it feels like the connection has been lost, the other person isn't engaging any more. Because this culture is so verbal and expressive, it feels like, okay, this is the only way to maintain that connection.

What we haven't learned is to understand that there are a lot more subtler ways of connecting, maybe just by holding the gaze or smiling or shrugging or -- you know, then there's an awkward situation and nobody knows what to say. Then you just look at each other and smile or laugh or, "Oh, okay. We don't know what to talk about right now."

I think we easily get discouraged and then just turn away, sort of thinking, "Oh, okay, this has failed. This doesn't feel good." And then even the eye-to-eye connection gets lost. And if we're able to maintain that, to just stay turned towards this person and look at them and somehow be engaged, even if it's not verbal, that will help bridge that awkward moment.

David: Okay. Well, I think we're at the point here where it's time to wind down, and I'm wondering if there's -- speaking of speaking in silence -- is there anything else that you'd like to say before we wrap this up?

Gerti Schoen: Well, I think you have a really nice way of drawing people into a conversation, make them at ease, and make them comfortable, and make them talk.

David: Thank you for that.

Gerti Schoen: So, even though we can't see each other, I feel very connected at this moment.

David: Well, wonderful. I do too, and I'm very happy for that. So, Gerti Schoen, thanks so much for being my guest on Wise Counsel.

Gerti Schoen: And I enjoyed it very much. Thank you for making that podcast happening.

David: I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Gerti Schoen, whom I experienced as a gentle self in the best possible meaning of the term. The title of the book again is The Gentle Self, and it's available through as well as other outlets. Gerti does have a website at, and that's spelled G-E-R-T-I-S-C-H-O-E-N.

If you found this topic of interest, you might also enjoy my interview with Dr. Ted Zeff on the "highly sensitive person" on ShrinkRapRadio number 213. I'm not absolutely certain that Gerti and Ted are talking about the same sort of person, but it does seem worth considering. I don't think Ted comes at the subject from either a psychoanalytic or Buddhist point of view. Nevertheless, it might make an interesting companion piece to this conversation with Gerti Schoen.

You've been listening to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by If you found today's show interesting, we encourage you to visit, where you can add a comment or question to this show's web page, view other shows in the series, or simply page through the site, which is full of interesting mental health and wellness content. Access the show's page and show archive information via the podcast box on the home page.

If you like Wise Counsel, you might also like ShrinkRapRadio, my other interview podcast series, which is available online at Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.

About Gerti Schoen

Gerti Schoen Gerti Schoen is the author of The Gentle Self: How to overcome your difficulties with depression, anxiety, shyness, and low self-esteem. She started her career as a journalist in Germany, which brought her to the United States as a foreign correspondent. Inspired by the dynamic energy of New York City, she decided to change careers and became a psychotherapist and at the same time a Zen practitioner. She focuses on the study of Heinz Kohut´s theory of narcissism and self psychology in her psychoanalytic practice. She lives with her husband and her two cats in the New York metropolitan area.

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