James Gault interviews author and life coach Michael Hsu
Michael Hsu is a man who wants you to build what he calls “emotional strength”. This US life coach, holistic health practitioner and the author of the strikingly titled self-help book “You Are the F*cking Sh*****t: Heal Your Anxiety, Anger and Depression from the Ground Up!” has a mission to heal the root of your emotional problems and leave you in a better place. I met up with him and his wife Daria to find out more.
I started by asking him how he got started in the field of caring for emotional problems. He had graduated from the University of California Irvine with a degree in Education and Chinese Literature and was taking prerequisites at a local community college to enter pharmacy school with a view to joining his family business when one of his professors asked him if he was sure that he wanted to dedicate his life to "counting pills." When he thought about it, he realized that he didn’t. But he did want to help others and to continue in the health field, so he switched his graduate studies to holistic medicine and health counselling. But he had learned two important things that would affect how his work would progress in future. The first was that each individual has to find his own way, and the second was that healing entails more than healing the body: healing the emotional core is just as important, if not more. This is why about ten years ago he started his practice called "Heal From the Ground Up" as a life coach and holistic health practitioner. His work in that field as well as his own self-exploration and personal growth have led him to the conclusions that inform his coaching methods and that stand behind the message of his book.
Michael told me that about one in five people are "highly sensitive," which means that they pick up on the emotions of others in much more subtle ways than the average population. He added that being highly sensitive was both a curse and a blessing for these people. I had to confess I didn’t understand. Wasn’t he talking about just empathy and wasn’t empathy a good thing? Michael’s wife Daria helped me out with an example. She told me of a conversation she had with someone she had just been introduced to. After the conversation, she felt an inexplicable sadness and depressed feeling. Yet this person hadn’t told her anything terrible, in fact the conversation with him had been not much more than small talk. Later she found out that the person had a history of depression. It seemed that she had subconsciously picked up the signals about his emotional well-being (or rather lack of it) to the extent that she began experiencing them as her own. This story highlights the essential difference between empathy and emotional sensitivity. While the first is a cognitive process that results in understanding the feelings of others, the second is an unconscious process that leaves you experiencing those feeling of others as your own without understanding why. This lack of awareness of one's own high sensitivity to others is the curse of emotional sensitivity. To this, Michael added that highly sensitive individuals are especially strongly influenced by the emotions they picked up from their parents during childhood and that oftentimes they tend to notice and tune into those same emotions in their surroundings strongly when they become adults. For example, Daria's mother suffered from depression during Daria's childhood. This explains why Daria found herself unconsciously tuning into her new acquaintance’s underlying feelings of depression and picking them up as her own immediately during the conversation.
By describing a process that brought to my mind the psychoanalytic work of Freud over 100 years ago, Michael explained how you could turn the negative curse of emotional sensitivity into a positive blessing, revealing a true gift behind a seeming affliction. The secret is to explore these others’ feelings that we have absorbed as our own and bring the reasons for them into the conscious mind. To do this, he has been developing a methodology to build emotional strength called FIST: Feel; Identify your feelings; Separate your own (genuine) emotions from those false feelings that come from other people; and identify the power of your True self.
Daria used a political analogy to illustrate the underlying problem: the ‘me’ centred view of the US Republican party and the ‘we’ centred view of the Democrats. Taken to excess, either view is toxic and results in a disturbed and troubled country. A similar unbalanced approach in an individual leads to an unhappy person. Michael’s ‘from the ground up’ approach to counselling helps people utilize their gift of high sensitivity consciously and correctly so that they can achieve a sensible balance between compassion for others and honoring their own true self.
Michael went on to add that over the years he has come to understand that all negative feelings of highly sensitive people resolve into one of two common core feelings; the belief that ‘I’m a failure’ and the conviction that ‘I don’t matter’. According to Michael, these feelings are the result of feeling responsible for others and unsuccessfully trying to save others from the emotions they pick up. Therefore, they end up using the gift of high sensitivity incorrectly by attempting "to drive the vehicle of life for others" while abandoning their own "sacred lane," which is their greatest gift to humanity. In his book and in his own practice, Michael tries to teach people to use their gift of high sensitivity correctly so that instead of being an emotional sponge for others' pain, they begin to honor their true self and become a "source of light" for their surroundings.
By this point in the conversation I was beginning to understand the basics of Michael’s method, but I was having reservations about the book. Michael had written the book for two audiences. It is undoubtedly useful for those who work in the field of emotional counselling. But Michael’s main target is that 20% of the population who are emotionally highly sensitive. Would those people be able to carry out his steps successfully from the written word and without the ongoing support of a trained counsellor? Michael conceded that there were people who would benefit from the support of counselling sessions in addition to reading the book, but that the book was written in an easily understandable manner with many practical exercises and memorable formulas to help the readers get to the root of their troubles and successfully apply Michael's methods to their lives. The book on its own would perhaps not be enough for those suffering from severe emotional disturbances, but for others it could help them transform an unhappy and unsatisfactory life into a fulfilled one.
So where now for Michael and his career? Through his practice, ‘Heal from the Ground Up’, he will continue to work with his clients, helping them in their lives, learning from them every day and honing and improving his methodologies. His second book is now in preparation, and it will bring further insights and help bring more contentment into a difficult and troubled world.
Michael’s book is available on Amazon – Click the cover:
You can find Michael’s web site at https://www.healfromthegroundup.com/