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What Drives You? | Ellen Chute #633

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On the Regular Version …

I’m joined today by Ellen Chute, LMSW as we talk through her metaphor of looking at family dynamics and systems … where everyone sat in the car growing up.

Learn more about Ellen here –

On the Xtended Version …

Ellen and I keep the conversation going, only the tables are turned and she uses my childhood as a look into how her metaphor plays out. In other words, let’s get personal with my life. 

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Corey Allan: Ellen Schuett is joining me today for the episode. And Ellen, this is gonna be fun because I was raised by a father that's a systems guy and I have a sister that's a social worker. And then I'm also in the field too. So

Ellen Chute: Yes.

Corey Allan: anytime there's a colleague that has a lot of like-minded or similar overlap, man, it's a lot of fun to have the conversations like that. So I'm so excited to have you on the show. Welcome.

Ellen Chute: Thank you. Thank you for having me. And I love talking to systems people. I feel like I take systems and then add another layer to it. And so I'm really excited to tell you about my theories and what I think and to chat about it.

Corey Allan: Well, you just teed up perfectly to jump in, I guess, if you take systems

Ellen Chute: Okay.

Corey Allan: and add another layer. So let's explain

Ellen Chute: Yes.

Corey Allan: the layer.

Ellen Chute: So the layer is, if we understand the power of a family system, and in my book, I use the metaphor of a car to describe a family. And we talk about everybody having their seat in the car, and everybody having a role to play that and everybody playing their role is what keeps the car going basically from today to tomorrow to the next day. The way that I take it further is to help people understand how that seat that they had in the car growing up actually created the person that they are today. And

Corey Allan: Absolutely.

Ellen Chute: much of that is conscious and much of that is unconscious. And we take our learning from the car with us. into our lives, into creating other cars, into our relationships, into our work, into our child rearing. We take that knowledge with us. And for the most part, it works for us. But all of us have these places in our life where that we wish were more satisfying or more loving or easier. And a lot of times, what is stopping those things from happening is the actual thing that we learned in the car growing up. So

Corey Allan: Okay.

Ellen Chute: this is,

Corey Allan: So let's unpack

Ellen Chute: yes.

Corey Allan: that a little bit on,

Ellen Chute: Okay.

Corey Allan: because I love the metaphor,

Ellen Chute: Okay.

Corey Allan: because I think if we can start to recognize dynamics, tendencies, preferences, insert qualifying characteristic here, right?

Ellen Chute: Yes, yes, right.

Corey Allan: So briefly describe like the places as you see them, or the impact they're in, because I think there's multi layers to this, just for... from guessing where we're heading today.

Ellen Chute: Yes, there are. And I like to talk about my car growing up because I think that it's the one I know the best and it's

Corey Allan: Perfect.

Ellen Chute: the one that actually spurred this whole thing for me to come to understand, create the metaphor and understand it in this way. So I grew up as an only child. It just coincidentally, my parents were both also only children. So in our car growing up, my father was in the driver's seat. He was the wage earner back in those times most dads

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: were. My mom was a stay at home mom. And her role was in the front passenger seat. But if you asked me who was really driving our car, I would probably say that even though my dad sat in that seat, that my mom really drove it. because she directed every single movement that he made just

Corey Allan: Okay.

Ellen Chute: from her seat, okay? My role in the car was to be alone in the back seat. I always was alone in the back seat. And all cars have their rules. And many times the rule is not spoken, but in our car, the rule

Corey Allan: Oh yeah.

Ellen Chute: was spoken. And that rule was that little girls are to be seen and not heard. So I was a, I was born a good girl, a rule follower. I was just going to go along with and

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: do what was expected of me in my car. The secondary rule was that you look pretty at all times. Um, it was just a very well put together car. in terms of how everybody presented and looked. But my role in the back seat by myself gave me a vantage point to come to understand myself and the world that I wouldn't have had I been in a car with other children,

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: with sitting in a different seat in the car. I know other only children and their seat in the car was the front passenger seat. because one of the parents was in the back.

Corey Allan: Right.

Ellen Chute: But my seat was in the back, being quiet, shutting up, not having any needs and trying to look pretty. And while that may have worked really well for my parents' configuration, it didn't work so well for me as a grownup adult.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: And I have spent much of my life and done much work on my life. coming to overcome many of the things that I left my car with, which was not having a voice, being totally independent, not ever needing anybody's help.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: I would say that I was lonely in the back seat, and my life really has been about gathering people to me.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: I have three kids and seven grandkids and they're all here all the time.

Corey Allan: Thanks for watching!

Ellen Chute: And that's just, I think about the three of us in that car. And then I think about the 15 of us for dinner when we have dinner

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: every week. And I think I did that. Like I wanted that. That was my creation as a result of my car experience.

Corey Allan: Right, that's almost

Ellen Chute: Now

Corey Allan: like

Ellen Chute: it.

Corey Allan: growing a voice, isn't it? That

Ellen Chute: Exactly.

Corey Allan: it goes against

Ellen Chute: Yes.

Corey Allan: what was kind of taught or expected early on. And now all of a sudden you're like, no, I'm gonna create some power here and go different than my experience was.

Ellen Chute: Yes, when I can do that. But

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: I'll tell you that a lot of times in my life still, I have no voice when I wish I did. It's not so easy to just,

Corey Allan: Sure.

Ellen Chute: it's great to realize it and that's what my book is about. Oh, that's why I wish I could just come back at this person, but I can't.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: I've tried, I've worked on it. I can't at times. And so... My book is about coming to understand that that's how you developed. This was no one's intent in my car that I developed like that. This was

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: just my understanding of who I was supposed to be. And I have to now treat myself with compassion when I can't do it. Because as much as I would like to, my body just isn't going to let me. It's

Corey Allan: Right.

Ellen Chute: too scary. It's just too scary. Right.

Corey Allan: Yeah, because

Ellen Chute: Exactly.

Corey Allan: these are ingrown things that are like they're almost like, you know, there's I think there's this element of biology and then nurturing, right? What you're what you're raised around,

Ellen Chute: Yes.

Corey Allan: but also the way you're kind of biologically bent, if you will,

Ellen Chute: Yes,

Corey Allan: because

Ellen Chute: that's

Corey Allan: that's the differences

Ellen Chute: exactly

Corey Allan: between

Ellen Chute: right.

Corey Allan: introvert extrovert. You know, some people it's a learned thing. Some people it's just inherent. That's just who they are.

Ellen Chute: I completely agree.

Corey Allan: Okay.

Ellen Chute: I'm grateful for my biology because I think it is why I have all these people around me now,

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: because I just wasn't happy in this little small threesome. I like a lot. And so I'm happy that my biology was given opportunities to present itself in my life. My mother used to tell the story when I was two years old that we would go to a restaurant and I'd be out of my seat and on the person at the next table's lap because I was always just gathering, looking for people to be part of my

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: life.

Corey Allan: OK.

Ellen Chute: So that's my story in a nutshell. And

Corey Allan: Okay.

Ellen Chute: you can see the roles in the car are so powerful. and they inform who we are. My husband is one of five boys and he had the complete opposite experience of me. He's seven years younger. The four oldest ones were together and then seven years and then him. And his seat in his car growing up was in the back end of an old station wagon facing out, like

Corey Allan: Yep,

Ellen Chute: looking out

Corey Allan: yeah,

Ellen Chute: at

Corey Allan: facing

Ellen Chute: the other

Corey Allan: backwards,

Ellen Chute: people.

Corey Allan: yep.

Ellen Chute: facing backwards and his job in that seat was to just sit and wave and make friends with the people around him and if you would meet him today as a grown man he is exactly that same person. He

Corey Allan: Okay.

Ellen Chute: makes friends with the cashier at the grocery store and

Corey Allan: I'm going

Ellen Chute: he's

Corey Allan: to go to bed.

Ellen Chute: just always looking for people to in a nice way you know what I mean

Corey Allan: Yeah,

Ellen Chute: but

Corey Allan: no, I got you.

Ellen Chute: It's still part of who he is, a big

Corey Allan: Yeah,

Ellen Chute: part

Corey Allan: well,

Ellen Chute: of who he is.

Corey Allan: that's what's so crazy

Ellen Chute: Right.

Corey Allan: about thinking about this, Alan, is the idea that the similarities of the two of you, because that seven year gap for him almost creates

Ellen Chute: Yes.

Corey Allan: a different generation where he's an only

Ellen Chute: Yes,

Corey Allan: child. He doesn't have

Ellen Chute: absolutely.

Corey Allan: immediate siblings. I tell clients this a lot that it's like, yeah,

Ellen Chute: Yes.

Corey Allan: but they're like five years older. I'm like, yeah, but that's not a, that's not a peer sibling. That's

Ellen Chute: Right.

Corey Allan: just a sibling there. They have a whole different world than you do

Ellen Chute: Yes,

Corey Allan: rather than

Ellen Chute: they

Corey Allan: it's

Ellen Chute: do.

Corey Allan: a a cohort going through

Ellen Chute: Right.

Corey Allan: it alongside. And so there's some similarities of just what you're telling your only

Ellen Chute: Uh-huh.

Corey Allan: child, his one of five, but kind of an only pseudo

Ellen Chute: Mm-hmm.

Corey Allan: child. And as well

Ellen Chute: Yes.

Corey Allan: as you're supposed to be in the back and just look good, just

Ellen Chute: Right,

Corey Allan: be

Ellen Chute: that's

Corey Allan: friendly,

Ellen Chute: true.

Corey Allan: just for, you know, there's elements

Ellen Chute: Yes

Corey Allan: of, oh man, no wonder you guys made it's made sense with each other.

Ellen Chute: It's very true. It's very

Corey Allan: and

Ellen Chute: true. He also identifies as one of the shoot boys and in his family, that was huge to be

Corey Allan: Okay.

Ellen Chute: one of these boys. So there's very, he's very much in that and very much not in it. He's very different than his four brothers. Right.

Corey Allan: And so what do you encourage people that could be listening to this that all of a sudden they're, you know, because as I'm hearing you talking, maybe we do this in the extended content and let's just kind of switch roles and you walk me through it as if I was trying to like understand

Ellen Chute: Sure.

Corey Allan: this and we'll go personal in the extended content. But up until then, what do you tell people that would be the best to help them get the grasp of? OK, now what once I kind of picture. where I am, you know, and what drives me, the role I played, what was my, what was the message overtly and covertly? What do I do with that? How do I, how do I now apply that like you're describing your journey has been of I'm aware of it, but now what?

Ellen Chute: Right, so the goal of becoming aware of it is to forgive yourself for what it has left you with, to learn self-compassion, for you to say, oh, I totally get it. Of course this is going to scare me. Of course I'm afraid to be vulnerable in relationships. I was taught this. I was set up to be in this place.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: And so what I talk to people about is that we learned this role when we were very young and we were completely dependent and we were powerless, virtually powerless in our families. But as a grown up, we are not powerless anymore. Our body is still going to carry those memories, whether they have words attached to them or not. but we get to use our grown up brain now, our prefrontal cortex brain, and we get to be mindful and intentional about how we wanna live and what we choose to do and how we act. We get to, just cause we're human.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: And so just because we learned it one way doesn't mean we're stuck there. We can... develop new learning

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: and definitely we can develop more self-compassion which will allow us to think is that really what I want? To be more goal-directed, to be more values driven, to be less impulsive, less emotionally driven and actually more aware of our emotions.

Corey Allan: Yeah, and that's one of those, my self-compassion is one of those difficult things to do at times, it seems.

Ellen Chute: Oh, yes.

Corey Allan: We can shame bomb ourselves all the time.

Ellen Chute: Oh my goodness.

Corey Allan: That

Ellen Chute: And that's

Corey Allan: seems

Ellen Chute: what happens

Corey Allan: easy

Ellen Chute: in the

Corey Allan: for

Ellen Chute: car.

Corey Allan: whatever reason.

Ellen Chute: Right, our cars are what teach us to be ashamed of ourselves. Even if no one says that, even if

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: we have these kind, loving parents, one of our siblings is gonna say it, what's wrong with you? You know what I mean? Even if it's under their breath, but that's where we learn to just immediately go to shame. And

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: we get to unlearn that. We get to learn that. The shame is there, but I always talk about us being just a huge mosaic, and the shame is just one piece of it. And

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: there's so much more of you than just that. And so that's what

Corey Allan: Right.

Ellen Chute: we talk

Corey Allan: And so

Ellen Chute: about.

Corey Allan: the idea of moving to, I use the terminology of when I recognize stuff from my past or things that are happening to me, what I need to learn to do is digest it, which means I take some of the stuff and I can use some of that for good. I can look at what all went down and see some of it, there's good parts in it, and then the rest needs to be let go. And...

Ellen Chute: Yes.

Corey Allan: move

Ellen Chute: Right.

Corey Allan: on from me, right? And so

Ellen Chute: Yes.

Corey Allan: if you're describing this process and a person can recognize a self-compassion is such a good idea in the sense of a step of, I need to just treat myself better. I mean, I

Ellen Chute: right.

Corey Allan: heard the quote the other day, I don't remember who actually this came from, but it was a statement about if I actually allowed a friend to talk to me the way I talk to me, we would not be friends,

Ellen Chute: That's

Corey Allan: right?

Ellen Chute: right. Right.

Corey Allan: Because it's just so cruel

Ellen Chute: Yes.

Corey Allan: a lot of the times. So you get to that point and then you get to the element of now what do I do with it? Because you made the comment early on, recognizing it as one thing, but going, doing different is another.

Ellen Chute: Yes, yes. And to me, that's what therapy is about. It's about helping people recognize it. I had someone just the other day who was talking to me about how they just really seemed to, this was a man actually, really seemed to have trouble with his wife who was leaving to go on a business trip. And... We talked about that in his history, it must have just been hard for him that he perceived somebody as leaving, even if they didn't leave.

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: And so yes, oh, he got that, okay. But then, what do you do next?

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: So you learn how to understand what's going on in your body when this thing happens and you're having a reaction, okay? And it's... It's always either hurt or pain or fear or sadness, something like that. And if we can identify that feeling, it will actually help us to choose our response. So we don't have to just, normally we would be acting to try to shut that feeling up. But instead of shutting it up and acting on it, we're gonna try to recognize it and then act according to our values. Now that's not easy. It's

Corey Allan: Mm-mm.

Ellen Chute: really not easy. I call it a practice. It's a practice, it's a journey, it

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: takes time, but people do have success, little bits at a time, feeling more in control of things, feeling... better about themselves and more in control of their life. And, you know, life happens to us. We have to deal with it. And

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: so, that is the ultimate goal. And therapy at every step of that

Corey Allan: Okay.

Ellen Chute: process of encouraging someone to get to the feeling of allowing them to just sit with, that makes me sad. or that scares me. And then to help them be okay, that it's just a feeling. Feelings last about 90 seconds and then they go away. And then to help them think about what would you really want here? What would be your value? And to support them through that change process. And the first time they make a change, they could need a lot of support. They could feel guilty. They could

Corey Allan: Oh,

Ellen Chute: feel...

Corey Allan: sure.

Ellen Chute: Right, and so

Corey Allan: And

Ellen Chute: to

Corey Allan: it can

Ellen Chute: help

Corey Allan: even

Ellen Chute: them

Corey Allan: it can

Ellen Chute: through

Corey Allan: even magnify

Ellen Chute: that.

Corey Allan: the fear or the uncertainty because now I'm out in a whole uncharted territory that's like, I don't know. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing now.

Ellen Chute: And if our identity is, whether there are words to it or not, but if our identity is, well, I'm not a person that does that, then when we do it,

Corey Allan: Mm-hmm.

Ellen Chute: then it requires a lot of shifting on our parts. It's very hard, but

Corey Allan: And this

Ellen Chute: it

Corey Allan: is

Ellen Chute: can

Corey Allan: also

Ellen Chute: be extremely

Corey Allan: something,

Ellen Chute: rewarding.

Corey Allan: absolutely. And so this is something that I'm assuming you would agree with, that the goal ultimately is where I can recognize and do this in real time. But even if I do it after the fact, that's still good ground game.

Ellen Chute: Oh yes, it has, it's always started after the fact.

Corey Allan: Perfect.

Ellen Chute: Because it's, at first it's only after the fact that we even have a thought of, oh, I hate that I keep doing this, or

Corey Allan: Right.

Ellen Chute: this is really just getting to me. What happens to people often is that they go into just, rather than a shame cycle, they go into a blame cycle. And they think that what's wrong is what the other person's doing, rather than. what's wrong is that my body isn't taking it well. My body's having a feeling. And so they try to get the other person to change what they're doing. This is just the classic thing in marriage. Could you please change your behavior so I can feel better about myself, right?

Corey Allan: Right.

Ellen Chute: But it just comes from such a powerless point of view that I can't feel better about me unless you change. And that's just, yeah,

Corey Allan: Right.

Ellen Chute: that's not helpful. Right.

Corey Allan: That's so

Ellen Chute: I

Corey Allan: good.

Ellen Chute: mean, it

Corey Allan: And

Ellen Chute: doesn't

Corey Allan: I...

Ellen Chute: mean the other person doesn't have to change, but I'm just saying.

Corey Allan: Well, yeah, that's that element of what's what do I actually control and influence, which is myself. I and so if I can change it to where I see it as I can influence them or encourage them, maybe I can't

Ellen Chute: Yes.

Corey Allan: change them. I, you know, I'm not responsible for them. I'm responsible for me. So handle

Ellen Chute: Right.

Corey Allan: my steps in the dance, not theirs.

Ellen Chute: For sure, for sure.

Corey Allan: Perfect. So before we shift into the extended content, how can people find more of you, Ellen? Because the framework and metaphor is fantastic. And so I want more people

Ellen Chute: Thank you. Thank you.

Corey Allan: to find it and dive in.

Ellen Chute: Yes, I would say to go to my website, which is You'll see the book, you'll see some blog posts, you'll see my podcast is on there. I also do a podcast not I'm an infant compared to you. So I, the people on my podcast are people that are talking basically about families in one way or another, and we relate what they're talking to the car metaphor. So it's interesting. And, you

Corey Allan: Perfect.

Ellen Chute: know, I think that that's there. Yes. So my website is the best place to access everything. And the

Corey Allan: Well,

Ellen Chute: book

Corey Allan: perfect.

Ellen Chute: is called What Drives What Drives You. Yes.

Corey Allan: Yep. Well, thank you so much. All the information that you just shared, I'll throw in the show notes as well. So those of you listening,

Ellen Chute: Thank you.

Corey Allan: you can find that there. So, Alan, thank you so much for the time so far, and I'm looking

Ellen Chute: Yes.

Corey Allan: forward to continue it here.

Ellen Chute: Thank you. Me too.