In the Martha Beck coaching circles in which I travel, the acronym “TAO” is a constant refrain, representing the qualities of transparency, authenticity and openness.  Living my life in a TAO way, I learned from the very first days of my training, enables me to do my own work on an ongoing basis—a mandatory, lifelong coach’s training in living the process that is my life and my livelihood.

The coaches I’ve met who live this way are amazing, lovely, dynamic, appealing, charismatic, and deeply honest.  So are the authors who are brave enough to expose their truths with courage and wisdom, and I devour every sentence.

The deliberate connection to the Chinese “Tao” (the “way” or the “path” that marks a practice of spiritual growth, attainment and enlightenment) imbues “TAO” with even deeper meaning.  Practitioners of Tao know that the path to spiritual growth is not easy.  Similarly, living a life that’s transparent, authentic, and open challenges us to reach beyond our limitations and beliefs.  And for me, that’s where the trouble begins.

I was raised in a family that didn’t speak about deep feelings.  We assumed that we loved each other, without speaking of it.  We were family; therefore, we were blood-bound to love each other.

We didn’t air our personal or interpersonal problems publicly.  No one else needed to know of our struggles, our imperfections, our mistakes, or our vulnerability. When I sought the help of a therapist, it was not met with open-minded curiosity about what that process might do for me. I was told, “You’re too sensitive.”

The label stung me, and felt desperately unfair, as if having feelings was somehow wrong, and expressing them even more wrong.  And asking for help?  Definitely not on the continuum of acceptable behavior.

In order to belong to my family, I learned to see myself as separate from others and to make comparisons.  I rolled my eyes when people revealed the realities of their most human selves.  I judged them for their humanity as much as for their lack of shame in divulging it.

Only recently have I begun to examine my deeply embedded belief that transparency is bad, wrong, or dangerous.

Several kind readers have noticed how quiet I’ve been this month and asked me when the next post was coming out.  I feel I owe you all something more than an article to fill the void—an honest expression of what’s behind the silence.

As I plod along the path of opening my life so that others can reveal themselves to me, I constantly weigh the benefit of what I want to disclose, thoughtfully considering why I want to tell it, and how much detail is necessary to avoid sucking anyone into my own endless story vortex.

Would it be more honest to just blurt out my shame and angst, inviting you into my process?  Possibly.

The truth is that I’m working with my dear and faithful and nonjudgmental coaches (yes, I’m so twisted up in here that I require multiple Medicine Women) to clean up my own stories, some of which I’ve been stuck in for so long that they’re hideously embarrassing and dreadfully hurtful.  I’m alternately sitting with the pain of that, and resting up so I can extricate myself from the vortex and do the hard work of growing.  I’m convinced that my current state of smallness will make it difficult for anyone to maintain a shred of respect for me, so I’ll spare you the details and continue to explore what it is that TAO demands of me, walking the line between honesty and “TMI,” and learning how to set boundaries that protect me while practicing the authenticity that connects me.

Feel free to post encouragement and your own thoughts on TAO here, so I can share your lifeline and haul myself out of this maelstrom.  Peace out.



27 Responses to The Trouble With TAO

  1. Dan says:

    Beautiful. There is a balance to be struck here, no doubt. Everyone deserves a level of privacy. However, true connections with others requires not only the TAO you speak of, but the inherent risk that comes with it. Great artists somehow recognize this and manage to press on despite that risk. Challenging as it is, I think it’s worth the journey. Thanks for sharing. Safe travels on your journey!

  2. beautifully done, my friend. a lovely balance between TAO and TMI (definitely TAO, assuredly not TMI)… i got that sensation that speaks “truth” while reading this… and deep sadness to hear you labeled “too sensitive”. i certainly hope it wasn’t the therapist doing the labeling. (if so, my blood is boiling). i’m in your corner, so give a shout if i need to put my medicine woman feathers on 😉 xo

    • amysteindler says:

      Kayce, no, it was not the therapist, who really gave me permission for the first time to feel what I was feeling and to look at my life through my own lens. It was my family of origin–thanks for pointing out that it might be confusing (I can edit the post). Thanks, also, for your steadfast support, and I’ll call you soon for some of your good medicine!

  3. Rena Farbin says:

    “Listen, I like the baby version the best, DO YOU HEAR ME?”
    Love you, Amy.

  4. Dear Amy: Thank you are illuminating the challenges of balancing TAO and TMI so beautifully. It truly is a journey. Awareness and insight are tools that will take you where you need to go.

    • amysteindler says:

      Thanks, Natalie–Bridgette Boudreau added that we have to honor ourselves as part of the TAO package. A good lesson for me, for sure.

  5. It’s never TMI from you, Amy. xoxo.

  6. erin says:

    ahhh…the “you’re too sensitive” label. I’m very familiar with that commentary from my family of origin as well! Ouch – that stings!! On being TAO – from my experience, I have been so TAO on my blog that my mother no longer follows it! See the preceding statement; no surprise there. You are amazing Amy, and I can’t imagine you being anything but you…and however this unfolds for you, it will be perfect. xo

  7. Sandi Shroads says:

    You continue to rock, my friend! Good points on the whole TAO/TMI thing. You expressed yourself beautifully and courageously, as always.

  8. woo hoo Amy! I personally believe that you are tapping into the MOST lovable and compassionate and therefore HEALING part of you when you go down this road. The truth is, most people, I believe, sense where you are holding on, where you think you are hiding feelings of shame or judgment. They sense it in a way that can’t always be identified, but that interrupts the flow between you and the self love that connects you to others. I say, let it down, girl! You’re definitely not going to lose your dignity, because saying your truth is powerful! xxx

  9. Lynn says:

    Beautifully written Amy, and thank you for giving light to all who have heard, way too many times, “you’re too sensitive.” Much love for you here my friend. xo

  10. Sarah says:

    I totally resonate with you this! You really captured the struggle beautifully in words. Thanks for being courageous enough to share when you aren’t sure of where you are yet yourself.

    • amysteindler says:

      Thank you Sarah–I suppose if I waited until was completely sure of everything, I’d never write a single word, so I’m learning to just shine a little light on the questions and see what is revealed. Grateful that you took a moment to comment, as your support feels so real and true.

  11. Monica says:

    Amy – So beautifully said! I also resonate with your struggle and appreciate your words. Thank you for sharing and know you are never alone in your journey.

    • amysteindler says:

      I am so grateful to have so many of you by my side on this journey–thank you, Monica, for saying it out loud so I could hear you.

  12. Ivana says:


    I am going to play a bit with your words. How would it feel if you labeled yourself ‘sensitive’? I bet all of us on this site are more sensitive than average person and most of us feel good about it! My first and only encounter with psychologist didn’t go well either. I labeled myself ‘too responsible’ and she caught it. I hated the judgment, although I was the only judge in that room. That experience changed me plenty, but much later in life. I didn’t even get it at that time. Now, I have to remind myself to stay a little bit more responsible…

    One more thing I want to touch upon is the family fault for feeling the way we feel. I blamed them heavily for all the negative feelings I had. Although blaming helps to ease the pain a bit, it keeps us stuck. Our surroundings and history has only smaller part in who we are. As you know it is mostly about who we decide to be.

    I appreciate the TAO in you. I believe the world would be a much better place if we were all TAO at all times. It takes a lot of courage to admit your own self findings, but even more so sharing it with the world and appreciate the feedback instead of hating the judgment. Best of luck!

    • amysteindler says:

      Hello dearest Ivana!
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and kind words of support.

      To clarify, because I see that I was unclear in my post: the psychologist did not label me “too sensitive”–that label came from my family of origin. My therapist helped me understand that I wasn’t “too sensitive,” but rather had feelings that were completely valid, just by virtue of the fact that I had them. He helped teach me what to do about those feelings, and what not to do, and to let their judgment be their ‘business.’ I always felt that my sensitivity was an important part of who I am, but hearing my family add the judgement “too much,” confused and hurt me. It is only relevant here in terms of my own current challenges of overcoming old beliefs about what’s “appropriate” to share, and with whom.

      Thanks for saying a bit about your own experience with your family, and the wisdom of letting go of blame.

  13. Ivana says:

    Hi Amy!

    It was great to share thoughts with you too. BTW, very solid writing. I also like the dilemma you introduced in your article. I know my agenda went a bit off the topic. Thanks for listening/reading.

    Love & Light,

  14. […] one of my most commented-on posts, I discussed the difference between sharing experience and “TMI,” and it’s worth reading (or […]

  15. […] one of my most commented-on posts, I discussed the difference between sharing experience and “TMI,” and it’s worth reading (or […]

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