In this episode we're talking about trauma healing.
What's more important in the healing process? Our body, or our thoughts? Listen to this episode to learn about the body's physical responses to trauma, and the role of our thinking in the healing process.
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Body, Brain, or Both?
Hello and welcome welcome welcome to another week of the Grow Heal Change Coaching Podcast - happy and blessed and grateful to be here with you all again for episode number 18 of Grow Heal Change - we are KILLING it here together.
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So - today we’re having a chat about trauma healing, and emotional health and whether or not it’s more important to focus on the body - the physiology- the nervous system. OR whether it is more important to focus on the thinking mind - the thoughts and the more cognitive work.
And this is an extremely important discussion for us to have because there is SO much confusion floating around the ecosystem and there is a lot of messaging out there and I’ve gotten some comments around this topic - particularly beacuse of my use of The Model - which is Brooke Castillo’s beautiful clean coaching tool that she developed as a way for coaches to coach our clients and to teach our clients to help themselves using this tool called the model and she actually often calls it the self-coaching model and the premise of the model is that our thoughts create our results.
Our thoughts create our results. And if you want more on that topic you can go ahead and listen to the podcast called Knowledge vs. Awareness - and the podcast called Creating New Things - and I think i may even just do a whole podcast called Trauma Healing With the Model. And really do a deep dive on the model for you all because it’s an amazing amazing tool to take our healing ot the next level.
BUT as you may - or may not know - the new science of trauma that is being championed by some amazing pioneers - like Dr. Allan Schore, Dr. Gabor Mate, The ACE Study which is the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, Dr. Bruce Perry, Dr. Stephen Porges, Dr. Peter Levine and many many beautiful brilliant others - this new science of trauma healing, attachment, and childhood development has taught us so much about trauma.
And really - the most powerful and amazing knowledge we have discovered is that trauma does have a physiological component. It has a physical - a somatic - component - soma meaning body. When we experience a trauma - which Dr. Peter Levine describes as too much, too soon, too fast, for us to process - that’s our brain and nervous system to process - that state - the state of fear or terror or overwhelm or sadness, or rage - because there’s a myriad of experiences that we experience when we are dealing with trauma right - all that sensation actually gets stored within our physiology - our organs, our cells, and our nervous system itself. And the nervous system is the body’s system for adapting to the environment - and that environment can be outside of us - or even inside of us. And it’s important to understand that the nervous system is very very complex. We have our central nervous system which is what is directly connected to our brain stem - that soft part on the back of head right. And we have our peripheral nervous system. And the nervous system has many many many branches.
And our nervous system is the system that operates mostly below the level of consciousness - so when we pull our hand away from a hot stove we’re not necessarily THINKING about that right - it’s our nervous system responding to the heat and the danger that pulls away quickly before we really even register consciously what’s going on.
Dr. Stephen porges’ work on the nervous system - and the branches of the nervous system - showed us that we have a very very very old branch of our nervous system called the dorsal branch. And that branch has evolved over many, many years - and it resembles the reptilian freeze response - so if you were to startle a lizard it would just freeze and sort of blend in with the environment right. Humans are not reptiles - we are actually mammals - and mammals’ primary way of dealing with threat or danger is not to freeze actually - our first response is to fight or flee. And this has become more common knowledge now right - fight or flight - and Dr. Porges called this process the process of mobilization - that is what’s called our sympathetic nervous system that activates and puts us in motion in the face of a threat or if we need to get activated and get going in the face of danger.
But the dorsal vagal branch is part of the parasympathetic nervous system - and you’ve probably heard the term rest and digest to describe the parasympathetic nervous system right. That rest and digest state is the state of ease and there is some flow there - less activation. But this dorsal branch is a more ancient part of the parasympathetic nervous system - think back to that reptile right - and when the option to fight or flee is not available to us - we will unconsciously access this dorsal branch this dorsal state.
So - when would our fight/flight not be available? As kids right? As little ones who depend on our parents/adults/caregivers for life and for survival right? Now - if those caregivers or adults who are much bigger and stronger than us are abusive - or violent - or neglectful and withdrawn - than we will access that shut down - dorsal branch of the parasympathetic. We shut down. We freeze. We hide. We become invisible right.
I have often said that if I wrote a memoir I would call it ghost child because that’s pretty much how i spent my childhood was frozen in time - hiding from my mothers’ wrath praying that i wouldn’t be seen by her that I wouldn’t provoke her. Right - as a little one I didn’t have access to that fight/flight mechanism and so I became sort of stuck in that freeze/shut down state and spent most of my late teens and early twenties unthawing and releasing a lot of that stored up stress and trauma from those early terrifying years where for all intents and purposes I was tortured by my narcissistic mother. I know tortured sounds like a strong word and you might be kinda taken aback by that but those of you who have experienced that kind of darkness of a parent with a real pathological personality disorder understand what I mean. And I should say - you know - my mom developed that narcissistic personality disorder and her paranoid delusions as a result of her own deep trauma - her story is also a tragic one and it’s filled with wounding and for whatever reason - she didn’t seek healing for herself. And so you know I do wish her well and I have love in my heart for her - even though we don’t talk and I don’t have contact with her - you know - I like my reasons for that and I have come full circle in my perspective on her and it took a lot of work and a lot of my own healing and working through first denial and then rage and then sadness and sometimes back and forth between those it’s a pretty big spectrum.
I digress - hahah so back to the dorsal branch - this is really the glue I feel that holds attachment theory and self-actualization - and a lot of other theories together is porges’ work on the dorsal branch this shutdown branch. And so if we’re stuck in the dorsal in adulthood we’re looking at depression, deep depression.
And then we can have an overactive fight response from the sympathetic - overly mobilized - Dr. Allan Schore calls that hyper-arousal when we are in sort of a frenzied panic mode.
AND - what’s more we can be stuck in panic and in shut down at the same time or swing dramatically between the two and that’s really where you get the manifestation of high functioning depression and high functioning anxiety - and it’s also where you get chronic illness as well as other symptoms like rumination and obsessive thnking and panic disorders etc.
Because in this state - when there is so uch stored trauma - so much uncleared charge in the system here right - especially in cases of complex ptsd where you’ve got layers and layers and layers of trauma beginning in childhood - the system is not in flow and it is not in balance.
SO - in this state - it is very difficult to do thought work - it is very difficult to access meta-cognition. And there’s been a lot of blowback on cognitive behavioural therapy when it comes to trauma healing because it really is dealing with only the higher regions of the brain and we know through this work and this research that the higher regions of the brain become less and less accessible when we are in a perpetual state of trauma response right. We are operating from the lower regions of the brain which are more primitive and are more concerned with survival than anything else.
This is why it’s difficult to focus if there’s been a lot of childhood trauma or even recent adult trauma because the brain is firing differently - it’s looking for threat - it’s hypervigilant - it’s operating in a state of severe overwhelm. And in that state - telling your brain to think different thoughts is challenging right. This is why affirmations can fall flat for people - or meditation because if there’s no space in the body because there’s so much trauma floating around in the system - so much survival energy right - it’s going to be real tough for anything to sink in and come in.
The process of trauma healing is about gently, slowly, and surely releasing traumatic energy that is deep in the system. It's in the physical, emotional, and energy body and the brain. This process is more than catharsis. It is a process of creating space within the system. It slowly and naturally restores synergy and flow - generating resilience, groundedness, and better quality of life.\nThis is why talking only gets us so far. The whole system is wounded, and so the whole system must be healed.
SO - if all that is true - and if i believe all that about the nervous system - why am I preaching that our thoughts create our results?!?! Isn’t it more than just the thinking - isn’t that what you just said SHYLA?!?!?!
WELL - here’s the deal - our thoughts create our results - but often times it is our physiological state - the state of our nervous system our body and our organs that can have a massive impact on the thoughts we are thinking.
BUT it’s not so simple - you can almost think of it like a loop - because our brain is always sending messages to our body. But our body is also sending messages to our brain. And so when there’s trauma involved that loop can be very detrimental to our health - it becomes like a viscious cycle - BUT BUT BUT - the good news is we can work with BOTH the thoughts and the body to interrupt that viscous cycle and begin a new cycle - just like i said in last week’s episode about the future right?!?
AND we can use both our thoughts and our bodies to interrupt that.
So really - the question isn’t body or brain? That’s not a thing. It’s not an either-or situation. It is a both/and situation. So - we know our thoughts can change our physiology and our physiology can change our thoughts. You still with me? That was a lot huh!!
It’s a soup - it’s a mixture - we’re complex creatures us humans right!
There’s a book called “I want to change my life” written by Dr. Steven M Melemis - and I love how simply he describes relaxation and the relaxation of the mind and body. What he says is - do not try and relax the mind - relax the body and the mind will follow. And I think that’s such a beautiful and amazing piece of knowledge and wisdom. Right because we don’t want to get stuck all up in our thinking mind in when we’re in states of extreme stress and try and not think something.
Instead we can almost hack the thinking by grounding and relaxing the body and bringing a sensation of safety - a FELT SENSE as Dr. Peter LEvine would describe it of safety and goodness to the body and the nervous system. And what that does is unlock a clearer state of thinking from which we can really do some deep deep thought work. Because there IS healing to be done in the thinking because of those old harmful loops so we have to do both. We have to work with both.
SOOOOO - if you’d like to work with me 1-1 I invite you to go to my new work with me page that’s up on my site - it’s shylacash.com/workwithme and you can book a 1-1 consult with me. It’s a complimentary 60 minute consult and you’ll gain a lot of simple steps and clarity to move you forward on that call. And on that call you can also decide if you’d like to work with me 1-1 in my 6 month 1-1 coaching package. This is the stuff we work on - the nuances of the brain and body - working with the body and grounding and bringing safety into the body - as well as the thinking and working with the beautiful tool the model.
Because our thoughts do create our results - but when we work with trauma we want to bring some relaxation and balance to the body - so that we can get into our thoughts and take a look at what’s happening in our minds from a grounded open place. So book that consult with me. Again it’s shylacash.com/workwithme and i am so so excited to work with you and walk with you into the next phase of your healing journey.
Sending all the love and all the beauty and all the peace and blessings to your mind, body, and spirit. Continue forward in healing and remember - as you heal yourself my love - you heal this beautiful world!
I’ll talk to you next week!