Jess & Jeanne discuss trauma and how it impacts the mind, brain, and body. They'll explore evidence-based, body-centered approaches used to help people deal with the difficulties caused by traumatic events. As always, they'll teach simple, mind-body techniques listeners can use in everyday life to feel better.
-The Polyvagal Theory
The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation. Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D.
Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation. Deborah A. Dana, LCSW
Befriending Your Nervous System: Looking Through the Lens of the Polyvagal Theory. Deborah A. Dana, LCSW
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment. Pat Ogden & Janina Fisher
Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy. Pat Ogden, Kekuni Minton, Clare Pain
Principles of Trauma Therapy. John N. Briere, Catherine Scott
Sweeney, A., Filson, B., Kennedy, A., Collinson, L., & Gillard, S. (2018). A paradigm shift: Relationships in trauma-informed mental health services. BJPsych Advances, 24(5), 319-333. doi:10.1192/bja.2018.29
Lyadurai, L., Blackwell, S., Meiser-Stedman, R. et al. Preventing intrusive memories after trauma via a brief intervention involving Tetris computer game play in the emergency department: a proof-of-concept randomized controlled trial. Mol Psychiatry 23, 674–682 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2017.23
Stephen Porges, PhD. www.stephenporges.com
Pat Ogden, PhD. https://sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org/
Janina Fisher, PhD. https://janinafisher.com/
Peter Levine, PhD. https://traumahealing.org/
Mare Chapman, MA. https://www.marechapman.com/
Paul D. MacLean, MD. (Triune Brain)
Produced by Jessica Warpula Schultz & Jeanne Kolker
Edited by Jessica Warpula Schultz
Music by Jason A. Schultz
[00:00:00] Welcome to Insight Mind Body Talk, a body-based mental health podcast. We're your hosts, Jessica Warpula Schultz and Jeanne Kolker. Whether you've tried everything to feel better and something is still missing or you've already discovered the wisdom of the body. This podcast will encourage and support you in healing old wounds, strengthening relationships, and developing your inner potential all by accessing the mind body connection.
Please know while we're excited to share and grow together. This podcast is not intended to be a substitute for mental health treatment. It doesn't replace the one-on-one relationship you have with a qualified healthcare professional and is not considered psychotherapy.
Thanks Jess. And thank you for listening. Now, let's begin a conversation about what happens when we take an integrative approach to improving our wellbeing.
Welcome. Thanks for joining us on Insight Mind Body Talk. Today's episode is about trauma. What is trauma? Where did it come from? What does it feel like in your mind, in your body and what are some evidence-based body-centered practices you can consider using to address the effects of trauma? As always, we'll be sharing simple mind, body tools throughout the episode tools you can use in everyday life to feel better and more connected to yourself.
Jeanne, we're both trauma therapists. I used to use the phrase “trauma therapist” as a clarifier, as a way to let people know I was trained to work with trauma. But what I've come to realize is that every therapist, regardless of the situation is a trauma therapist. And I say this because we work with humans and if you're a human, you're more than likely to have experienced some type of trauma. It's widespread and universal.
Often when I meet someone new, they don't realize their thoughts or feelings or the [00:02:00] physical symptoms they're experiencing are related to trauma. And I believe it can be really healing to learn there are reasons for what we're experiencing and we can discover there are paths to feeling Homer more in control and more connected to ourself.
I'd like to take a moment to give a trigger warning. It's important to know that if you start to feel triggered by this information, please stop the podcast. And when you feel ready, if you feel ready, pick up where you left off. Also, if you find you identify with any of this information, remember help is out there. You can use this episode as a starting point for pursuing therapy or simply reaching out to someone you trust for support.
Thanks so much, Jess. Now let's begin by discussing what is trauma? I think, when I think about trauma, I think about the different types of trauma that people can experience. There is acute, which usually is a one-time event. For example, a car accident or a bad fall. There's chronic more than one traumatic event or a more continuous in nature. For example, right now we're all experiencing a form of a chronic trauma with the pandemic, right? There's the pandemic, then let's say someone loses their job or their job changes, maybe their home or their environment changes in some way, and it starts creating this cumulative effect. Correct. It's a wound. That's a wound. Exactly. So, Jeanne, how would you describe complex trauma? Trauma is this overwhelming event. It's the way that we respond to feeling out of control and complex trauma. We have to consider all of those “little t” traumas. I like to describe it as we have these “capital T” traumas, like you said, like a car accident military trauma surviving a battle, [00:04:00] this is a capital “T” event. But then we have a lot of these like little smaller “t” traumas that we experienced, from the moment we're born, truly just coming out of the birth canal, that's traumatic and complex trauma is that cumulative effect of perhaps, being neglected or, growing up in poverty, not knowing if our needs are going to be met. And it's a tough thing to, to peel back all of those layers, but it always goes back to that. Like you said, trauma, that it's Greek for wound. It's just this wound that never gets a chance to heal. Definitely. I agree.
As therapists, we help support our clients and figuring out what's happening, what's going on and how we can help them move towards healing and finding themselves again. And one of the ways we do that is using what's called the DSM, the diagnostic statistics manual. Mental health disorders are all listed in this book and then they're categorized by symptoms. When I talk about diagnosis with clients. I often say, research shows that this diagnosis, most people have these types of symptoms they're categorized in this way in a diagnosis. It just gives us a path, a little bit more of a structured path to helping figure out how we can treat what you're experiencing trauma. In the DSM there's two different types of trauma listed right now: Acute Stress Disorder (ASD), so that's more of an initial response to a stress. After an event usually lasts around a month and then there's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And I think a lot of people have heard about PTSD before. A lot of our body-centered work is influenced or comes from PTSD research. So, post traumatic stress disorder symptoms last longer than a month, and it can happen with an acute stress disorder, or even if you don't have that immediate stress afterwards. I think that's important to [00:06:00] know you may not feel anything at first and our bodies are not meant to be put into these little checklists, either every person manifest these things differently. There's some clusters of symptoms when we're looking at PTSD, avoidance flashbacks, numbing, intrusive thoughts. Hyper-vigilance.
And I don't know about you, but I've never seen the exact same presentation in a person with PTSD. No, it's so unique. The way that our systems process trauma or don't process trauma, we lose that connection to ourselves and it looks very different in every person, but really ultimately it is that disconnection with self. So the DSM is a, it's a great tool for us to have this guideline, but it's a blunt instrument. Like, we don't fit into those categories. And that's really so recent too. We've only had language for PTSD for 40 years. It started in 1980, we've been experiencing trauma for millions of years and it's, it is now we have this way of validating the experience that is human is universal. But again, it's not a perfect tool to use, but it is we have. I've come to the same conclusion over time.
I think it's important to note too, as we talking about how trauma is different for every person and how, the way our bodies evolve and our minds evolve from trauma and respond to trauma, there's different things to consider, community, social, cultural, historical traumas that also happen to people. There's trauma could be intergenerational. We're starting to see in research how, our genes change generation by generation due to the traumas that other people have experience. It's one of the ways it's really important right now to honor the traumas [00:08:00] experienced by people of color, because this is an intergenerational experience that's happened.
People have said to me, “Why I didn't even realize that I've experienced trauma before? Why is that? Why didn't I know before?” and I think, our definitions and understanding, it's so limited. What we know what happens with trauma. And also when it's an everyday experience, let's say when it's within our family system or community, we really don't see it when it's become part of our conditioning. And I think that's important to note because when we are experiencing symptoms of trauma, which we'll get into in a little bit, a lot of our coping strategies around trauma maybe come with narratives of shame or low self-esteem. Or we internalize, like, “Why didn't I know sooner, why didn't I stop something from happening? What could I have done differently?” When we don't even know what's happening to us, how can we do anything different? How can we be expected to act in any other way than that? We're just doing our best to cope.
And when you think about just the name post-traumatic, we are not post anything. We are all in this trauma together, especially right now, especially when you're talking about people of color and the oppressive society that we live in. And the pandemic, especially, we're not post anything. We have to think about we're all experiencing this trauma right now. And how do we then move forward? We have to heal in community. So, when we have this label of post-traumatic stress disorder it's incomplete. Yeah, I think so too. We're not talking about how we heal in community and that's where shame comes in because we think it's our fault. We tend to then wear that as this is something I didn't do something about my behavior. And that's where we then just perpetuate that disconnection with self. I agree. I agree.
You bring up a good point. How often it's not something our reactions to trauma aren't something that [00:10:00] we're choosing to have happen to us. As a sensorimotor psychotherapist, I discuss trauma in the way that the same experience can impact people differently. So, one person may be walks away from a car accident, feeling traumatized and one doesn't. And why does that happen? There's so many different factors that influence why we become traumatized from something. The context of the situation, who you are, what your previous life experiences have been, how you make meaning of the event. But when we specifically talk about sensorimotor psychotherapy, trauma happens when the situation's perceived as threatening to one safety and survival. And then we have these survival responses that are triggered, and we'll get into that in a few moments, but our brain goes into action. Our body goes into action. And those aren't things that we choose that happens, that sense of overwhelm happens regardless of whether we decide it should happen or not. Oh, exactly. Exactly. It's a response to an event. It's the way that we respond. And like you said, two people could experience the same overwhelming event and not have the same symptoms. It's the way that our systems respond to that. And you're right. It has everything to do with how we were seen and heard and held as a child. If we knew that our needs were going to be met, if we are wired to think that our bodies are safe and that the world around us is a safe place or not.
That's where, we get into that more complex trauma, developmental trauma. So, the body really here is the key though to helping us understand this. Yeah. Yeah. I was listening to Pat Ogden the other day and she said the body is the battleground was like, “Oh yeah, I agree”.
One of the key features of trauma, as you've said, as we've been talking about is overwhelmed. So let's delve a little deeper into how our brains get overwhelmed, how our brains even get hijacked by trauma. I often [00:12:00] start talking about the Triune Brain. When I think about how to explain what trauma is and how it influences our mind. I immediately go to this concept called the Triune Brain where we look at, if you will, our “thinky brain”, the part of our brain that's in charge of logic, reasoning, language. Then it shifts further back into the brain where it's our “feely brain”; that's emotions, attachment our mammalian brain, our limbic system. That's also where we get the fight, flight attachment, cry, befriend responses to a threat, to a trauma. And then our brain will even shift further back to the base, the reptilian brain, our brainstem, and that's really where we experienced freeze or shut down. So that's our “body brain”. That's our body brain. Oh, exactly. Yeah. Brain feely brain, body, brain. The front part that prefrontal cortex that really makes up our personality. And then we have that middle part that limbic comes from the word limbus, which is like a ring. So, it's like that ring in the center of the brain. And then we have the body brain, which is that, that, what babies have. The reactive part of us that kind of keeps us alive. And that's those three brains essentially, process this trauma in a cascade kind of what you're talking about.
Yeah. Yeah, I think it, in a way shows, if we go back to the animal kingdom, right? Cause we're all animals to here. The thinky brain is what makes us human, the front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. And that turns off in trauma. Anxiety or any sense of overwhelm, we wonder, why can't I use my strategies? I know I'm supposed to breathe deep. I know I'm supposed to walk away. Like, why am I not walking away during this argument? Our front of our brain has flipped it’s lid, it's turned off. Then it shifts into more that emotional brain, the feely brain, and that's where attachment is based. [00:14:00] That's our mammalian brain where we either flee or we fight. We have also, what's called attachment cry where people will seek support from someone. And then we even have a response in that area of our brain called befriending or finding where I'm sure a lot of people have experienced this as well. You almost are kind to the threat. Let's say you're getting gas at the gas pump and someone approaches you and you're viewing very scared about it. You're going to be friendly to them most likely so that the threat passes, right? So, we be-friend a threat. And then if those strategies don't work, our brain will shift and go into that brainstem, that body brain. And that's where we freeze or shut down. It really takes over. We wonder, why didn't I run away? Why did I just stay there? Your body was doing the best thing it could to protect you. It was that dangerous of a trauma or a threat. That was, it was a survival threat. We're just the brains. Just trying to survive. That's its job. It's to survive.
What do you know about the effects on the brain? Do you know anything about how trauma affects the actual brain matter and different things like that? I'm curious. Sure. We can't have a conversation about this without talking about the stress response system, the amygdala, the HPA axis, and this is where we're getting more into a little bit of that brain science.
And so if that's, bear with us, if that's not your thing. Yeah, so, there's the structures in the brain, the amygdala, these two little almond shaped little structures that are deep in that limbic brain and developmental trauma can highly sensitize those. They can actually like really shrink up and they are the smoke detectors. They're what sense threat. And when we've experienced trauma or lack of attachment or, all those, childhood things we're then just more wired to sense threat to sense danger. And so the amygdala, they're always sensing that danger and then they send their signal to part of that limbic brain to the [00:16:00] hypothalamus. Which then, if we think there's a real threat here, boy that sucker just kicks in and sends a message to the pituitary glands to release stress. Hormones goes down to the adrenals, the adrenal glands, that's where we are like cortisol, adrenaline, fight, fight. We then are mobilized to have all of this energy to fight or to flee. And it started in the brain, it started in that deep limbic area. And when we're highly sensitized, when we've experienced a lot of trauma, that signal doesn't get up to the prefrontal cortex. It just doesn't get there because it's a lot easier to just go into that stress response. So, in that way, our brains are changed by trauma, but they can be changed back. That's always the silver lining here is that our brains are there's neuroplasticity. We can change our brains. “Trauma is a life-changing experience, but it doesn't have to be a life sentence.” That's when Peter Levine's quotes. So that's why, when we talk about, therapies to treat trauma, we can't just change our amygdala by talking about it. We actually have to feel in order to heal. And so that's where that, that feely brain that you're talking about, that really comes in. I really appreciate that. You have to feel in order to heal. That's really important to note.
So let's shift a little bit. I was reading, I love Janina Fisher. She's another body centered therapist, and she said, “We now understand that traumas imprint is both psychological and somatic. (Right, so body-based) Long after the events are over the body continues to respond as if the danger were ever present”. And I think that's what you're talking about too, in the amygdala becomes very sensitized and Janina also speaks to that. Together mind, body start believing our symptoms are current threat, but [00:18:00] really they're just a record of an old experience that's being relived in the body those responses are triggered. We don't get to choose. It happens in milliseconds. It's not what I'd like to use my prefrontal cortex. I think, I feel like I'm going to fully, and then if fleet doesn't work, maybe I'll shift into attachment cry. And then if I have to, I will. That's not how trauma works. Oh no, not at all happens in these milliseconds.
People ask me a lot. Do you believe that trauma can be in the body? Yes. Trauma’s in the body. The way sensorimotor conceptualizes it is when those survival responses, if, when we try to flee or we try to fight, or we try for an attachment cry and something stops that pattern. If it doesn't get to come to fruition, per se, if you're not allowed to flee, if you're not allowed to fight that pattern of response can be stored in the body. And so, one of the ways we help is that we look at what's happening and maybe being re-lived in the body, this flee response what, if someone consistently fleas, they quit jobs or they leave relationships, or they, have a difficulty, being in the room even for whatever reason. So we look at that flee response and then we try to help them complete that action. It's called an act of triumph. And they're really wonderful moments because it's in a way allowing the body to process out what it never got to finish. And that's one of the ways I know of to really help that trauma be released from the body.
That's really powerful. Yeah, it can be. For example, give an example of myself a simple one. I was about five years old. One of my strongest, first memories is that I was running with my cousins and my we're running on this old country road. That's like half gravel, half cement, I don't know if anyone knows those kind of roads, you know [00:20:00] what I'm talking about? We're running. And we were excited to get somewhere like to a bridge or something like that to look over. And my mom and my aunts were behind me and I had an aunt and she was young, very athletic, and she was literally like, we were little, like five, four, jumping over us as like jumping around us, jumping over us. We were playing this game and I stopped and turned around. She later told me, cause I don't know what I did. And she smashed into me and I just went into the pavement and I had a scar going all the way up my face. As an adult and as a teen and kid, I never liked to run fast. I didn't like ice skating. I didn't like any activity, even in gym class when you're running lines or something like that. It's scary for me. And I didn't understand why. And as I aged, I realized, “Oh, it's probably, maybe it's from that fall!” Fast forward, into sensorimotor training, and I chose that experience as one of the activities to process as we were learning how to do this work. And I remember practicing allowing my body to duck and roll, because what happened is just didn't get the chance to fully like complete the action at the time. So I would imagine the fall as much as I could, and then I would practice, with support, rolling my body through that motion enough times that it felt like it left my system. And I'm in a place in my life where I, for the first time learned how to ski this winter, going very fast. Those are things I couldn't have done before.
There's a lot there, when we really start looking into what the body's holding and maybe release from the system, that it really just leads to feeling connected because I feel so proud.And that's a wonderful discharge of energy. Like when you were a little kid, you had all of this survival-based energy kind of trapped in your body from that fall, your system was trying to protect you. And so of course, what does it do? It like floods you with stress hormones, and then it depends on how you were [00:22:00] treated after that experience too. That's a big part of it because, we need to discharge that energy in some way. Like it took you years to complete the action to heal that. And that was, nobody would have considered that back in the eighties. Oh no. My family rushed me back to the farm, took care of my face, and gave me hugs. Like I remember that part as well, but it's still just sat in there. It did. And it created this rush, this fear. Rush of adrenaline. My heart would start racing. I couldn't even consider trying to do something like learn how to ski. It just, I would even get to the mountain with friends and I'd be like no, I can't do it. Yeah. And that was an emotional reaction to that. So there was like fear, maybe even a little bit of panic, just like a visceral experience of avoidance, of not wanting to participate in something that could potentially hurt you. Yeah.
Oh, what a wonderful thing to have healed? I'm so happy with it. Yeah. It speaks to the work that you've done. When we're not even aware of that, you went through this experience so that you could help other people heal. You went through that but like you didn't like to show up to a therapist and be like, one time when I was four, I fell. Yeah. You explored different patterns of defense in your body. And you did that a certain way. And that's, if you've experienced or if some, if a system has experienced things like that over and over, and it's not released, it's not treated. Then we are living with pain and suffering, but we don't really understand why.
Then we experienced anxiety, depression, addiction, what is an addiction? It's a turning away from pain, turning towards something that makes us feel better. It's what we would term as a mental illness, and that's often. Trauma stuck in the body. It's the body's way of trying to make sense and [00:24:00] discharge, whatever happened in order to be connected, to self and to go out and be able to take risks like, skiing and playing and just being, fully engaged in the human experience. So that's a great story. Thanks so much for sharing that, Jess. Thank you.
Let's talk a little bit about the Polyvagal Theory in regards to, we're talking about, the mind, the brain protecting a little bit about how the body stores different traumas. I, we can't leave out though the nervous system, right? So even though we, I say this every time, if – IF - anyone's following and listening to more than one episode, you'll see a pattern of the polyvagal theory shows up a lot. And our nervous system shows up a lot on this podcast. But let's talk just a little bit about threats and the response, survival, really the polyvagal theory focuses on the autonomic nervous system. Which is the brain, the vagus nerve, all of our organs and how we survive. As simple as it can be, our nervous systems in charge of, always deciding how are we going to survive. And it's going to choose, do we survive through connection or through protection; connection, protection. Yeah. That's nice. That's a great way to think about it.
We, if we pull back and just really think about, we talked about the brain, okay. So, we've got the brain and the spinal cord. So that's our central nervous system. We used to just think that, we had the two different stress responses, we would have this kind of activation this, the sympathetic activation of our nervous system that comes off that spinal cord, the central nervous system fight or flight. Then we would think about the parasympathetic that comes off of that, central nervous system as our rest and digest. And, we used to think that that was it. Are we in fight or flight or are we in rest and digest? And that comes from that, that central nervous system, like you're saying, it's, I always like to think about it. It's [00:26:00] it's nervous, it is lots of nerves, it’s where we can really experience that sense of anxiety when it comes to our survival, we used to think about it. And in pretty simple terms, sympathetic or parasympathetic -- I saw this YouTube once this talk, this guy talking about polyvagal, and he said, it's, we used to think of it as Bruce Banner or the Hulk. That was it. Oh, I love that. That is so great because I loved the incredible Hulk in the eighties and it was always made me so sad to watch. I think it was David Banner. Oh, is it David Banner? Yeah. Bruce Banner? You're right. People, correct me there. Bruce is Batman. You're combining. Batman and the incredible Hulk. All of those Marvel fans and DC fans out there. Yeah. So David Banner walking, do you remember the end of every episode? He was walking sadly, looking older, terrible, almost slumped down, and his head you can almost tell like looking at the ground, his posture is different. The trauma of being the incredible Hulk, but that's a whole other episode. Yeah. Tune in that convenient or candy bag, like the go to the website and listen. I could do a whole episode on the Karate Kid and Cobra Kai too. So just let me know. Oh my gosh. “My Jason” would love that episode. We're big fans of Cobra Kai.
Literally don't get me started. I will go on and on about how polyvagal theory is crucial in that. Anyway. Okay. So back to the polyvagal theory though. So David banner, we used to think about it as it was only rest and digest parasympathetic and then sympathetic activation. Flight fight, and freeze is all we really knew about the nervous [00:28:00] system's response to threat or trauma. Yes. And it's evolved, as with everything, we're evolving and understanding of this physiology. It's truly the final frontier, the brain, the way that we're just continuing to discover new things. And when it comes to polyvagal theory, that's really not that old, it's started Stephen Porges started talking about this kind of new way of looking at our nervous system in the nineties.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You talked about the triune brain while we have this triune nervous system that we're now understanding so much better now, thanks to Stephen Porges. And the polyvagal theory has to do with that 10th cranial nerve. It's the vagus nerve. It's Latin for wander. It's the vagabond at wanders through our bodies. And, we think it sorta originates in the brain, the 10th cranial nerve and it enervates the, our whole system essentially.
We now know that there are three pathways to this nerve and the oldest, the one that's been with us the longest, it, it starts in the brainstem, but it goes all the way down through the whole body and really has to do with our digestion or reproduction. And it is what we share with jellyfish.
Essentially. It's like this passive defense system and it's part of that response as part of our parasympathetic nervous system. It's where we would think about that kind of rest digest, but also freeze response. And the newer pathway, the newer part of the vagus nerve, runs more along the spine and acts on our respiration, our, mobilizes our limbs.
So that's where we're getting more and more into this fight or flight, it, move us out of danger. We'll use our legs to run. We'll use our arms to fight. For example, that's a common one that I see in people's body patterns, right?
When they come in and there's [00:30:00] this tension in their system, it's often an incomplete flee because their body has prepared or in complete fight response, their body's prepared and continually holds, or like you said, the amygdala that's really sensitive. If it's reading threat, when there really isn't a threat, the body's continually preparing for something and we wonder, why is there tension?
Why am I so tense? Oh yeah. And that's where body-based therapy really explores those patterns of defense. We can't just talk about them. We have to actually feel them and re reshape them. And the most recent development in this vagus nerve the newer branch has a myelin sheath around it. So it's more evolved. It's more protected. It's more like a, an electrical wire that, that wires us for connection. And it moves from the base of the skull to the throat, to the heart and to the face. This new kind of parasympathetic nervous system. That's more about tending and befriending and connection.
So now we have this understanding of these three different responses. Essentially, nothing is discreet in this. Nothing is black and white. Here's a hard line I can draw between this system, they all need to play together. Just like the triune brain. We don't just use our prefrontal cortex and not have our brainstem still having us breathe.
We need, they're all working in concert at once the same thing with our nervous systems, but we have these responses and we can get stuck in one of those. We can get stuck in that submit that freeze, that oldest response, we can get stuck in fight or flight, and really never make it to that tendon befriend, that sense of connection with others and with self.
And so that's a really simplified way to discuss this. Like I said, this is, this is a 400-page book. This is a two hour [00:32:00] lecture. There's so much we can talk about with it, definitely. But when it comes to addressing our traumas, we have to have some sort of felt sense. Of these systems in order to heal. That's just, it that's just it. Exactly.
So now that we have a better understanding of the mind and body's response to trauma, let's talk about some of the most common body-centered modality. Someone can maybe pursue for trauma healing. I immediately go to thinking about things like mindfulness, Tai-Chi, dance. I've mentioned it before in a different podcast, my experience with weightlifting, the mindfulness and the carrying the weight on the body. What do you think Jeanne, what's some of the modalities you recommend for people? I'm a yoga therapist, so I really believe in the power of yoga. And it literally means union. It's a union of mind and body,
Lastly, I know we want to leave our listeners with some tangible strategies. They can immediately begin at home. I always began with self-compassion. We talked a lot today about how our body responds to things. Our brain responds to things it's not a purposeful choice. It's actually our system working so hard to take care of us and protect us. And when we begin to observe those responses in a new way, we can have more compassion for ourselves. It's not something we did wrong and it gives us the ability to separate, observe, and then engage with those responses still playing out in our life today, versus them consuming us.
When you believe it's about you, it's very hard to separate yourself from it and work on it. And that's where we can see this phenomenon of post-traumatic growth. We grow through our traumas. We can really see the [00:34:00] gift that we've been given take it and embody it and live in a way that's just much more connected.
I think self-compassion is the key as well. Jess, I think you said it. Another aspect of compassion. I was at a workshop with Mare Chapman, she's a local meditation teacher and psychotherapists. We love Mare here. She talked about the differences of compassion versus empathy. How, we live in a society that really wants people to practice empathy, putting themselves in someone else's shoes. And I know a lot of empathetic people and a lot of people who actually at a certain point start feeling burnt out. And I think if we can, Mare says, if we can switch to compassion. Use empathy so we can understand someone's point of view and then switch to compassion…let's say, for example, you're on a hike with a friend. They fall, they break their leg. Would you break your leg so that you completely understand what they're going through? That's empathy. And then you're both stuck. Or do you have compassion for that person? You know what it must feel like, you support them. You get them to the car, you drive them to the hospital. I like how compassion in a way offers us again, that mindful separation, where we can care, but stay present within ourselves. And side note, it lights up pleasure centers in our brain. Empathy lights up pain centers and compassion lights up at pleasure centers.
Wow. That's fascinating.
We want to care about each other. We are rewarded by our survival system to care about each other. So, compassion for ourselves. Compassion for others. I just think that's a a helpful place to start when we're thinking about how to work through that post-traumatic growth. And I think the key word there too is work. It's work it's daily. It's looking at ourselves, looking at our patterns, maybe [00:36:00] trusting a therapist to be on this journey to hold the flashlight for us. As we pick our way along this healing path, it is work. Self-compassion is something we have to practice daily…minute-ly…second-ly!
No, I totally agree though. That's exactly it. That's exactly it.
So something else, something more, maybe more, a little more tangible. Maybe the long breath out. We've talked about that before the longer we breathe out, the more sensors in our lungs tell through that vagus nerve, they tell our brain, that survival system, “Hey, we're safe”. Even if you don't necessarily feel safe when we take those long breaths out, we just start helping inform the brain and giving a new message. You can also speak with smiles because who does that under threat?Eye contact, even with strangers--if you feel safe to do that. You talked about, Jeanne, the newest version of our survival system and the polyvagal theory that social engagement system, even eye contact with people can shift our nervous system state into feeling more safe and regulated.
I'm also a big fan of suggesting mid-frequency music. What is that? Google it. But for example, could be some people don't want to hear this, a lot of Disney music because mid-frequency, that's why it makes us feel so happy makes us feel so happy because just thinking about human development is that there are parts of our ear that developed along with the social engagement system. As we evolved, our jaw broke off from our skull and a new part of our ear formed it's the middle ear and that turns off under threat. When we feel threatened, we really only hear really high pitch sound or low because that's survival. So, when we listened to that mid frequency [00:38:00] music, or bineural beats, different things like that, we can actually start to engage that middle ear, which is another way of letting the body know, “Hey, listen, we're safe. We're good here”.
Any last strategies you would suggest? I think, we have to get in our bodies, we have to be in our bodies. And for those who have suffered trauma, it's definitely an out of body experience. Because the body isn't a safe space. So, like you're saying, eye contact being safe with people, we have to feel safe in our bodies really in order to be able to do that. So, whatever that means, I really enjoy sensory things to help people stay grounded. I love to use just like an essential oil or a touchstone, like a, rock crystals, any, anything that we can just have to tell our senses that we're saved, that we're grounded, that we can feel our feet on the floor or our seat, supported, however it's supported just to get into the body.
All right, Jess. That's it for today. I know that we could say a lot more about this topic and we will continue this conversation on the Insight Mind Body Talk podcast. We hope this has been helpful in expanding your understanding of trauma the way it influences not only our thoughts and feelings but our bodies and our present moment experiences. It's only when our system feels safe that we're able to tap into the entirety of our ability to heal.
Next on Insight Mind Body Talk, Jess and I are excited to introduce you to the world of mindfulness. It's a topic we're passionate about, and we can't wait to discuss how both informal and formal practices can have a profound effect on your mind and body.
Thank you again for joining us on Insight Mind Body Talk, a body-centered mental health podcast. We hope today's episode was empowering and supported you in strengthening your mind-body connection We're your [00:40:00] hosts Jeanne, and Jess. Please join us again next week as we continue to explore integrative approaches to wellbeing. Until then, take care.