“We can use our stories to either keep us down or lift us up.”
Rhonda Britten –Emmy Award-winner, Repeat Oprah guest, Master Coach –has changed lives in over 600 episodes of reality television, is the author of four bestsellers including her seminal work, “Fearless Living” and is the Founder of the Fearless Living Institute, home of the Ivy League of Life Coaching Training. Named “America’s Favorite Life Coach,” she brings the neuroscience of fear down to earth giving you a path out of “not being good enough” using the “Wheels” technology she developed that saved her own life.
I was watching an amazing movie one day called Unsinkable. And when writer and narrator Sonia Ricotti spoke with featured guest Rhonda Britten about her life story, I was dumbstruck. Literally, frozen to the spot. Tears were pouring down my face. I could not believe what I was hearing. How could anyone survive such trauma? How was this even possible? I felt sick to my stomach and at a complete loss as to how utterly brutal life can be. I knew that if that was me? There’s no way I could have found the strength to even make it to adulthood.
But somehow, that’s exactly what Rhonda did. Rhonda not only survived unthinkable trauma but has emerged from this private hell to thrive and to bring her life-changing lessons to others, to help them rebuild their lives and find their way to fearless, courageous living.
I knew I had to talk with Rhonda. I needed to find out what it was that she did that turned her life from being a victim of crime to a triumphant champion of fearless living. If Rhonda could turn her life around, in the way that she has, then doesn’t everyone deserve the right to know that there is a way through the darkness into the light? That we can live our best possible life no matter what the circumstances may be?
Rhonda’s life is nothing short of inspirational. Her life story shows us that in the darkest of times, there is always a flicker of light, of hope, of comfort that we can all seek out; that it is possible to find our way to a better place. Does this negate trauma? No. Does this mean that suffering doesn’t happen? No. But what it shows is the resilience of the human spirit, the innate potential to be able to tap into an inner reservoir of strength; to transform adversity and trauma into an opportunity for post-traumatic growth.
It gives me great pleasure to share with you my interview with the wonderful Rhonda Britten, champion of living fearlessly, and the embodiment of a true Warrior in our midst.
In Rhonda’s Own Words
The Worst Day of my Life
I think all of us have like a day that we'd like to forget in our lives, and the day that I'd like to forget and I wish it never happened and sadly it did. It took place when I was 14 years old and my parents were going through a divorce. I was getting ready to go out to Sunday brunch with my dad. It was a big deal because it was Father's day. We didn't really go out to brunch or go out to eat. That was too expensive. So it was a big deal that we were going out to Sunday brunch. And my father comes in and he starts going, “Come on, come on.” And my mom and I are in her bedroom. She's getting ready to go and putting on a blue eyeshadow and fluffing up her beehive hairdo. I have two sisters and they were both fighting it out in our one bathroom. So we only had one bathroom, about 850 square foot house. And me and my dad and mom start walking out. My sisters are still fighting in the bathroom and my dad says to me, “Well, let me go get my coat from the car.”
And as he opens his trunk to get his coat, I noticed that he doesn't grab a coat, but he grabs a gun and he starts screaming, “This is your fault, this is your fault!” and he shoots my mother and I start to scream, “What are you doing dad? What are you doing?” And he cocks the gun and he points it at me and I absolutely 100% believed I was next.
He looked at me, I looked at him, he blinked, I blinked. And then my mother, literally with her last breath, saw the gun in my face and screamed, “No! Don't!” And realizing that my mother is still alive, my father takes that bullet intended for me and shoots my mother a second time. And that second bullet goes through my mother's abdomen and right out her back and lands in the car horn. And for the next 20 minutes, all I heard was the sound of that car horn blaring.
And then my father cocks the gun, gets down on his knees, puts it to his head and fires.
So within about two minutes, I was the sole witness of my father murdering my mother and committing suicide in front of me.
And I don't know how other people would respond, but this is how I responded, that it was my fault. I mean, I was the only one physically out there that could have stopped it. I didn't grab the gun. I didn't say stop. You know, I didn't jump in front of my mother. I didn't kick my father shins. I did nothing.
And from that moment on it was like, you don't get to be happy if you don't stop your father from killing your mother. So happiness was out the window. Like, yay, good for me not being ever able to be happy again. That's just not an option for me anymore.
A Reason to Stay
And so I basically split into two - the part of me that was seen by the external world, I was happy. I was fine, I forgave my father and I was good. I was fine, I was fine! I'm fine, I'm fine! And that became my mantra. But internally what was going on was a lot of shame, a lot of guilt, abandonment, betrayal, desperation, you know, all the feelings that go along with anything like that. And I started to believe that there was something seriously wrong with me.
And so I proceeded to become an alcoholic. I had three DUIs (driving under the influence), had three suicide attempts and it was the third suicide attempt that I realized I'm not very good at killing myself, not good at it at all. I wanted it to be over. I wanted it to be over but since it wouldn't be over, I had to make a different choice. I had to make a difference. I guess I just had to be worth living. Like I had to have a reason. I had to prove to myself that I was worth saving.
And you know, and I also realized around the same time that nobody's coming. If you try to kill yourself three times and nobody comes to help you, feed you, take care of you, and nobody comes. Nobody's even is phased by it. You know, nobody's coming. Nobody! When my parents died, nobody came. When I tried to kill myself three times, nobody came. And I finally said to myself, Rhonda, nobody's coming. Like, you actually have to do this.
I've got to figure out another way because I can't keep living like this. I can't keep pretending I'm okay on the outside and then living in hell on the inside. I can't. I can't keep living like this and if I'm not dying, then I've got to change it.
During that whole time through the suicide attempts, the alcoholism, all those things, I went to workshops, I went to therapy, I read books. It wasn't like I was sitting on the corner drinking myself silly. I was holding down jobs. I was going to college. I had a scholarship to college. On the outside I looked fine and I just kept pretending I was fine.
But you can only keep that up so long. And therapy was great. I loved therapy, love workshops, love books, love every single thing. Energy work. You name it, I've done it.
But at the end of the day, what I was left with, regardless of all the tools I had and the skills I was taught, at the end of the day, I still felt there was something wrong with me. And none of those things, those tools, took away that feeling that there was something wrong with me. None of those things did. So after the third suicide attempt, I realized that I'm going to have to figure this out for myself. And so I started making up exercises for myself.
Mind you, I was ashamed of myself that I had to do these exercises. I thought that therapy and the books and workshop worked for everybody else. I had no idea that other people felt like me, but I thought that I was so screwed up that none of that worked for me. So creating these exercises on my own felt embarrassing because that's how screwed up I thought I must be.
But the first exercise I did, like literally the day I got home from the hospital, I remember thinking to myself that I have to start over. I mean, I literally have to start from the beginning and then I thought of kindergarten. What did I learn in kindergarten? And I thought, “Well, there's a calendar and gold star.” So I actually went to the store, got a calendar and gold stars. I still have it to this day. It's on my office wall. And I started giving myself gold stars for anything good. Anything, because I needed hope that I was worth saving and that I was worth living.
For the first 30 days, I just would mark anything good. For example, that I got angry but didn't break anything. You know, or when I only had one drink and not three. Or I ate food today. I'm talking about any single thing that was good. And at the end of 30 days I had a calendar full of gold stars. And that really was the beginning of my hope. That was the beginning of me thinking maybe I can do this. That there is another way.
Transcending the Paradox
We're living between the paradox of human reality and spiritual truth. That's the paradox. But when we start transcending the way we see the world; we see the world through different lenses. Neuroscience says that the only truly way to change your life is the filtering system you have, period. So, I was looking through the lenses of what we call the wheel of fear glasses, right? I was looking through the wheel of fear lenses and I was seeing that the world was hopeless. I was seeing through the world that nobody was coming. And I saw through the world that, you know, nobody really, reallyloved me. The glasses I was looking through, the lens was based in a core fear that I had and which I believe everyone carries with them, by the way, not just me. I believe everyone has it and most people don't see it and most people aren't aware of it. And then I had to decide to change and really learn how to turn-on my wheel of freedom and turn-off what we call the wheel of fear in Fearless Living. So I had to move from my wheel of fear to the wheel of freedom. And I had to learn how to do that so that the world that I saw was actually different than the world that I saw just a few minutes ago.
How do you transcend your past? How do you move beyond your past? Because our whole neurobiology is wired to look in the past. We're wired to repeat the past because that saves energy. And so the brain and the neurobiology actually turns around and goes, “Oh, what have I done like this before? I need to repeat so I can save energy.” Because if I have to think, or if I have to make a decision, that takes energy and our whole body and our whole brain is wired to save energy, right?
So I had to decide to use energy, which was exhausting. Most people aren't willing to do that. Most people aren't willing to face their demons, right? I lived with my demons for so long, it's like, why don't I transcend my demons? I don't want to keep fighting the same fight. I don't want to keep being in the same wheel of fear. I didn't want to keep going in the same cycle. I didn't want to keep going to this wheel of suffering as Buddha says. I wanted to move past that. I was done and I was also done denying myself happiness because for 20 years I couldn't be happy. But again, you don't get to be happy if your mom dies in front of you and you did nothing. You don't get to be happy.
So, for many years, I wouldn't kill myself, I stopped myself from killing myself because I didn't want my nieces and nephews and my family members to have the burden I did, of having a suicidal parent. And then I got to the place where I said, “I can't let the people behind me decide my making a decision for me. I actually had to decide to live for me, not for the harm it would do to others; I actually had to decide was I going to live for myself. Was I going to actually live in this world? Because for most of my life, you know, before I started trying to kill myself my thinking was that I can't do it because of other people.
But I actually had to transcend that and actually make a choice for me. Do I want to stay alive? You know, once I realized I wasn't dying, I then had to make a decision to stay alive. I had to make a decision to thrive. I had to make a decision to do that and not based on anybody else. I mean, when your father kills your mother and then kills himself, absolutely as a child, you definitely feel like you're not lovable! You definitely feel like, “Why the hell wasn't I worth it?”
In order to really heal myself, I had to transcend all those thinkings. I had to go past the fact that my father was riddled in fear. My father was just trying to save his ego. To save who he thought he should be and what should happen in his life. My father wasn't thinking about me. And when I was trying to kill myself, I wasn't thinking about anybody else. I wasn't thinking about my sisters. I wasn't thinking about my nieces. I wasn't thinking about that. You know, for people that survived suicide, most people weren't even thinking of doing it five minutes before they tried. It became an opening; the opportunity presented itself and they took it. A huge percentage of people that actually do commit suicide weren't even thinking about it five minutes before they did it. Isn't that amazing to think about? I mean, that's why we definitely want to have connection in our lives. We want to stay connected. Our number one human need is connection. We want to feel connected, we want to feel like we belong. Because then we feel "obligated to the tribe." We feel part of something and we are less likely to hurt ourselves.
We're going to save humanity by saving ourselves. You've really got to take full on responsibility for your mindset, for your emotional state, for your health. I mean, you’ve got to take full ownership. I've been saying that one of the things that this global pandemic is giving us is an opportunity to see the cracks in our foundation. Anything that wasn't working for you is really not going to be working for you. The things that didn't work, the relationships that didn't work, the way that you spent money didn't work, the way you talk to yourself didn't work. Those things are really super evident now. If you're beating yourself up before the pandemic, now it's going to be even worse. There's no denying the cracks in your foundation. You’ve got to make decisions on which cracks break and you release, and which cracks are you going to rebuild and create a new foundation.
A Sense of Belonging
Abraham Maslow said that connection and belonging are our number one human needs. So if we're not connected and belonging to a community, to a tribe, and of course to ourselves, we are going to kind of be lost, isolated, lost being alone, which means we have less care about how we behave, less care about how we interact.
I just think that in the global pandemic right now, we have to get back to our basic needs. We have to get back to basic needs like, how well are you sleeping? Are you eating? Are you taking showers? Are you getting dressed? Are you going to take a walk outside? If you don't feel comfortable outside, can you go in your backyard? If you don't have a backyard, can you go out on your patio? Okay, you don't have a patio, can you look out your window? Are you connecting with people on your FaceTime or Zoom or Facebook or Skype? There are a lot of free ways to connect. Are you connecting with somebody every single solitary day?
I just feel like this is an incredible time. It's obviously a horrible time and the (Chinese) symbol for crisis is danger and opportunity, right? And so there's danger here and there's opportunity and we have to do both.
On Fake Positive Thinking & Turning Away
You know, those moments (of crisis) aren't to be taken lightly. Those moments are to be like, Holy crap! We're meant to sit down and go, Holy crap. We're all meant to sit down right now and go, Holy crap. It's not meant to be fluff and all positive. This isn't a time to do fake metaphysical positive thinking. That's bullshit.
It's not about pretending we're positive. And again, do I want to be able to have a skill called reframing? Yes. Do I want to be able to see the positive spin on things? Yes. But I cannot turn my back on the pain and suffering in my own life as well as the people that I know and the people that I don't know.
You know when people say on social media, “I just shut off the news. I just can't. That is so negative.” I'm like, no, that's not negative. People are dying! That's not being negative. That is a fact, right? So when bad things are happening and people call it being ‘negative,’ they're not facing the reality of human life and they're not actually able even to grow in the way that they could.
Empathy & Compassion
You can't turn away from the starving children. You can't turn away from the people who are dying right now with coronavirus! I had a friend of mine's mother who was diagnosed with coronavirus and was dead five days later. Five days later her mother was dead! No underlying conditions. Most people don't die that fast. I have another friend whose friend died after two weeks and I know other people that have as well. I've known many people who have the virus that are not in a hospital. They're doing it at home.
We can't turn away. That is meant to deepen our compassion, deepen our empathy, deepen us as human beings, ground us more in the connection that we have so we can't turn away. And I think that's what people do. I think a lot of people - because it's so hard - they haven't actually been able to process their own pain, they can't bear to look at pain, they have to turn away from it because it's too painful and it brings up their pain and they just can't bear it. And I get it. I get that. I was like that for 20 years. I get it. I was there.
Ways to Counter Overwhelm During Crises
I think one of the ways that we can move through this is doing what we can with what we have, and you do this by focusing on the things you can control.
Start focusing on improving those areas and start taking better care of yourself and start taking control of the things you can control, and then the things that are out of your control kind of recede in the background. And you realize “In my home and in my space and my mindset in my health and what I can impact, I am doing everything I can. I am impacting my neighbors, my friends, my coworkers, whatever, whoever, every day.”
One of the things you can control is whether you have that powerful, positive, empowering attitude, not positive thinking and pretending it's not happening. But are you being inspiring? What are you reading and what are you watching? So again, you have so much power.
And what I've seen over and over again, is when you start taking care of the things you can control, the things that you can't control actually take care of themselves. Then you're not worrying or fretting or getting overwhelmed or getting anxious. Instead you're taking care of your own business.
Then, if people believe in God or source or divine or field or whatever they call it, all the things you can't control? Give it to that guy. Give it to God, give it to the goddess, give it to whoever you believe in. Give it to Buddha, whatever, because they're in charge anyway.
Find Out More
Want to live with less fear? Join Rhonda's FREE Fearless Living course
here: Fearless Living Course
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Connect with Rhonda
You can find the full version of Rhonda's interview here: Rhonda Britten