Welcome to Episode #80. I’m your host, Kristi Angevine. Today is a treat, a conversation with Krista St-Germain about grief, emotions, and intentionality. Let's dive in.
Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits that give more than they take. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do. And now, here's your host, Physician, and Master Certified Life Coach, Kristi Angevine.
Hello, everyone. Today's episode is a conversation with Master Certified Life Coach Krista St-Germain, a grief expert, and a coach for widowed moms. When her husband was killed by a drunk driver in 2016, Krista’s life was completely flipped upside down. While it would have been really easy to believe that her best days were behind her, thankfully, she discovered life coaching and Post Traumatic Growth, and was able to move forward and create a future that she could actually get excited about.
Now, she coaches and teaches other widows so that they can love life again, too. This makes Krista the perfect person to discuss agency and living with intention, even in the face of things that we cannot control. In our talk, we touch on the most life changing concepts that she learned from coaching. The power of your narrative about your feelings, and as she is an expert on grief, we talked about her perspective on grief and loss.
I hope you find it useful and eye opening. Let's get started.
Kristi Angevine: Welcome to the podcast, everybody. I am so excited to bring you this conversation with the lovely Krista St-Germain. Krista, thanks for coming on to the podcast.
Krista St-Germain: I’m so happy to be here. I saw a pop up on my calendar, and I was like, “Oh, I get to talk to Kristi.” I've been looking forward to it.
Kristi: Yeah, I've been looking forward to it, too. We've known each other for a really long time. I feel like I first saw you at some sort of mastermind life coaching event, and I met you through training and then all the places with live coaching. I can't remember exactly where I first met you.
Krista: I can't either. But it feels like a long time.
Kristi: We've had the benefit of having you come in to be a guest coach in some of my programs. My clients always love it when you come in. So, for people who don't yet know you, can you just introduce yourself? Maybe say where you're calling in from in the world, what you do, and maybe if there's a hobby or something you're really passionate about. Something to put a more relatable face to your voice.
Krista: Yeah. I'm Krista St-Germain, a Master Certified Coach. I am a widow, I'm a mom, I host The Widowed Mom Podcast, and I have two kids. I kind of came to this work because I had my own grief experience, right? I never really anticipated that I would be a life coach, never really anticipated that I would be a grief coach, until I just recognized the value of those things.
I live in Wichita, Kansas, which is kind of smack dab in the middle of the country. I went to Philadelphia one time when I was in high school, and this lady said, “Oh, that's the land that God forgot.” Cool, thanks. Really appreciate that. But it is a little flat here.
We are close though, to the Colorado Rocky Mountains. My dad has a cabin up there. So that's probably my favorite place to spend time, is to go to the cabin. It's up at Taylor Reservoir. We hike, we ride four-wheelers, we have side by sides and all the nature-y things I like to do. That’s a little bit about me.
Kristi: You mentioned that you never anticipated that you would become a life coach, be a life coach. I'm guessing that means you also didn't anticipate you were going to be an entrepreneur and start your own business. Is that right?
Krista: Well, no, that's not actually true. Because in my early 20s, I owned two fitness centers. I was a franchisee for a fitness center called Curves, way back in the day. And so, I've kind of always had the entrepreneurial spirit in me. But I got out of that business because honestly, I didn't have the tools that life coaching has given me. I almost filed bankruptcy. I kind of went down in flames there, got myself a full-time job, and got out of that.
At that point in time, I swore that I probably wasn't going to go back into entrepreneurship. So, not a stranger to it. I just didn't have a particularly great end to the first adventure. So, it wasn't something I was really ever envisioning myself doing again, necessarily. You never know where life is going to take you.
Kristi: You never know, right? Let me just ask you about coaching. If you didn't anticipate… Most of us had no clue that life coaching would become such a prominent part of life. What was the thing that was appealing about it to you? And what were some bigger lessons?
Krista: So many things are appealing about it to me. Although, I will say, my introduction to life coaching was actually before my husband died. I had been listening to Brooke Castillo’s podcast. It was really more of a search. I've always liked what you would classify as self-help. And so, I started listening to her podcast, but honestly, the life coaching part of it was a turn off for me.
I loved what she was teaching, and it felt like so many episodes were meant for me. All of the teachers that she would mention were teachers that I loved and had read. I would refer people to the podcast, but I kept saying, just disregard the life coach part. It’s, I think, maybe just being from Kansas, where life coaching wasn't a thing in my orbit.
I wasn't aware of it. I didn't know anybody who was a life coach. I just didn't imagine it to be very legitimate. And so, I kind of steered clear of it. But then what happened, when my husband died, I went back to therapy. Because I had had a great therapist from my divorce when I had gotten… So, my first marriage ended in divorce.
Hugo, my second husband, was kind of like the redemption story. And so, I hadn't seen that therapist in a number of years. But after he died, I went back to her. I love her, she was the best. I reached a point where I was plateauing. In my own mind, I wasn't really making the progress that I wanted to make. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't great.
It just so happened that Brooke launched Self-Coaching Scholars at that time. And so, because I had listened to her podcast, and I already kind of bought in on a lot of what she taught, I thought, “Well, I'll just give this life coaching thing a try, and maybe it will help.”
Then, six months later, I was like, “Oh, my God, this is the best thing ever.” It just felt like tangible tools in therapy. I have nothing bad to say about my therapist, it just felt more like me talking but not actually changing anything. When somebody gave me a workbook with tools, and something that I could actually work toward and felt tangible, that's when really things started shifting for me.
I started shifting them for myself. And so, even then, that whole time, I was actually planning to become a therapist. My therapist and I, we had it all planned out. She was like, “You're going to come and work for me. I'm going to help you get into a Marriage and Family Therapy program. You're going to have two years of school while you work your full-time job.”
I joined that coaching program, and, yeah, I just decided, “No, I don't really want to be a therapist. This is what I want to do. I want to coach.” These tools are more powerful in my experience. That’s what I want to do. So, I withdrew myself from the Marriage and Family Therapy program that I was anticipating going through, and just went all-in on coaching. There we go, rest is history. Quit my job, and here we are.
Kristi: Let's talk about some of those tangible tools. Because that's one thing that drew me to coaching as well, is how pragmatic, how practical, and a lot of these tools you can self-administer once you know to use them.
Once you got past the all the connotations about life coach and you really got into the tools, do you remember one that was just maybe a game changer for you? Either a concept or a tool that you were like, “Okay, this was one of the ones that really made me…”
Krista: Yeah, I mean, so two things specifically. One was, I had never really been taught about feelings, or how to allow them. I had always assumed they were problems that I needed to solve, and things to avoid or get away from. And so, having somebody help me learn how to feel a feeling... It sounds so icky when I say, “I learned to feel feelings.” But really, it was so powerful for me to learn how to feel a feeling.
Also, I think I came into it, still on the feeling side of it, believing that you were supposed to be happy. I think it had been so internalized in me that the goal of life is to be happy all the time, that when I was having what I now know is a regular amount of “negative” emotion, I was having the human experience, but thinking something had gone wrong because I didn't feel better. And so, that changed my life.
Then, also the model. But it wasn't even the whole self-coaching model as much as it was circumstance versus thought. To give you an example, when Hugo died, one of my big thoughts, in the back of my brain, that I didn't really know that it was a thought, was “My best days are probably behind me. I should probably just be grateful for what I had.”
These are all the thoughts. “It's never really going to be that good. And so, I should just focus on the kids. I'll be okay. But I'm probably never going to be truly happy again.” Until I learned the self-coaching model, I thought those things were facts. I didn't understand that those were actually just stories my brain was telling me. That if I didn't want to listen to it, I didn't have to.
And so, to have somebody teach me how to tell the difference between what is factual in the world, and everyone could agree on, which was that my husband died, versus what my brain was making it mean so that I could get leverage and choose for myself, was mind blowing.
Kristi: Absolutely. I feel like those are the top two for me, as well. Let's talk about the feelings part of this because you coach widows. And part of coaching widows really focuses on dealing with a lot of grief, dealing with things like disappointment, and maybe feeling stuck. I mean, the whole range of things that, and I'd love to talk about your take on what I would call processing these big emotions.
We say feeling feelings, and some people might roll their eyes and maybe not even know what that means. But so many of us weren't really given tools or techniques.
Nobody sat me down in middle school or elementary school and said, “Hey, this is how you can notice you're having a feeling. This is how you can really process that and feel that, and let it flow through you. And then, you can even think about your feelings.”
So, a lot of my listeners have developed have habits, like either minimizing their feelings, or they ignore their feelings, or they resist them or judge them. And frankly, a lot of us develop a coping strategy to walk around the world living neck up, or just feeling, like you alluded to, like things outside of us are causing what we're feeling.
I'm wondering what changed for you when you started experiencing your emotions in a different way?
Krista: Yeah, I think so many things, but for sure, I stopped worrying about them so much. I stopped trying to control them so much. I stopped making myself feel bad about them. I think I had bought into the narrative that if you're not happy, you need to fix it. You're doing something wrong, or something about your life is wrong. As opposed to oh, no, no, it’s totally okay.
You're not supposed to feel fear. You're supposed to somehow be above that. And learning that feelings weren't problems, and having a way to allow them to flow through, then made me so much less worried about feelings. I didn’t have any fewer feelings; I just didn't have the anxiety or the worry about them.
Kristi: Which I think [crosstalk] there, right? We can experience a feeling and it can feel very unpleasant to us, and then we add to that unpleasantness with all the worry about it. Or is there's something wrong with me that I have it? It’s like the sandwich that keeps piling on, and then no wonder, you want to get away from feeling that way.
Krista: Yeah, I was literally, just right before we got on this interview, just coaching someone in my group on that exact thing. She’s going on a ski trip, there are lots of emotion around going without her husband, and going with her sons. Fears that all make sense. And I think what most people think is that we're going to try to help them feel differently, feel “better,” or feel different emotions.
But really, what she was experiencing was feeling anxious at the idea that she was going to feel anxious on the trip. I feel like so much of my coaching is not trying to help someone change the actual feeling that they have, but helping them choose their feeling about their feeling. Not actually resisting their feeling, and welcoming it and letting it be part of their experience.
Not making it mean that they're doing anything wrong, or that they need to change anything. No, it's a transitory experience. It's going to last a few seconds, a couple minutes, and you can let it flow through you. And then we can move on. All the time she's going to spend between now and that trip, now she can just not get so anxious about the possibility that she might feel anxious.
Kristi: Yeah, the pylon is the harder part. A lot of people think that the emotion itself is going to be so awful, it will be so overwhelming that if I let myself feel it, that will be the hard part. The hard part is actually all the stuff you just described.
Let's touch on grief, though, because grief is a little bit more complex, at least the way I think of it. In terms of maybe not being just a 60-second experience where it flows through, but perhaps being multiple times of experiencing grief and all the emotions that come with it. So, is there anything different about how you approach grief, per se, than your approach other emotions?
Krista: It's interesting that you asked it in that way. A lot of people ask it in that way. I actually don't tend to think of grief as an emotion… It is an emotion, but I don't tend to approach it in that way. I tend to think of it as an umbrella term for all the thoughts and feelings that we have related to a perceived loss.
So, when we think about that, it becomes less overwhelming, less scary, right? It's just a bunch of thoughts and feelings that we have about a loss, and all of it becomes welcome. It's not just about sad or despair or a longing or yearning or any of that. It can include joy, it can include happiness, it can include hope.
Of course, because we're humans, it does. But so much of what we've heard about grief is so wrong. For me, I only ever heard the five stages of grief. I didn't know anything about grief besides the five stages. And I was so shocked to learn that it was about hospice patients, and not even about people who actually had experienced a loss.
You read, even in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's foreword of On Death and Dying or On Grief and Grieving, her regret that people had taken what was once a really powerful way of starting discussion… back in its day, pretty uncommon and groundbreaking… and then turned it into this step by step, square peg in a round hole kind of experience, where people are measuring themselves against, “Was I angry enough? Was I in denial enough? Have I come to acceptance?”
Just really using it in a way that is totally against themselves. But I didn't know that. Right? I just had no idea that everybody grieves differently, and that there aren't really any stages that we can universally agree that everybody goes through. So, I just like to have a looser approach of ‘yeah, there was a loss. Something happened that we perceived as a loss.’
And in the case of the clients that I coach, their spouse died. And then we're going to have lots of thoughts and feelings about that. So, instead of just accepting them all and being at their effect, can we stop and look at them and decide which thoughts move me toward the experience that I want? And which thoughts move me away from the experience that I want?
It's not as simple as ‘I only want to feel good all the time.’ Because most of us don't, right? I want to feel sad that my husband died. I'm not looking to feel grateful that that happened to me. So, it's not about that. It's just about doing it with intention and doing it consciously, instead of being at the effect of all of those thought patterns that exist inside of our brain.
Kristi: One of the things that was coming up for me as you're talking was, I wanted to know if there were certain misconceptions that many of us have about grief? And that's a huge one, because I think a lot of us do think of grief as a very, almost like a very clear sort of blueprint that is somewhat standardized across all the all the people, when really, it's actually not, though.
Krista: No, it's not at all. And we use language, too. Like, journey, and healing, right? Like, that implies that it ends. And it doesn’t because we're always going to have thoughts and feelings about it. And we can't undo time and make the loss not happen. So, it's really more a matter of, can we live intentionally? Can we integrate what has happened into our lives in a way that supports what it is that we want to create with our lives?
But yeah, most of what we've heard about grief is just really not helpful. There are so many great and interesting grief theories out there, but have you ever heard of anything besides the five stages? I mean, maybe you have, because maybe you've studied it, but most people haven't.
Kristi: No, I mean, I think most of us have that as sort of our standard.
Krista: Physicians, right. Y'all were taught five stages.
Kristi: Yeah. Yeah. I love what you just said a second ago about, it's not necessarily about following sort of this one way, but it's about integrating things in a way that can help you feel more intentional. This reminds me of what you said in the beginning that, when you're approaching coaching, you were realizing that it's not just about feeling better.
Or sort of scrubbing your experience clean from the thoughts that create emotions that you don't like, and getting away from those “bad” emotions or the negative emotions they give. I’m picturing somebody listening and being like, “Well, if the coaching that you do is not about feeling better, then what's the point of that?”
Krista: It's about getting people back in the driver's seat of their life, right? Because where most of my clients are, is in a position, which is similar to where I was, which is that it's very difficult for them to imagine truly being happy again. Because they attribute their happiness to the relationship that they had.
And of course, when we could talk about socialization, and all the stuff that goes into that for women, but by and large, it's a matter of helping them see that all of that amazing stuff that they were experiencing before, they actually created, right? It didn't just happen to them. They created it. It's not to diminish the person that they loved, that died, at all.
It's to empower them so that they can see oh, actually I am the creator of my life. And yes, this thing happened, and I don't have to like it. I don’t have to be happy that happened. I can still believe it's a terrible thing that I didn't really wish would happen. But I also, still get to be the one who chooses the response to that. Right?
There are things I can't control. So, I don't have to be all powerful. I can separate what I can control from what I can't and make choices accordingly. And most of us just have that backwards. Because until we have a tool like the model or a coach to show us, we're so busy believing our thoughts, we just can't get any leverage over them.
Kristi: Yeah, I think that distinction is so important for the things I can control, the things I can't control. And when you know things like the model… For those who are listening, who are super familiar with model, amazing. For those of you who aren't, we will link in the show notes to the previous episodes that talked about that.
But the model is basically these five categories where there are facts or circumstances, and then there's our thoughts about them. And then, there's the emotion that those thoughts we think evoke in us. And then from that emotion, there's all the things that we do and don't do. And then, there's the results that are created from the things that we do and don't do.
Having that as a framework can truly put you back in the driver's seat in ways that really, really can make it almost an easier relationship with the things that you truly cannot control.
Krista: Yes, yeah. And you can be so much more intentional with what you want your brain to be focused on, so that you can create more of the experience that you want. But it isn't about being happy all the time; it’s about being intentional. And there's a big difference, there's a huge difference there.
Kristi: To keep this super tangible for people who are listening, one of the things, when it comes to being intentional, that I hear my clients struggle with, is sometimes they will feel, if they're trying to change a particular behavioral habit...
They are trying to scroll on their phone less, check their emails less, and they feel like it's almost a compulsive… before they know it, it's been 30 minutes they've been on their phone, they haven't even done the thing they said they were going to do.
So, we talk quite a bit about how there can be these urges that precede doing a behavioral habit. And sometimes it feels like they just happen to us and that we don't actually have control over them. And when we think about that, when we think about urges and emotions and our relationship to them…
The way I think about it is that the urges, they are in that umbrella of the things that we actually can sort of have influence and control over. And they're not actually things that just happen to us. When you think about that, what's your take on your urges as emotions and things that happen to us versus things that we have control over?
Krista: Yeah. So, without going too into the model, right? If you and I are just having a coaching conversation… I’ll probably say this differently than I'm about to say it. But I think the money is in knowing that we can always choose our response to anything. And so, whether we want to go all the way back to what created the urge in the first place, which we can get some leverage there.
Or do we just notice the urge. Just because we have an urge to do something, doesn't mean we can't choose a response that says we don't. We can always choose to allow an urge to pass, regardless of where it came from. But yeah, it's an issue for my clients all the time too. Because of what we're talking about, emotion, in particular.
When we don't know how to allow it to flow through, then it's really easy to try to get away from the emotion that we label as negative. Which we could also call an urge, with drinking or shopping, or scrolling or over working or traveling. I see a lot of people will do it in ways that it's not necessarily creating a negative experience for them in the moment.
But they kind of know that if they stop, there's going to be some emotion there. I had one woman who was really all into planning a memorial fundraiser for her husband, because he died of a really rare kind of cancer. And she knew as soon as that was over, she didn't have anything to distract her from her feelings.
She didn't really have any skills to allow those feelings. So, she just kept feeling the urge to distract, to distract, to distract. We don't have to distract once we have the skill of allowance. But feelings are just the same solution, but I'm less interested in the source sometimes.
Kristi: Oh, absolutely. One of the things that we were talking about before we started here is that one of my goals for listeners is to learn some of the skills so that they do have a totally different relationship to their automatic thoughts, to their habits, to their emotions. And I really want them to know that we do have so much more agency than we think we do, and you've referenced that.
And one of the things that crosses my mind when thinking about agency, when we're trying to change something or we're trying to change our relationship to our emotions, or we're going to start a podcast or negotiate for a raise... I think we, so often, just because we don't know any better, we overlook the power of deciding. I heard you recently talk about this in one of your episodes. I really loved the way you put it.
And the way I heard you put it, is that after a certain point, if you are just trying to do something, it actually stops being useful and can be a barrier to getting what you want. And the way I've got it written down here, somewhere... Yes, this is what you said, and I love it.
You said, “Trying just leaves room for failure and room for quitting, and trying is not great emotional fuel.” I find that that sums up so much when it comes to trying to process emotions or trying to change a habit or trying to change my relationship with grief so that I grieve the right way. As opposed to…
Krista: As though there is such a thing is.
Kristi: As though there is such a thing. As opposed to recognizing that you actually can make a decision. That it could be as simple as a decision. What would you say, in terms of elaborating on that?
Krista: Yeah, it's not to diminish trying or hoping. I think that along a spectrum, certain things are useful. And so, trying can be useful at a certain point. Hope can be useful at a certain point. But also, sometimes with certain issues, like you said, trying is not the most powerful fuel that you could have.
You really can leave the door open for quitting and failing, instead of just being like, “You know what? I just choose that this is what I'm going to create. Come hell or high water, I'm not quitting. I'm figuring this out.” And then things get so much easier. There's so much less energy spent on the that middle weird space.
You can just take that energy and apply it to the actual learning, through application. It's not like saying that we're deciding to do something and doesn't mean we're ever going to fail, we probably are. It just means that we've decided we're willing to fail, we're not going to let that stop us, and we're just going to keep doing it until we figure it out. Which is so different.
Kristi: Absolutely. I find that the thing that crossed my mind now, too is that once we make a decision, ‘this is what I'm going to do.’ And we just decide, okay, we're all in. All the fails that may be in front of me, fine, I'm still going to decide to keep on going forward.
I find that sometimes it can be derailing to some of my clients when they notice all the things come up that they thought, “Okay, if I just make a decision, this won't happen. If I make a decision, all those thoughts that brought me self-doubt, that I thought I'd processed, well, they're not going to keep coming back.” When they keep coming back, what the heck?
And so, what do you say to somebody who's like, “I didn't think these thoughts, that maybe I recognize as thoughts, because I was aware of them, are just going to keep on coming?”
Krista: Yeah, decisions don't make us robots. Only robots don't have thoughts, right? So, there's nothing we're ever going to do that gets us out of our humaneness. We will always have a human brain that is designed to focus on the negative, to keep us alive, to worry about other people's rejection to try to keep us safe. Our oldest software, that's in there, it's not going anywhere.
So, I think the sooner we can learn to work with it and not shame ourselves when it pops up, the better. Deciding doesn’t make it go away. I mean, I still experience a ton of second-guessing types of thoughts, and doubtful thoughts, and I'm just better at recognizing them faster and normalizing them.
Kristi: I think that's that critical piece. When you can just recognize them for what they are, and not automatically go to shame, blame, or judge for something that makes you wrong for having them.
Krista: Yeah, it's the diffusion. This is what I thought in my early days of coaching. I thought, “Oh, if my thoughts cause my feelings, and all I need to do is control my thoughts,” because I thought that was something you could do. And I don't want to say that you can't change thought patterns because you definitely can. I certainly have.
And also, thoughts still pop up and it’s not something to be controlled. The money is in separating yourself. Defusing yourself from the thoughts that you think so that you perceive yourself as the thinker, and the thoughts as objects that that you can pick up and put down.
Kristi: If you could see Krista, she just picked up a pen. She's holding it out. So, it's sort of like when you can actually get to that objectification and that perspective. I always thing about it if you get that pane of glass, if it's up against your eyeballs, you won't see the glass. But if you put it in front of you, you'll see the glass itself. Yeah, that perspective is so key. I'm not going to sterilize my human experience, and I wouldn’t want to.
Krista: Yes. And it doesn't want to be all positive. I can go, “Oh, of course I feel that way. Any human with this thought probably would. There's nothing wrong with me.” Right? Any human with this thought would probably feel that way. So, totally okay.
And then I can choose, do I like this thought? Is it useful to me? Is it moving me toward what I want or away from what I want? And then I can decide if I want to think something else.
Kristi: Yeah, it's just such a beautiful thing for anybody who's listening, right now. Just exactly what you just said, there’s so much compassion. Of course, this makes so much sense that I have these thoughts pop up, and that these are the emotions that are present for me right now. Amazing. It makes sense. I see it.
And in that space, to be able to normalize and validate. And then step into that like, okay, and now what I want to do? How might I want to tweak this thought? How might I want to change my relationship to my emotion, or not?
Krista: Yeah, absolutely.
Kristi: Well, can you tell the people who've listened to this and said, “Okay, I just really want to hear more about what you do and follow your podcast,” how can they find you?
Krista: Sure. Yeah. My podcast is called The Widowed Mom Podcast, which I realize is very niche. However, if anybody's interested in grief, or Post Traumatic Growth, it's all there. So, they're certainly welcome to listen. And then, CoachingWithKrista.com is my website. And that's where all of my socials live and the like.
Kristi: Yeah, we'll have all of that in the show notes so people can find you. And I'll just say, I've listened to your podcast for years, I am not a widow, and I learn so much from it all the time. So yes, it may be very niched in your focus for your business, but it's a podcast that has such generalizable impact. So, I appreciate that you made it.
Krista: Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad to hear it.
Kristi: Absolutely. Thank you so much.
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Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit HabitsOnPurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.