I’m intrigued by the books that you’ve written about anxiety, phobias, panic, anger. The only word I don’t see there is fear, and they all seem to interchange in our conversation these days. Is that a fair statement?
Reneau Peurifoy: Yes. Of course, with anxiety a lot of that has to do with panic attacks, so there’s your fear.
David Brower: Yes. You just updated your book, Anger: Taming the Beast in an effort to help people understand what triggers anger, how to reduce the amount of anger they experience and manage the anger they do experience more effectively. Man, that seems like hard work.
Reneau Peurifoy: Well, it is. It’s a labor of love. I just … Emotions have always fascinated me. That’s partly why I got into counseling. They’re really not hard to understand which we finally figure them out; it’s just there’s an awful lot of mystery around them out in society. I used to like Star Trek when I was a teenager. Back there they called me Mr. Spock when I was a freshman.
David Brower: Nice.
Reneau Peurifoy: Emotions have been a fun thing to study for me
David Brower: How long have you been counseling?
Reneau Peurifoy: I started in ’88, so it’s been a while.
David Brower: What does your counseling consist of? I mean, does it mostly find itself around the anger, phobia, anxiety issues or do you do a lot of the other things too?
Reneau Peurifoy: Well, initially I specialized in panic disorder and anxiety disorders. I did that for 20 years, and I actually took a break, went and taught at a local college for a while. Then, I’ve recently got my ministerial credentials I’m working out of a church now as a pastoral counselor, but still focusing mainly on anxiety with every problems.
David Brower: Nice. Good for you. Well, the ministerial thing intrigues me. What do you do with that? How does that trigger, for lack of a better term, have epiphany to do that?
Reneau Peurifoy: Well, that’s a really long story, but I guess the short part is about halfway … I guess right after I wrote the book on anxiety in ’88. Actually ’80 is when I started my internship, but ’88 is when I did the first book. I got back involved in the church, and about the last half of my 20 years as a marriage family therapist, I started doing more and more with Christians, and just found that bringing that dimension into it made a big different because so much of what generates anxiety, anger and other things is what we call the ex-existential; is there a god, is there something after I die? What is my purpose in life? Who am I? All that type of stuff.
David Brower: Right.
Reneau Peurifoy: Some of the deeper issues that we don’t deal with a lot of times in regular therapy, so I just that that helped an awful lot, and bringing God into the picture just … I would do something with a client, and in that week they’d have three or four other people, give them the same book or some other resource somewhere or some other information; something about what we’re working on.
David Brower: Fascinating.
Reneau Peurifoy: You could tell God’s involved in the counseling at that time.
David Brower: Yeah, there’s no such thing as a coincidence when that stuff happens, that’s for sure. Your book: Why Did God Give Us Emotions, was that your first one or where did that land in the process?
Reneau Peurifoy: That was my last one I wrote.
David Brower: Last, okay.
Reneau Peurifoy: It’s a 20 year odyssey. I actually did a rough draft back a little after the anxiety book. I was a new Christian at the time and said, “I don’t think I’m ready to do this,” and about, I don’t know, six, seven years later I did another version. Again, I said, “I’m not quite ready,” and finally a few years ago I decided, well, I’ve matured enough to where I can actually take a look at what science has talked about emotions, what it’s discovered and do it from a biblical perspective which has been really fun.
What I do is I take the old Indian story about the blind man and the elephant that one’s got a hold of the trunk, one’s got a hold of the tail and one’s hearing and feeling the ear, and one guy says, “Well, it’s a snake.” “No it’s not, it’s a rope.” “No, I think it’s a fan.” All of them are seeing correctly but none of them see the elephant because … Piece of it.
David Brower: Right.
Reneau Peurifoy: That’s what we do with emotions. In the book I take a look at them from a subjective perspective. From a physical perspective, just bring chemistry, that type of stuff. From the cognitive which is what most therapist deal.
David Brower: Right.
Reneau Peurifoy: Then, from the spiritual perspective, and you can-
David Brower: How cool.
Reneau Peurifoy: -put them all together.
David Brower: Is that where saying there’s an elephant in the room came from?
Reneau Peurifoy: Well, no but it is often true.
David Brower: Absolutely right. Your latest book, then is Anger: Taming the Beast Second Edition, correct?
Reneau Peurifoy: Right.
David Brower: How long has that been out?
Reneau Peurifoy: I released it last year.
David Brower: How’s the response been? Do you have a audiobook on it or they’re just …?
Reneau Peurifoy: I haven’t got to the audiobook yet. That’s all another project. I would like to, but right now the funds aren’t there for that, so that will happen when they come.
David Brower: Let’s talk about triggers. A lot of people talk about triggers or old tapes, those kinds of things that just come out of the woodwork for no apparent reason at some point. How do folks understand what triggers that anger?
Reneau Peurifoy: Well, you have to understand condition responses or Pavlov had his classic experiment where he would put meat powder on the tongues of … Well, he’d ring a bell first, then he’d put meat powder on their tongue and they’d salivate. After a while, all he had to do was ring the bell and the dogs would start to salivate. A lot of our behavior is a type of condition response. In fact, this is what we call a condition emotional response. When you hear the spooky music on a movie you start to tense up.
David Brower: Sure.
Reneau Peurifoy: When you hear the nice music you relax. Let’s take two examples; a person who grows up in a family where there’s a lot of violence and there’s a lot of possibilities, but let’s say this person learns that the way I survive here and I don’t get hit is I’m very non-assertive and I’m quiet all the time. Now, we move forward and the person is an adult now and they get into a conflict situation. Instead of speaking up they become like a little kid and they become compliant again. Afterwards, they might be saying, “I don’t understand why I don’t say something.” It’s a mystery to them but you have this conditioned response to a tone of voice or a type of conflict that they immediately respond to.
David Brower: Yeah.
Reneau Peurifoy: Another common example is a person who grows up in a family where there’s no intimacy. Of course, that’s what a child wants more than anything else is connection with a parent. Every time they try to get close they either get punished or the parent distances in some way. Now, we fast-forward about 20 years, the person’s into a close relationship, things are starting to settle down and get close, and they create distance. Again, they’ll say this, “I don’t understand why I messed it up every time I start to get close to somebody.” But what’s going inside is the bells and whistles are going up, “Danger, danger.”
Now, we can put a label on these types of reactions. For the first one we could say its anger is dangerous or, excuse me, conflict is dangerous. Now, the person’s not thinking conflict is dangerous but they’re acting as if that’s the rule that’s governing their life. The second incidence, it would be intimacy is painful. Again, they’re not thinking that, they’re not even necessarily aware of that what’s running their life, but that’s a rule they learn in childhood and it’s really just a collection of condition response patterns or triggers, and so when they have those feelings they just immediately back off because that’s just what they’ve learned to do automatically without even thinking about it.
David Brower: I was number two, absolutely. Going through a marriage and coming out the other end after seven years and go on, “What the heck was that about?” Then I started doing some work with myself, found my faith and God brought me my current wife and the world is 180 degrees apart from where it was then, but that was certainly my experience for a long time.
Reneau Peurifoy: That’s the good news is you can desensitize these types of patterns that you have. It takes time and you have to have some awareness of what’s going on so that you can challenge that ability or that tendency to run or to do the old behavior. In fact, I used to go through a thing with people what’s happening, what’s real. With the intimacy thing is, what’s happening, I’m responding to, let’s say my wife in my case, as if she’s my parent. She’s not my parent she’s my wife. She’s not doing this to get me or she’s not going be vengeful. She loves me and she’s shown that she’s not like my parent.
As you learn to say that to yourself it brings you back into the present because people are doing what I call time paneling; they’re getting pulled back into the past, they’re responding to the present as if it’s the past and that’s all a trigger is.
David Brower: Got you. My experience was, and I’ll be brief about it, but very distant from my father and I tried my best to please him I ever could, at least in my mind. My wife, we used to joke about how similar they were which didn’t ring a bell with me at all until we were going through a divorce and going through counseling. My counselor said, “Well, how do you feel about marrying your dad?” It was this epiphany; this load was lifted off my shoulders and I’m going, “Oh my God.” It made all the sense in the world.
Reneau Peurifoy: It’s funny how we end up with somebody who has at least some significant trait similar to your parent.
David Brower: Right.
Reneau Peurifoy: My mom’s German, right?
David Brower: Right.
Reneau Peurifoy: I married a girl of Japanese heritage, and you think, opposite ends of the world, how more different could they be, right?
David Brower: Right.
Reneau Peurifoy: But when you think about it, German; militaristic, very critical, are perfectionistic. Japanese culture; samurai class, very rigid, perfectionistic. Jeez, I’ll get …
David Brower: The thing that changed my life, you may run into this, but when I was single, and in fact, I live just north of you in Chico, California, and I had my five best friends that I spend all my time with. You become who you surround yourself with, at least, I believe that. We were just inseparable. All five of them had different unique traits that I truly loved and admired. When I met my wife, the current wife, I said, “You know why I was attracted to you initially?” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because of all the best traits of my five best friends, they’re all in you.” It was surprising to me to see and feel that in relatively a short period of time.
Reneau Peurifoy: With my wife it’s interesting because my family was very competitive, and of course, the Asian culture is very cooperative. It’s interesting because oftentimes we’ll have something that’ll attract us is very opposite from our family of origin or there still going to be something in there that feels familiar.
David Brower: Absolutely. Back to your book: Anger: Taming the Beast. How do folks learn to manage the anger they do have?
Reneau Peurifoy: Well, that’s a big question but there’s really a number of things that you need to take a look at. The three main ones is as anger is a response to a threat, is the threat real? Am I getting angry when there’s really no threat? That would be one of the ways that we’re saying it was inappropriate in that situation.
David Brower: Right.
Reneau Peurifoy: How about the level of my anger. Is it too intense? Am I raging over little minor things or am I not feeling anger at all? What’s going on with the intensity level is it appropriate? Now, of course, the third thing is what do I do; my response, my behavior? Do I do something that minimizes the threat with the least amount of harm to myself and others? If that’s the behavior, then we would say that’s an appropriate response otherwise it’s not. Those are the three basic areas I look at. Of course, there’s a lot of _ that can go into each one of those. Again, am I … Is there a real threat? Is the level of anger appropriate? Is my response appropriate?
David Brower: I don’t know how you figure that out on your own unless you have someone like you to have confidential conversations with and be able to mirror some of those things back and forth to help them make sense. Is that a reasonable assumption?
Reneau Peurifoy: Well, not necessarily. I mean, that’s part of what the book’s all about. From my teaching background it’s just setup as a workbook, and so there are a lot of exercises. One of the things that I have people do is journal and just take a look at times when you’re angry, and start recording when was I angry today, what triggered it, what did I do, what was my level of anger. Then, as you read about it and get some of the fundamentals and you start journaling this stuff and you begin to see when it’s on paper you can look at it more objectively. When you’re in the middle of it it’s hard to use that rational part of your brain because the stronger the emotion the more your rationality shuts off.
David Brower: You bet.
Reneau Peurifoy: Which is a whole another important thing you recognize is that …
David Brower: That’s a whole another podcast.
Reneau Peurifoy: You don’t make important decisions when you’re highly emotional.
David Brower: Right.
Reneau Peurifoy: But you can do some self-analysis. Obviously, if there’s a lot of stuff going on then you need somebody to help you untangle it, but it’s amazing what people can do on their own if they have the right resource.
David Brower: That makes sense, and have the motivation to be open to those resources and go, “Hey, I got some work to do. I got to figure out how to do this to like myself more or love myself more or help my marriage, help my relationship with my kids,” those kinds of things.
Reneau Peurifoy: That’s an important thing that often is lacking. It’s amazing how comfortable people can get with the way they do stuff and they just don’t see the need to change.
David Brower: Yeah.
Reneau Peurifoy: People that add that into their growth, well, they’re really are a minority, but yes, they’re there and they do make progress. We can change; we can desensitize all the patterns and we can learn new patterns.
David Brower: Absolutely. I’ve been a big fan of change. Most people aren’t. My wife, certainly, is not. But I’ve always been a big fan of change and reinventing myself professionally and then once faith came back to my life reinventing myself personally. It’s been fascinating to me. I always look forward to those kinds of experiences and then I see relationships at times that they person they break up or they get a divorce and one of the people comes out of that goes, “Man, I had no idea. Here I was right in the middle of it and I had no idea I had all these things going on.”
Reneau Peurifoy: Well, it’s amazing how blind we can be to what’s going on.
David Brower: Especially when you’re in it, right? Unless you have somebody that loves and cares for you enough to say, “Hey David, what the hell are you doing?” Those are pretty rare.
Reneau Peurifoy: Well, that’s what you may stay for, right?
David Brower: Well, that is my maid right now, absolutely. She’s my best mirror on the plant, there’s no question about that.
You’ve got these great books: Why Did God Give Us Emotions, Overcoming Anxiety, Anxiety, Phobias and Panic, Anger: Taming the Beast and then the second edition of that is out now. Are all those available on Amazon and other places?
Reneau Peurifoy: Right. Not only on Amazon but they’re up on Smashwords, too, because a lot of people use the non-kindle readers, so if you like ePub or one of the other formats, then Smashwords is where you would get those.
David Brower: Nice. If people want to learn more about you and how you can help them, do you have ways of doing that? Do people reach out to you, communicate with you and have some issues to discuss?
Reneau Peurifoy: In fact, one of the projects I’ve been working on is putting up a lot of videos on YouTube on anxiety, anger, emotional triggers and that sort of thing. The easiest way to access all of that is to go to my website and that’s ywhyemotions.com.
David Brower: Very simple. Okay, cool. They can access information about your books; they can access your YouTube channel and check out all your videos. That’s great, man. Really exciting stuff. Good for you. Any surprises going on in your life that have caught you off-guard as far as anger, anxiety, phobias and those kinds of things?
Reneau Peurifoy: Well, not really. Life is pretty good right now. My wife’s got some stuff she’s going through, but that’s life issues it will pass. Her father is having some health problems, but life is pretty good. I’m just looking for the next challenge.
David Brower: Yeah. You and me both. That’s awesome. A treat to talk to you and thank you so much for your time and thank you for what you do book-wise, helping people with your YouTube videos, through your ministerial work. You got a lot of things going on and you’re able to touch a lot of people and that’s pretty special when you can put that kind of stuff forward.
Reneau Peurifoy: Well, the joy you get out of helping people is just … It’s a joy that’s different from anything else I think.
David Brower: I couldn’t agree more. Hey, thanks again. Continued success to you and I really enjoyed the conversation today.
Reneau Peurifoy: Well, thank you.
David Brower: You’ve been listening to your 20 minute podcast with David Brower and our special guest Reneau Peurifoy from the Sacramento area. Again, go to myemotions.com to learn more about his YouTube videos and his books. Until next time, be sure to follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/your20minutepodcast.