In today’s episode of the podcast, we sit down with Shirley Johnson of Soulistic Wellness. Shirley is a healer, intimacy coach, licensed therapist, ritualist, and yoga instructor. She has alchemized over fifteen years experience of exploration of self and specialized training in energy work, movement, psychology and yoga into a passionate profession: restoring intimacy and vulnerability in the collective consciousness through community building and ancient healing arts. In her private practice, Shirley works with adults and couples and specializes in codependency recovery, intimacy, money and vulnerability, especially in Black women and women of color.

This episode, we discuss:

[3:50] What people struggle with when tapping into their authentic self 

A lot of people struggle with understanding that the root of their suffering may be the fact that they have been externally oriented, focused on their partner or loved ones and adapting and adjusting to their needs and the world’s expectations rather than being themselves. It takes a certain level of awareness to even realize that you’re not being authentic, because the practice of focusing outward has become so habitual. Typically the first thing that catches your attention is the suffering; this is where people begin to recognize that something isn’t as it should or could be. That’s where the work begins.

[5:18] How Celeste worked to uncover her authentic self 

“A big wake up call” is what started Celeste’s journey to uncovering her authentic self. She had been working hard to be who she thought she needed to be for her daughter, her family, and her business, but didn’t realize that in the process of becoming who she thought she needed to be, she had isolated herself. People described her as ‘an island,’ never asking for help and always doing things on her own.

As she continued to build an online presence for her business, she realized she was building better connections to people because she was being her real, authentic self. She has worked with a therapist and continues to practice expressing her true self in order to embrace who she was meant to be.

[10:20] Why it’s important to know yourself when it comes to relationships

[12:34] Why self-awareness is important before entering a new relationship and how to become more self-aware in your relationships

If you don’t know who you are or what it is that you want, how can you create a healthy relationship? You can’t. But when you are being authentic about who you are and what you want out of life, and you meet someone else who is doing their best to show up as their authentic self, it can be the foundation for deeper exploration, understanding, and healing. When you have that foundation, that dual understanding that allows you and encourages you to show up as you are, you still need to have self-awareness and self-accountability, because the truth is, no one is perfect. We’re all going to have moments where we slip into old patterns or behaviors that have hurt us or other people in the past. The beauty of practicing being your authentic self is that you can look at a moment like that and see how to move forward in a better way. And if you’re willing to still recognize that you have work to do, and continue to actually do the work, then it might be okay to enter a new relationship.

[19:50] The importance of communication in a relationship

Communication is the biggest factor in a thriving relationship. In the counseling that Shirley provides, she feels that it all boils down to communication on some level. Lack of communication can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, additional stress, and so much more. You need to know how to communicate, especially when it comes to topics that you and your partner may have differing opinions about.

[21:59] How to approach different communication styles in a relationship

There are many styles of communication, which can lead to some difficulty, especially when you and your partner feel like you’re speaking different languages. In Shirley’s experience, the best thing you can do to bridge the communication gap is to slow down. Sometimes our expectations, our desire to be right, or even to fix things can distract us from what is actually being said.

[27:48] Shirley’s thoughts on using love languages in relationships

Shirley references the concept of love languages quite a bit in her work as a therapist. She feels it provides tools and insights that can be used to better understand ourselves and others and that it can be a great foundation for getting in touch with what we actually want. She does not believe that we need to limit ourselves to one love language.She believes that there is most likely one love language that has a larger impact on us, but that as humans we want to feel a little love from each of the categories. It’s important to keep in mind that just as our own love languages can change over time, so can our partner’s.

[33:10] Ways to work through vulnerability in relationships

Vulnerability can be difficult, especially when you’ve been hurt in the past. Shirley’s personal study of vulnerability has shown that it’s the route to getting to intimacy and connection that we all desire and are hard-wired for. Authenticity plays a large role in the ability to be vulnerable, as you’re letting people see you for who you are (the good and the ugly). It’s important to remember that vulnerability is something that you do for yourself and how you want your life and relationships to feel, not to make someone else happy or to be liked. The best way to work through vulnerability issues is to practice allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

[37:09] The different forms of intimacy in relationships

When we start to make intimacy synonymous with sex, we are actually limiting ourselves and the ways in which we can be intimate with ourselves. That’s right, intimacy isn’t all about sex. You can be self intimate by spending time with yourself doing activities you enjoy, like cooking or going for a walk. You’ll begin to notice what brings you joy, when and why anxiety or other feelings come up for you, and get to experience what it’s truly like to be with yourself. This can be a real entry point to deeper levels of intimacy for those who have been hurt in the past. 

Shirley also feels that there is a form of intimacy within nature. There’s a connection that can be felt with the land, the ocean, the flowers that is vastly different than the intimacy with a partner, but it still brings a level of satisfaction. It can help us practice letting our guards down, which is ultimately helpful in building deeper relationships.

[45:27] How to combat the mental health stigma as a person of color

Shirley feels that if you’ve been largely socialized and brought up in America, there is a large stigma around having depression or even experiencing the full range of emotions. In fact, she believes that one of the reasons we see so many upsetting or violent incidents around mental health is because we haven’t been supporting people or teaching children how to express their full range of emotions. We grow up having been told to ‘be quiet’ when we’re expressing emotions about small things, and then we never really learn how to express ourselves about the bigger things. If you’ve always felt like you can’t be angry, then you continue to suppress any emotions similar to anger, which eventually leads to some sort of outburst. 

This past Summer, Shirley ran a six week long group called The Vulnerable 

Black Woman: Healing the Codependency and Caretaker Wound. As she feels codependency is taking care of others at your own expense, and recalls years of Black Women literally taking care of the babies of white families and being in mother energy for whole groups of people including their own, she believes there are still remnants of feeling like they should be strong and they should take care of everyone else. When you’re busy trying to be Superwoman, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for intimacy and self authenticity, which plays a large role in mental health.

[51:00] Shirley’s favorite date she has ever been on

Shirley’s favorite date is her very first date with her current boyfriend. They met for drinks one evening and rented city bikes together, taking a ride down a three mile stretch of land that circled the lake. Afterward, they found a taco truck and got food and it turned into a beautiful, fun adventure where she felt safe and like she could be herself.

Connect with Shirley: 


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Tapping into Your Authentic Self in Relationships with Shirley Johnson

November 14, 2022