In pursuit of his daily dose of sanity in today's world, Hersh sits down with clinical psychologist Dr. Nakia Hamlett (of Complex Psychology), who helps organizations and individuals create safe spaces through communication. Nakia has been interested in human behavior since she was a child reading about Anastasia's conversations with Freud, and now brings people together in pursuit of safe, honest dialogue. Her chat with Hersh spans social engagement, DEI, African American mental health, and yes, Nakia's certainty at 8 years old that she would become a clinical psychologist...
Dr. Hamlett Says it Best:
"In my work as a clinical psychologist, more than ever I seek to understand how we, as humans, innovate in our relationships with ourselves and others. We’ve been conditioned to think and behave in ways that ignore the beautiful complexities and possibilities of our humanity! Even more fascinating to me, as of late: The tech people are figuring out how to make robots amazing sentient beings but yet most humans function on autopilot! Go figure!"
Link to Dr. Nakia Hamlett's FREE Leadership Masterclass: https://course.complexpsych.com/users/checkout/auth
Dr. Nakia Hamlett on Truth Tastes Funny with Hersh Rephun
[00:00:00] hersh: The funny thing about complex psychology is that it's the only psychology we've got. So we might as well enjoy it. This is my conversation with Dr. Nakia Hamlett.
[00:00:46] hersh: My guest today is Dr. Nakia Hamlett. She helps organizations and individuals build safe spaces through communication and really seeks to bring out the humanity in all of our interactions. And from what I've learned tries to help us also have a happier life as, as human beings. Dr. Hamlett, welcome to the show.
[00:01:13] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I'm very happy to be here.
[00:01:17] hersh: My pleasure. How did you get into clinical psychology?
[00:01:21] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Well, you know, I, the funny story is that I was always told by my family and friends that I used to tell people I was gonna be a psychologist when I was like eight, which I don't know. I, I think a lot of times we kind of study what we're trying to figure out. So my guess is that I just was always interested in human behavior in my own family in general. And I, I never really kind of thought about too many other careers. I don't know. I was always fascinated by, by human behavior and the psyche and thinking about those things when I was even eight, nine years old. So I kind of just had that as a goal. And then I just kind of charted a course to grad school undergrad then grad school.
[00:02:04] hersh: Now, how did it, how did that at eight years old? How did that play out? I have an eight year old now who wears, who is since she was five loves going to the children's museum and dressing up in scrubs.
[00:02:16] And working on toy animals and fortunately toy animals, but, you know, like has a real doc mcstuffins kind of persona, but how did it play? As a youngster, you know, really being interested in behavior.
[00:02:32] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Yeah. You know, well, for one thing, most obviously I was just an avid reader, you know, I was kind of the book worm, so I kind of always found books.
[00:02:40] Fascinating. I remember reading, like the princess bride was one of my favorite and first books there was a series. I can't remember the name of it, but there was a, a girl named Anastasia was this series of books. Oh, yes. She used to talk to Freud. She had a Freud head in her room and she would kind of chat with him.
[00:03:00] And I just kind of always remembered like, wow, Freud, who is that? And I just, I think from books, I just got into really kind of thinking about characters and fantasy life and people.
[00:03:14] hersh: What was your upbringing like? What was the environment like around you?
[00:03:18] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Yeah. You know, I had a pretty interesting environment because I was raised primarily in the younger years by my, my mom who was single, my parents divorced when I was really young.
[00:03:29] And so my mom was someone who really always kind of saw the importance of education. And so she sacrificed so that I could go to private school. So I actually went to. Catholic school. And then I went to a private school, pretty affluent school and was, you know, one of few African American students. So I kind of went through this period of having a really robust like educational environment, but a lot of hard social challenges because I was so different socioeconomically and culturally from my classmates, but I do think being at that school kind of gave me a love of learning. And so from there, I just was very focused on school and college and just always thought that education was really the path for me. And that was really my relentless focus
[00:04:17] hersh: Well, and it it's gotten you here and now you're also very involved in diversity, equity and inclusion. So tell me a little bit about that work.
[00:04:27] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: yeah. You know, that, that has evolved, you know, as a psychologist, when you're in grad school and I've been a professor throughout the years, you know, you do research and you kind of think about like, what am I interested in?
[00:04:38] What are social topics that are important? And I've always worked with, you know, people from different cultural backgrounds as an African American woman, you know, African American mental health is personally important to me. And the equity and justice work kind of just grew out of it necessarily because you see so many disparities in health.
[00:04:58] And you see disparities kind of at times in academic tenure track kind of positions. And so the equity work just kind of became part of what I always focused on. And probably 6, 7, 8 years ago, I started to consult to companies and just really thinking about what does it mean to be an employee and thrive where you work. So I kind of think of a DEI, like you said, more like humanity, like how do we create spaces? How do organizations create spaces where everyone can really feel included and thrive? Cuz we spend a lot of our time at work.
[00:05:33] hersh: Well, in a environment like today, it's possible for employees to feel that companies are doing something because they have to.
[00:05:44] On one hand, it's great that people are so aware and tuned in. And you know, that, that there are so many people committed to mm-hmm, creating safe spaces at work and comfortable workplaces and equitable workplaces. But at the same time, are you coming across employees that feel, oh, this company just has, they have to do they have to, it's just something they're doing in writing.
[00:06:09] It's something they're doing. Perfu really.
[00:06:12] oh yeah, definitely. And you know, resistance, right. Is a word. I hear a lot in my DEI coach, coaching consultant colleagues, you know, it's just the idea that when you come in with this kind of perspective, people automatically have ideas about what it means. And so I think when you say diversity equity inclusion, yes.
[00:06:33] It's easy for people to feel like they don't really care and they're just performative, but it's also on the other side of it, easy to think this is gonna be a situation where I'm made to feel really ashamed and uncomfortable. And I have a lot of my own unmanaged feelings. So I think for me, it's just, how do you approach it?
[00:06:53] And I try to approach it as if all humans actually wanna have connections. The question is how do we build connections? How do we learn to communicate and understand each other? When I hear like, oh, they're just doing this because they have to, that just says to me that we haven't figured out the approach to really make connected dots for people.
[00:07:15] Right. And what's the, what's generally speaking the first step toward a safer space.
[00:07:24] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: I honestly, more recently I've really started to really scale it back in my mind. I think creating intentional learning circles and maybe in teams where people can just start to create space, to get to know each other and have conversations.
[00:07:49] And the interesting thing is even without mentioning things like gender or race or religion, if you have humans in a room long enough, they get to those things. And so I think companies can just start by creating a place where people can share stories. They can learn about each other and then have some facilitation for when things like gender do emerge or people, you know, have difficulties with communication.
[00:08:10] But I think we don't give humans enough credit that like we do wanna build connections. And if we could create spaces to do that, the rest kind of comes together.
[00:08:19] hersh: What do you think about the maturity of corporate environments? My world is the advertising industry and I think because advertising is often a reflection of society necessarily, right they have to sell to their consumers. Therefore they have to start to look like the consumer more, but it took forever for change to come in that world, you know, it just felt like the old guard, the old ways, the old thinking was so ingrained. Yeah. What do you think about that? That challenge?
[00:08:54] What is the landscape looking like now?
[00:08:58] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: You know, it's the way I've been thinking about it. Cuz we live in this technological age, I think analog and digital. Right? We still have people and things that function kind of analog. certain people are not doing a lot on the internet, right. They're maybe checking their email, right.
[00:09:14] Other people are figuring out all kind of technological magic. So I think of companies the same way and there's spaces where there's still sort of functioning in a more analog fashion where there's not a lot of diversity. The conversation's not really progressive, lots of bias that doesn't really get explored.
[00:09:36] And then there's spaces that are trying to be more progressive and more advanced. And so the question is when we have new technology, right, maybe it's humanity, as we are trying to see it in the future, how do we bring people along? You know, some people wanna be analog. They don't ever wanna actually let go of their DVR.
[00:09:55] Other people, you know, other people are all early adopters of all the new stuff. And I kind of think of companies and individuals the same way. And then I think there's just a different roadmap. Whether you're dealing with one or the other.
[00:10:09] hersh: Yeah. Now, as far as helping professionals find their happy place, you know talk to me a little bit about what we can do as human beings to somehow direct ourselves to happiness, because I think thriving, surviving going as far as we can toward happiness is probably a, a decent antidote to some of the, some of the stuff that drags us down. Right. Yeah. So, how do we find happiness?
[00:10:44] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Man. That's a big question.
[00:10:45] hersh: I know it is. And I felt as I was asking it but I felt I would throw it out there because there's no wrong answer, you know?
[00:10:51] There's just, there's just observations. And I think you're in a good position to make some observations about human nature.
[00:11:01] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Well, thank you. I mean, like I said, I, I do think about this a lot. You know, I, I called my company complex psychology because of the complexity of, of our world. So I actually think that our, this might sound controversial, but our pursuit of happiness is what makes us unhappy in a lot of ways, because life is yeah.
[00:11:26] It's fluid. Right? And moment to moment, we can feel joy and moment to moment we can feel stress. And I think the key to happiness at least is allowing for all of it. And instead of pushing against, right. And that's kind of maybe mindfulness type talk, but wherever you go there you are. So moment to moment.
[00:11:49] I think we have choices and we also have the ability to remain open. And I think that that sets the foundation for really, truly experiencing joy when it comes like family time, fun events, a sunny day. But I think that's half the problem. I think we're always so afraid to feel bad that we avoid it at all costs, but the truth is we're all those things.
[00:12:19] And I think by embracing all those things is how we really truly find contentment.
[00:12:24] hersh: well, what I find happens is that, is that I, and, and the more I talk to people, the more I'm trying to learn and grow, I'm not doing this show just for the listener. , I'm doing it, I'm doing it because I think the listener can relate to what my journey is.
[00:12:38] Cuz I don't think it's any very different from, from what other people are going through. But I feel like, you know, I intellectually understand the benefit yeah. Of experiencing sadness. Yeah, and frustration and welcoming all those emotions in and then just processing them and trying to learn from them.
[00:12:56] And that sounds great. But then I'll get what I'll find is I'll become very quickly, very profoundly sad over, over whatever's going whatever the moment is, or maybe it's something that hit me a couple days later, but I'll start to feel that sadness. And I I'll forget about the ability to, to process and to experience, Ooh, I'm gonna dive into this sadness.
[00:13:23] I'm this is awesome. This is the sadness that I was just talking about the other day with somebody else. Now I have a chance to dive in and enjoy it and swim in the swim in the sadness and, and all that stuff goes out the window and I'm like, I'm like, God.
[00:13:40] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Yeah, it feels awful.
[00:13:42] hersh: And I meditate. I've been meditating for about a year and I'm like, okay. I, you know, I have that to go to, and I always find something useful in there, but that doesn't mean an hour later, like that may help for a little bit, but an hour later, that same thing may circle back. And I, and I really have a hard time diving into the emotion.
[00:14:04] Do you have any tips on that? Any tips for settling into sadness?
[00:14:09] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: You know, what's fascinating is, is maybe it's a semantics thing because I certainly when I say accept, I certainly don't mean to dive into it. I probably mean the opposite.
[00:14:19] I actually think that when we experience bad emotions or sad emotions, it's almost like, okay, thank you. I'm you. I see that you're here and now what as opposed to, oh, sadness is back. Here we go. Mm-hmm I'm going down this rabbit hole now. I'm sad. Am I still sad? Do I feel better? I think I'm still sad. I mean, I, I actually think the focus on it and actually giving it, our attention is not the same thing as acknowledging it.
[00:14:47] It's almost like you can acknowledge a person in the room and maybe it's someone that you don't really wanna talk to, but you can acknowledge them. And you don't have to have a full on conversation. You can kind of continue as you were. And to me, it's shifting the focus that is actually, I see that you're here.
[00:15:07] I accept it. And now I'm gonna continue on, you know, doing something. I'll take a walk, I'll do whatever.
[00:15:13] hersh: So you're saying, so you're saying we don't have to validate that that opinion. It's not like you have a right to be here in my space. It's more. Okay. I see you. I see you, you know, but I'm gonna, I'm gonna do this right now. It's like leaving it in the waiting room, all, you know, lately, it's it, it's coming to your office, it's sitting there and you're like, yeah, I see you.
[00:15:38] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Absolutely. I mean, and it's deeper than this, right? Cuz you, you know, it, it's the idea that this is lovingly embraced as a part of you. And while you may not need to give it your focus because you wanna feel better. And in a moment, if you're kind of diving deep in your sad thoughts, you probably won't feel better, but it's acknowledging that it's honoring it. Almost like the idea that, okay, where does sadness come from? I mean, if you lost a loved one, that grief is very real and should be honored. If, if it's that, you know, you're just having stress at work, whatever it is, it's, it's honoring and acknowledging it without feeling like now that has to be what I do is the sadness.
[00:16:18] It's like, it's here. It's part of my experience, but so is the, the beautiful breeze right now. And so are the flowers. And so is this nap I'm gonna take or so is this delicious ice cream I'm gonna eat? I kind of learned from my own personal experience that at some point, and I think this is a book from like the seventies that my mom had, but at some point it's the idea we can't afford the luxury of a negative.
[00:16:44] mm-hmm and I just, I just don't go there myself anymore if I can help it. That doesn't mean I have every day as super happy, but I just, I don't know if it's worth wrestling your sadness to the ground and trying to win it over.
[00:16:58] hersh: Now let's talk a little bit about professional psychological health trying to achieve your dreams.
[00:17:05] You know, are we, are we setting goals too far ahead? Or is that a good thing to have that horizon that we're always looking to? Or is it a little bit overwhelming to do that?
[00:17:17] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: I mean, again, it's funny. I kind of see these as some similar struggles. I think ambition is a wonderful thing, but I don't think we trust ourselves in the process enough.
[00:17:29] You know, to kind of like, and I I'm guilty of this as the next person, when you're ambitious, you're like have these goals, but then you're measuring your progress to the goal and the distance that still remains versus the progress you've made. So I, I just, I don't know if we spend enough time saying like, wow, look how much progress I've made from 10 years ago.
[00:17:53] Yeah. There's still, there's always gonna be things I wanna do more I, I just think we live in a culture that kind of teaches us to obsessively, pursue achievements. Yeah. And things and money and titles.
[00:18:07] hersh: Well, the thing that I keep coming up against in my, in my journey of this podcast, truth tastes funny, came from a stage show that I am developing. So it was originally gonna be comedy and music. And it was, it was gonna touch on some things, but it was gonna be like semi autobiographical, comedy and music. Let's put it that way.
[00:18:26] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Mm-hmm
[00:18:27] hersh: and then the opportunity to do the podcast came up and that led to the opportunity to talk to people. I was gonna include a book, but I, I had a different idea for the book. Now, I think the book could be about what I've learned in the, in the journey of these conversations.
[00:18:47] One of the things that I keep coming back to hearing them, my guests, keep bringing up is judgment and from different points of view, but our relationship with the judgment and opinions of others. In many cases that can determine whether we think we've succeeded or not. What are your thoughts on that?
[00:19:09] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: It's so true.
[00:19:10] I mean, and it's interesting, cuz I think inherently we think like, oh our thoughts, like you said, or our things we should contend with and our, you know, our minds, our thoughts are here to help us. But the truth is you kind of have to focus your mind and your thoughts. And there is a part of everyone that has, you know, fearful or judgemental.
[00:19:29] And I think it's also noticing, I, I, I think it's the same thing that like, okay, am I judging myself? Am I judging other people? It's a natural human tendency to do so the question is, how far do we take it? I mean, if you wanna do better and you're judging that you're not quite where you wanna be, that's learning, that could be objective information, but if we get into self criticism and you.
[00:19:56] Self ation, you know, beating yourself up about something or, you know, judging other people and on some standard that makes them not wanna spend time with us or be in relationship with us then, I mean, then it's worth considering. Yeah. But judgment is kind of part of our nature though. I, I think,
[00:20:17] hersh: What was your experience? Did you experience judgment, expectation criticism, things like that as a, as a child.
[00:20:26] And student and young, you know, young adult.
[00:20:31] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Absolutely. I mean, that's the thing, right? Like our parents do their best. They don't mean to kind of sometimes impart wounds of their own on us. Yeah. Or their own ideas about things or their own fears. And. For sure. I've over the years gotten messages about what I should do, what I shouldn't do.
[00:20:52] And you know, if I'm doing a good job and over time, I think it comes down to how strong, a sense of self-esteem. And self-efficacy you have, so that when judgment comes either from your self or someone else, you can kind of say, you know, I am actually a good person and I'm doing pretty great. And, and to me, if you can deeply feel that, that you are a worthy and good person, then the judgment kind of doesn't stick in the same way. I think when there is some insecurity, which we all have and people tap into it with their judgment, it hurts more than it would if we had already kind of worked through the judging of ourselves, if that makes sense.
[00:21:37] hersh: Right. Right. And what about technology. The role that technology plays in making our lives better. And is it impeding our personal growth? Do you think?
[00:21:55] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: You know, I think it's the culture more than the technology. And I say that because as we kind of briefly talked about, you know, as they're trying to figure out how do robots, how do they teach robots to be human sentient?
[00:22:08] Right. It's really kind of, that kind of research has given me a real eye-opening look at like, okay, is this what humanity is objectively when you, when you kind of see what they're trying to kind of impart to machines, then that's not the part that the technology part, it's what we use technology for. It's how technology has kind of evolved cuz of our, for capitalism and our cultures tendency towards work and achievement. I mean, if we were all on Instagram, you know, posting our flowers or art, we made.
[00:22:44] yeah. Would it be bad technology? No, but that's not what we use it for.
[00:22:49] hersh: Well, we also don't want, we, we, we, we rail against being controlled regardless of where you are on the what's that on the, on the political spectrum or any issues. What I think we, we all have in common as a society, as a global society, is we, some people want to be told what to do.
[00:23:09] Of course, some people like to key into something that keeps their lives simple and then they just follow. And that's what, but still those people don't wanna be told what to do. So if they choose a system that guides them, that's their, yeah. That is literally their choice. So they want to be able to choose even the system that may be restrictive, but they want to choose that system.
[00:23:34] They don't want someone to choose a system for them. So, you know, We rail against control. Yeah. But with self-determination comes responsibility. Sure. Right. And so are we, are we nowadays with all the stuff that we've been going through do you find people seizing control more or relinquishing it?.
[00:24:03] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: you know, I, I think humans, I mean, I tend to think in kind of broad strokes sometimes, but like we have love and we have fear and love is things you love to do. Your family, your friends, hobbies, passions, and creative energy, all that stuff. And fear is anger. And. That gut reaction. And I, I just think we live in a world that in, that keeps us in that fear place, like fear that there's not enough fear that people are gonna steal my rights or take something from me, fear of violence.
[00:24:34] And so I think people are much more in that. Like I gotta hold on to control out of fear. I don't think it comes from a place of wellbeing. I think it's just like, we feel like we're grappling for these limited resources.
[00:24:51] hersh: It's funny, you, you you've said a couple of times, you know, I hope I'm not getting too complex and.
[00:24:56] And it's funny because your, your company's called complex psychology . And if I had my way and I could open a, a company, I would call it simpleton because, because that's my, my goal. I always complicate things. I complicate, you know, creative ideas I complicate. Yeah. You know, and I'm. Problem solver in some ways -
[00:25:19] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: I bet. Yeah.
[00:25:19] hersh: But I'm also, but I'm also like overthink simple things. So we're blessed with this duality of so true of simplicity and complexity and and I, and I, I don't know how to swing that into, into great balance, but I know that we're just. We just know how to, how to complicate things.
[00:25:42] We know how to introduce, even in our inventions. Right. What is it like in the in the psychological community among psychologists, among your peers? What are some of the challenges that they're facing these days, is there any kind of disruption within the community.
[00:26:00] About how best to deal with some of the, some of the PTSD and traumas that people are going through.
[00:26:08] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: I mean, I think for one thing, the demand is, is overwhelming. I mean, I think COVID through COVID people realize like, oh, maybe therapy is helpful. Maybe I need therapy. Maybe I should, should talk to someone and what that means is the demand is great. And the number of clinicians that, that are able to meet that or therapists is, is, is not matching it. So I think the challenge now is figuring out, you know, how do we use these, these technological tools to reach more people? Are we able to help people help themselves?
[00:26:41] And then it's ongoing. I think one real challenge is that one thing is as therapists we're dealing with our own trauma from all the things that have happened in the last two years mm-hmm and then it hasn't ended. I mean, every day you turn the news on and it's like the next part of the puzzle. So how do you help people when you're also kind of gain, trying to gain your own equilibrium and manage?
[00:27:06] I think it's really hard
[00:27:07] hersh: given that we need, cuz I thought of this right away when COVID was going on and we would. Medical professionals becoming overwhelmed what can we, as lay people do to kind of return the, the favor and help. You know, just like, is there, is there something in that dynamic, cuz it's a relationship like any other, you know? Yeah. And sometimes we abuse almost the providers that we need the most, you know, we take them for granted or we're so desperate that we just don't, we can't, we can't that worry ourselves with burnout and other issues.
[00:27:43] Is there something we can do for the medical and psychological community?
[00:27:48] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: that's a, that's a really excellent question. I mean, it's thoughtful that you would even ask that. I mean, it kind of goes back to what you said before that everyone is focused on what do I want and my rights and what's best for me.
[00:28:01] And I think if we could collectively realize that in a lot of cases, what's best for us as individuals is what's best for all of us. So, I mean, when the COVID was going on with the nursing staff and the doctors, it. They were telling people like wear masks, you know, don't be in groups because we can't handle this many people getting sick and people are like, yeah, no, I don't wanna wear a mask or no, I wanna have my family over.
[00:28:25] So I think more and more, if we could think about what would serve all of us at this point versus maybe an individual need. I mean, I don't know if that's gonna happen, but to me, it's, it's taken a collective kind of perspective more than what's just best for me and my family.
[00:28:45] hersh: Yeah. Well, maybe it comes down to just being partners, at least in our, in our mental health and the mental health of others. if we maybe saw ourselves a little bit more like, like doctors, like medical professionals and, and health as a parent, you know, certainly we're responsible for the mental health of our children.
[00:29:08] We're not responsible from a clinical point of view or from a professional point of view, but we're partners in that with our schools, with our, with, with doctors, with everybody, right. So maybe if we took just a partnership approach instead of a service provider approach, you know, you're here to provide a service let's, let's, let's get back to that human level of, how can we help everybody do their job?
[00:29:35] How can I help if we could take those words and maybe throw those out a little more so maybe that's helpful.
[00:29:43] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Takes a village, right? It's just not like that so much anymore.
[00:29:46] hersh: Yeah. I think the answer isn't in, let's put it this way. We know this much, the answer isn't in pushing each other away or pulling ourselves apart.
[00:29:57] Families, families is a great place to start. You know, it would be great to see people be able to have conversations again about a, about anything. , this has become a great, a big thing on social media, the AMAs, right. They ask me anything sessions.
[00:30:14] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Mm-hmm , mm-hmm it's like, yeah.
[00:30:15] hersh: And yet you can't go to your mother's house for dinner and in some cases and have a come and ask me anything, because you have to avoid topics, you know,
[00:30:29] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: you're right. I mean, it's just, how do we get back to humanity and, and that's it like conversations? You know, honesty, transparency, and I don't know, I just feel like we're all kind of overwhelmed these days and yeah, I think it's hard to find spaces where you feel like you can kind of have honest conversations without repercussions and the political stuff is so derisive that people are cautious about having those conversations.
[00:30:58] So it's just, it's just challenging, I think, challenging times.
[00:31:01] hersh: Well, it's fortunate. You had the clarity that you had at eight years old to know that the work that you're doing now would be so important. You definitely had some, some clarity about the human condition at a young age. And I, I think we're all better for it. So so thank you for coming on and thank you for, for introducing what you do to our audience, certainly. And it's, it's been a pleasure speaking with you.
[00:31:28] Dr. Nakia Hamlett: Same and thank you for having me and, and keep up the great work. I mean, these are important conversations, so I'm grateful to people like you who are having these spaces for these conversations.