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S2 E51 TRNSCPT Grief, Shame and Your Nervous System

Jennifer: Welcome back, ya’ll, thank you for joining Elisabeth, Matt and I for the continued conversations of the Dangers of Emotional Repression, Healthy Expression and your Nervous System. If you haven’t had the opportunity, please go back and listen to that conversation. You don’t have to hear it first before you listen to this one, but it’s got some beautiful insights and science behind the dangers of emotional repression, the consequences it can have on your nervous system and in your overall health. As Matt said before, “They are going to come out somehow.” So we’ll carry on with that today. There was a focus in the first conversation on Anger and today we’ll explore Shame and Grief a little bit more deeply, how Joy can feel in a nervous system that’s not used to that internal felt experience and what is possible for healthy expression. We appreciate you and your time so much. Enjoy the conversation.

[00:00:00] Elisabeth: There are so many studies that link our physical health and our disease state with our ability to express and regulate our emotions as well as our nervous system.

[00:00:12] Elisabeth: But also I think it’s important to understand- we know that we wanna start feeling our emotions. We know that we want to be able to process our emotions and be less emotionally reactive. And we have begun on that journey. And yet at the same time that itself can lead to some negative outputs of a body and a nervous system that don’t feel safe with that.

[00:00:36] And that’s why it’s so important when we talk about somatic practices, where we have these big emotional expressions and while that’s really necessary for our health, it can also be problematic because one, our body hasn’t learned yet that it’s safe to express and then we do in this big way.

[00:00:58] And it can be followed by protective outputs like pain or migraine or inflammation, immune response. And so we really need tools to help our body and our nervous system feel safe with that emotional expression. And then also too, when people have these big emotional expressions, they’re also going back into the same environment, right?

[00:01:16] Where they maybe don’t have the support, they don’t have a community that’s supporting them. They don’t have relationships that provide co-regulation and they haven’t set up a life where emotional expression is safe and possible in their world, in their environment. And so we’re trying to take these big emotional experiences and bring them back into our daily existence.

[00:01:35] And that can be tough cuz in many ways we’re still moving through the world as that child, as the child that didn’t have the emotional support that they needed. And then you’re trying to integrate all of this and so that can lead to experiencing the same outcomes that you experienced as a child can lead to emotional flashbacks or physical outputs.

[00:01:55] And so I think it’s just important to really look at how can we express these emotions? How can we look at the consequences of not expressing them, but then also how do we start to make that expression safe in the nervous system and the body and practice dosing that expression appropriately?

[00:02:27] Jennifer: Matt, do you have an example of this with a client in training someone and working with the nervous system and why it is also important for neuro trainers to be so trauma informed? 

[00:02:43] Matt: Yeah, certainly. So two examples come to mind of this kind of oppressed repressed emotion kind of coming to the surface at an unexpected time. Both of them actually happened in classes that I was teaching where someone was participating as a student in the class. In the first example we were doing vision training exercises.

[00:03:10] What I thought at the time was a relatively simple exercise. Turns out that it’s not, I learned quite a bit later about how connected it can be to the areas of the brain that regulate that trauma response. But we started doing the drill and basically we’re switching our eyes between two targets left and right, left and right back and forth.

[00:03:36] And the person that we were observing here as the client- there were some compensations, like they were moving their eyes in a different way than the instructions. And initially the person who was working with them as their coach just kind of said, Hey, make sure you try to clean this up and so on the second attempt the client made it through maybe four or five switches from left to right, and then he paused for a second and looking at his face, like his face had gone totally red.

[00:04:08] The anger was bubbling up, you could see it in his posture, in his facial expression. And he got really mad. He is like, you gotta get outta my face, or I’m about to punch you. And he is like, I’m effing outta here. And he left and he literally walked out of the building. And like, you know, chasing him down and kind of going, what is happening?

[00:04:32] He’s like, I don’t care. I’m leaving. I’m going home. I don’t wanna do this anymore. You know, there was enough self-control to not get physically violent with the other people in the class, but after he calmed down a little, he’s like, I don’t know where that came from. I don’t know why I got reactivated.

[00:04:52] I didn’t know I had that much anger inside of me, I don’t know anything about how this happened. And he’s like, I don’t know what’s going on, but it doesn’t feel safe to stay. He’s like, I gotta leave. So that’s an example of repressed anger that comes up and we’re doing neuro training exercises in that case.

[00:05:15] In another example, we’re working on balance and teaching the whole class how to do a balance exercise. And I just happen to be looking around the room, kind of watching people practice and I look over and there’s a woman well into her adult years, like middle-aged woman, sitting over in the corner curled up like a little child crying.

[00:05:43] And I’m like, that’s a little odd. So I go over and check on her like, are you okay? Is everything all right? Anything I can help with?

[00:05:55] And it was one of those like Elisabeth, you just described this, one of those emotional flashbacks of a repressed trauma that she actually used words as she was talking to me.

[00:06:09] She actually used words like, I feel like a child again. I feel like I’m, you know, seven years old watching this happen or being in this environment. And she’s like, I don’t know what triggered it about working on my balance, actually watching other people work on their balance.

[00:06:28] She never did the drill. She’s just watching other people do this, has brought on these tears and this emotion. And she’s like, I can’t watch them do it. I certainly can’t do it myself. She’s like, no way I can participate. I’m out. But that completely takes you back to something that you may or may not remember.

[00:06:56] It doesn’t have to be anger.  It could be grief, it could be fear, all kinds of other emotions that we’re gonna get into. But of those two examples, I think it is important not just for neuro trainers to be trauma-informed, but anyone who’s working with the human body, like I think anyone who’s

[00:07:13] working in physical therapy, massage therapy, therapy, any kind of hands-on techniques- personal trainers, even to some degree. I think everyone who works with the human body and nervous system together needs some type of trauma informed education. Because what we know about how the brain stores memories is it always puts together the physical posture or movement along with the emotional and cognitive pieces of the memory. And so what will sometimes happen, and this is the case in both of those two examples, is we reactivate the physical piece and then the emotional and cognitive come right back to the surface along with it. So as a trainer or a therapist, if you’re having, sometimes those emotional activations happen and you don’t know why, or you don’t know what to do with them, some more education such as NSI would be a really good idea.

[00:08:22] Jennifer: I find that really fascinating. I think in the, in the first example that you gave, cuz I remember Elisabeth being in a training and doing vision training and like basically running out and disrupting her whole life and changing it. So at first I thought there was gonna be a correlation between vision trainings.

[00:08:40] Specifically the posture, the physical pieces, and then the emotional and cognitive pieces coming to the surface. I really thought it had something to do with vision, but it can happen when you are intentionally training any parts of the system.

[00:08:58] Matt: Certainly, yeah. I’ve seen it happen with vision, balance, massage therapy, movement, even in a strength training environment. When someone activates an area of their body they haven’t really worked with a lot before and it will trigger something from the past and boom. 

[00:09:14] Jennifer: With those two people, were you able to bring them back into a calm state, into a regulated state, or what was the outcome?

[00:09:27] Matt: In the first case it took a while, so really, I would say no, he had to go away, calm down, reregulate. So he was out of class for the afternoon, but then did pick back up the next morning.. In the second case we were closer to the end of the day. And so what I suggested is that once class was done that we start to do some work together. And that is one of the most beautiful and also magical one-on-one sessions that I’ve ever done with someone. We were able to figure out not only how to reregulate, but actually how to flip that same trigger and turn it into something that created this really astounding improvement in her nervous system function within a single session. So it’s actually one of my favorite training stories of all the client work that I’ve ever done. That one always stands out in my mind.

[00:10:38] Jennifer: In part one, we talked about structure and having a little bit of structure around emotional practices and it was really talking about anger in the first part. I think all of the emotional work that I’ve really done for those  “deeper, harder” emotions to access, like anger, rage, grief, they’ve all really started with structure for me. And I was thinking about grief. In the beginning grief was scary to access just like anger and rage. Sometimes not really knowing what am I sad for? What am I grieving for? Like what is in there? And so I would set a timer for one minute.

[00:11:37] Every morning after I meditated and prayed, I would set a timer for one minute and I would just grieve-  whatever that meant. Sometimes it actually meant tears, sometimes it was just thoughts of apologies and visualizing all the times I was so upset with myself and how poorly I had treated myself in the self abandonment or in the negative thought loops and in those spirals.

[00:12:06] And then as time opens up and that grief practice becomes more easy and more accessible, and the understanding of how I can process these emotions, and of course using the tools of regulation before and after teaching me by teaching my body that it is safe to have these emotions. Now my grief practice, well now it’s on the other end of the spectrum than setting a timer. Because now if there’s a storm rolling through  town, I am,  boom, outside. And I know and feel very comfortable that leaning into nature has been such a great teacher for me. And I will go outside and it doesn’t always start with grief, but nature is great co-regulation. Like you don’t always need a person to co-regulate you. Nature will do that with you as well. There’s so much healing power in nature. And so every time it storms, I go out and I dance. I celebrate the rain. I’m barefoot. I’m usually not wearing clothes.

[00:13:16] I dance, I celebrate. If it’s thundering, I rage and scream. I move my body. And then eventually I allow the release of the tears to just come. It’s like it’s a purging ceremony that goes along with the earth’s tears as well, right? Like she’s being cleansed, I’m being cleansed, I’m releasing, she’s releasing. And then I get to give all of that back to her. There’s a reel on my <Instagram> page, just a short clip of the grief that I recorded, and I really had thought, I just wanted to record it so that I could show people all the different ways that you can express emotion, like raging with the storm and screaming with her.

[00:14:02] And it went viral, over 1 million people had watched it, which was scary and blew my mind at the same time. But it also really made me realize, there was an overwhelming amount of support that came through too, but people were thanking me for showing them what this could look like because it wasn’t so scary to try and access that grief.

[00:14:30] And so it was an interesting response and something that came full circle for me. Actually, just last week I was driving and listening to one of my favorite songs. I’ve been listening to it for probably about 25 years. It’s number 41 by Dave Matthews. There’s a line that says, “why don’t you run out into the rain and pray and let tears splash all over you?”

[00:14:55] And I thought, oh my God, I am doing that. I am going outside to pray and let this just completely take me over. And when I’m done and come out of that rain, it feels so good. I feel so cleansed. I feel so grounded and I feel really supported by nature. And it’s been an interesting structure to move.

[00:15:25] Elisabeth: Yeah. I think watching the response, first of all, I love your practices. They really inspire me and we’ve done so much grief work together and moving through those practices with another human being and getting to learn from witnessing each other is really, really powerful. I’m just super grateful for it.

[00:15:45] And then watching the response to your grief reel, it made me realize like, ah, yeah, people do really want to see, they wanna want to connect emotionally,  like we all do. We all have this deep desire to express and to experience these emotions as human beings. And also it is scary, just like you said.

[00:16:06] I think if you look back, if you study any child development stuff or, um, you know, the neuropsych of development, people look at tears and grief as a way that children express that they need something, right? That they need support, that they need protection, that they need co-regulation.

[00:16:29] And so we have this physical way to express our need for care and love and attachment that cues our caregivers and keeps us bonded. And many times in our development we can learn physical expression of the emotion of grief will not get met with the care that we need for co-regulation.

[00:16:57] And like we talked about in the last episode, we can actually lead to being ostracized when we’re supposed to be receiving care and co-regulation in that moment. It can lead to being punished. And so we learn to repress that grief. And also maybe the emotion is so big, the loss is so big, it feels really scary for a small developing nervous system to try to express.

[00:17:21] I see a lot in my clients, and have experienced in myself, that as we repress or suppress our grief there’s also this wall that gets built up because it’s that repression of this particular expression of emotion limits my ability to connect deeply to another human being. And so there is this barrier between myself or between the client that really has a lot of, of grief that they’re holding onto and pushing down and their ability to find the relationships that they need to really have a healthy nervous system in terms of co-regulation with other human beings and the social support in emotional processing that we need for healthy emotional support.

[00:18:15] And it’s interesting as people begin on that grief practice, like you were talking about, Jennifer, that one minute of grief in the morning and then letting that expand, I have seen so many people, their relationships completely transform their ability to be intimate with other people, to ask for support, to connect, and then to find a real tangible result in their health as they start to have the social connection and community that they need for a healthy nervous system and for support in their life.

[00:18:55] Matt: So thinking a little bit about that grief and, and how it affects the nervous system, if we can go there real quick. Last time we talked about how anger can, one definition we can understand, is kind of this dissonance between our expectation and then what becomes perceived as reality when our world doesn’t match up to what we expected.

[00:19:19] Anger is that dissonance, right? And that emotional, it’s protective, it’s signaling, it’s communicative, right? I think grief actually has a similar neurobiological definition, right? This one’s not in the textbooks. Just thinking of it from a neuro perspective is that grief is the internal sensation of that loss.

[00:19:43] And, and to go to an example that might help flesh this out a little bit, it’s a little bit like when someone experiences phantom limb pain. And the science behind phantom limb pain is that each of us has a map of our body, of our physical body that lives in our brain. And there’s both a sensory map and a motor map for how we move through the world.

[00:20:06] And when we’re in an accident or a surgical amputation and we lose a limb or part of a limb, what happens is that now that the physical limb is lost, that map of the brain no longer receives input signals from that area of the body.  What it’s used to is every moment of every day for our entire life, up to that point, it’s been getting continuous incoming signals from that body part or body area.

[00:20:34] And now those signals are gone. and that brain map in as much as it’s used to help with the prediction of figuring out where am I in space? What’s gonna happen next? Is it safe or not safe? How much energy is it gonna consume? Answering all of those questions relies on having good input from all body areas.

[00:20:57] So now that the brain is not getting any input from that body area, it really starts to perceive a great amount of threat because it’s like, Hey I’m missing out on my signals, like for my hand or for my foot. Where is it? I can’t feel it. What’s going on? And the response to that is pain. We’re itching typically, which you kind of think about if we still had that limb.

[00:21:24] If your hand hurts or your foot itches, what do you tend to do? You move it, you scratch it, you rub it, you hold it, you run it under cold water. Depending on whatever the signal is. But you do something and in taking action, it creates or generates the signals that your brain is looking for.

[00:21:46] But in phantom limb, when the limb is missing, your brain is going, Hey, give me some signals. It’s causing the experience of pain to be felt, and there’s no way to move it, rub it, touch it. You can’t scratch the itch. I think grief is similar because from an area of our life that we were very emotionally tied to the generator of input- being a loved one, a pet, a person- has now been removed from the picture, and we’re no longer on a cognitive, neuro or emotional level.

[00:22:22] We’re no longer able to receive inputs in the ways that we’re used to receiving them. From that direction, there’s now a deafening silence. And so our brain has to go through a remapping process and a healing process to heal the emotional hole or gap that is left from that person leaving.

[00:22:48] And so grief is the inner struggle, the anguish, the sense of loss. And then what happens is that it can turn into a whole bunch of different physiological manifestations, right? It can cause, on the psychological side, anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, anger, bitterness, but then it can transition into the physiological side too, like loss of appetite, aches and pains, increased inflammation, headaches, digestive problems.

[00:23:23] It can even lower our immunity. So we’re more likely to get sick. We’re more susceptible to illness. So, it’s kind of the idea that like the brain is suffering or struggling because of a great loss,  it doesn’t know how to fill the gap and receive the normal inputs. And so there is a sometimes extended healing period that has to take place so that our nervous system and our emotional self can start to feel and be perceived as whole and safe again.

[00:23:59] Right, because going back to the example of phantom limb pain, the best way to deal with phantom limb pain is not to put on a prosthetic or make the brain start to believe that the limb is still there. And there are some therapies that do that. They try to trick the brain into believing that it’s still there.

[00:24:18] The fastest way to heal it in the long term is to actually create signals from the part of the body that does still remain. so that the map that lives in the brain can be reformed and made whole and made accurate again, according to what is actually there. And that the filling of the gap, or healing the gap, or healing the loss is kind of a similar process where it’s gonna take some time for our nervous system to become whole again after that person or that loved one or whatever it is, has been taken out of the picture. But along the way, like I said, we’re gonna have emotional responses, but we’re also gonna have physiological responses because our nervous system, without that input, without that person or that thing feels on hold, it feels broken and it feels unsafe.

[00:25:15] Elisabeth: Yeah, I see so many examples of that with clients. And before I touch on that, I think what you were talking about- whenever there’s loss, there’s a, there’s grief, right? And I think an important thing that Jennifer and I should mention about our grief practice is that the way that we learned to connect to our grief was to think about a moment in which we lost something. And we started with really small things like whenever there’s a choice, there’s a little bit of loss. So there’s like, there’s loss for the thing that you didn’t decide. So like, even if it’s like, I went out to dinner last night and I didn’t get the chocolate cake, I got the vanilla ice cream instead.

[00:25:56] And starting in this really minimum effective dose way, I lost the version of my life that would’ve had the chocolate cake. Or I made some decision that created a loss in my life. I let myself think about that loss, and then I tap into where do I feel that in my body? I put my hand on that space and I breathe into it for a minute, for 30 seconds to begin to practice linking loss to grief and allowing that to express through the body.

[00:26:23] And then like what you were talking about, Matt, sometimes these losses are so big that they leave these holes in our identity, in our nervous system. in our whole perception of the world that leaves us feeling really unsafe. I have a lot of clients that come in with chronic pain, and we do a lot on the neuro side, but a lot of that has to be coupled with emotional expression and practicing that grief practice in order to start new. It’s like there’s a plateau if we don’t also go there and start to move that grief through and let the nervous system be safe in processing it, and then, then we can rehab it.

[00:27:10] I’m thinking of one client in particular, his father died when he was 24. His mother died when he was 25. His sister died when he was 26. And so it was like bing, bing, bing. Huge loss. Entire family gone and like if you ask him about it “I don’t feel sad, I don’t feel that bad about it, I don’t think about it often” and has chronic pain through his whole body, low back pain, tendonitis, tmj, plantar fasciitis, all of these manifestations of pain.

[00:27:45] And only through starting to move that emotion through is a huge component of healing that even though those are like biomechanical issues and that physical pain is so much an expression of that emotional pain. And then I also think we can get stuck focusing on that pain and in a loop of always checking on the pain and looking at where it’s at because that pain can also be a distraction from feeling the emotion. Our brain can feel so scared of processing that big grief that like, ‘Hey, if I keep you distracted with this over here and this over here, then that doesn’t have to come through.’

[00:28:22] Matt: Yeah, for sure. I think one of the things you said is really important. We have to find and feel the raw edges of the grief or of the loss in order to allow it to heal. If we’re avoiding it, distracting ourselves, worried about something else like doubling down on work or fitness or other relationships, and we’re trying to ignore those raw edges, they’re not gonna heal.

[00:28:50] That’s when they’re going to fester, right? And they’re gonna still be there 5, 10, 15 years down the road when we think everything is fine, because we’ve distracted ourselves in order to kind of suppress them.

[00:29:06] Eventually that distraction, if that’s where we’re focused, eventually that turns more into like a repression. It’s gonna last much longer, but they’re gonna come back up at some point. And so the whole idea of the grief practice, I love your example of the chocolate cake- it’s that raw, rough edge. That’s not really painful. But to be able to acknowledge it and practice there, I think is so valuable to go, oh, okay, this is what the process looks like.

[00:29:36] And to recognize every time there’s an opportunity cost, there’s an opportunity as well for us to grieve. There’s a chance to go, oh, I can practice this really, really powerful part of that. 

[00:29:48] Jennifer: Listening to y’all talk about those raw edges and these unresolved emotions also makes me think of shame. Honestly, because you just hold it all in. You don’t understand it. It is unhealed, and it’s just like, there’s something wrong with me.

[00:30:11] Why am I feeling so sad? Why am I feeling so angry? Like there must be something wrong and toxic. Sh we know shame is \normal for all human nervous systems to experience. Those of us with complex trauma have toxic shame. It’s much more pervasive throughout the world that we experience. And I didn’t, I didn’t realize it until I did how much I had been living with it and that it was its own well worn path for me to feel shame and how easily that shame could be triggered as I was just kind of moving in and through my life.

[00:30:51] Like it’s not just my body or my hair or my eyes or whatever it is, like physical and that well worn path was getting really easily triggered as an adult. And you know, in the first conversation I talked a lot about freeze being one of my go-to responses. Also bringing on shame cause now I’m immobilized.

[00:31:14] I can’t even do the things that I’m supposed to do. So I mentioned freeze being one of my go-to F’s, but I would really have liked to have included shame to be a driver, to move me into one of those states. Like maybe shame is the driver that moved me into freeze. And I felt deep feelings of shame when I got taken in Turkey, it felt shameful. And then when I was deep in those trauma responses and alcohol abuse continued. And then it was like P T S D on top of cP T S D, how could I have gone and gotten myself kidnapped? It was like so much. And then five years later when it came to tell people, my family, my friends, now I have breast cancer.

[00:32:09] Seriously, I wanted to crawl into a pit of despair and shame. I really thought “this is, I will lose them now over this because now I am too much. I’ve, they’ve already been through the sex trafficking”. How are they going to stay with me now, now that I’m actually sick, I will lose my tribe. Now that’s not at all what happened.

[00:32:32] I was incredibly supported and loved and nurtured and healed, but I didn’t have these tools at the time when I was going through these big diagnoses, but back to the grief, that was huge for me to release all of that grief and all of that shame from those experiences, from those stories. And not understanding those are two stories where I can say I had shame, but the shame that was living in my body was just like the silent from life from my early experiences.

[00:33:24] Matt: There is a connection between shame and freeze. So whether that was intuitively or through further research that you’ve done, you’re correct, like shame actually creates this sense of time dilation for the person who’s experiencing it. Where the negative perceptions, especially in toxic shame, the negative perceptions of self

[00:33:48] and those feelings of wanting to avoid and hide, all of those negative perspectives are amplified or magnified so that they look even greater than they really are. And I think there’s a protective sense of why that happens, but neurologically the shame can create freeze and vice versa. Freeze can create shame. So those are closely linked to one another. Neurologically speaking.

[00:34:23] Elisabeth: Yeah. You know, Jen, I will never forget, there was a day you and I were doing a recording of your story and we were interviewing each other and these recordings never made it to air because they were a little bit too traumatizing for both of us. I remember asking how did you feel when you got your diagnosis?

[00:34:46] And I was expecting you to say something like scared or I don’t know what I was expecting, but I looked up at your face and your eyes were full of tears and you said, I felt so much shame. And that was a moment of deep understanding for me about how much shame drives our behaviors, how much shame we carry as cPTSD survivors and how much shame there is to not fit into these boxes. If you’re sick, if you have an illness, if your body doesn’t conform a certain way, if we don’t fit this way that makes it seem like we’re gonna be protected and safe and part of the herd then, we’re not Okay. And aside from totally breaking my heart, it was also just hugely eye-opening for me. And that was when I started really diving into studying shame and trying to understand, yeah, it’s an immobilizing emotion, it’s links with freeze and also where it comes from. Like what, what purpose does it serve?

[00:36:05] Why do we have this? And learning that shame is, it is really a protective emotion. It’s there to keep us connected to our caregivers,  to keep us a part of the herd because those social connections and bonds are so important to our development. And just like you were talking about that fear, this is it.

[00:36:22] This time I’m gonna be rejected. This is gonna be too much for people. And now I’ve lost the connections that I need to survive, like for the survival of my body and my nervous system and my life. And I think as we are growing up, it’s little children in an environment where we are not getting those social connection needs met.

[00:36:46] We’re not getting our emotional needs met that shame can become really hypervigilant because we keep thinking okay, if I can just be different, if I can do this differently, if I can change myself in this way, then I’m gonna get the care that I need. Then I’m gonna get the co-regulation that I need, then I’ll be protected, then I’ll be safe.

[00:37:06] And it feels like our life depends on it. And so we keep chasing after it and, and we’re not gonna be able to change the environment. We’re not gonna be able to change our caregivers because it doesn’t work that way. I can’t change myself to change another person, but we keep trying. And so that voice inside, that shame voice, that shame emotion becomes louder and stronger trying to get those needs met.

[00:37:31] And that’s where the inner critic becomes such a defining characteristic of cPTSD snd that’s where the inner critic can get so hypervigilant and so loud, and then it stays with us into adulthood. And continues to drive our relationships and our behaviors into all these ways where we’re overdoing, we’re overgiving, we are not capable of setting boundaries.

[00:37:54] And then just like Matt said, it’s really linked to these actual physiological responses in our nervous system to freeze, to shutting us down. And then there’s shame that comes with having that response.

[00:38:10] Matt: One more thing I wanna add here, and Jennifer, I appreciate you kind of dipping your toe back into that story cause it opens up just a beautiful conversation and, and place for us to share about this so thank you for the vulnerability, that inner critic and that shame voice that’s in all of our heads.

[00:38:33] I think it’s really important for us to recognize that it’s not descriptive of what actually is, like what is the reality. Instead, it’s trying to protect us from what it fears might happen. But the hard part, the difficult thing about that is that the language it uses is declarative language. Like it’s directed at me when it’s coming in my head, right?

[00:39:01] It’s directed at me and it’s saying it as if it’s already real. And so it’s making these declarative statements of I am this, or I’m too much that, or I’m not this other thing. It’s not saying I’m afraid of if I become too much, it’s not saying I’m worried that I might end up not being X, Y, Z. It’s not expressing the fear in the language.

[00:39:29] It’s saying I am, I’m not. I’ll never be. Right? And if we don’t have the understanding of the nervous system and the protective role that shame is supposed to play, we don’t know how to unpack that language. And what it unfortunately turns into is that that self-talk that’s critical ends up becoming self-belief.

[00:39:53] Our own self-perception becomes critical as well, because that declarative language makes us think we are or are not whatever our brain is deciding that it thinks we are or aren’t, it’s very, very detrimental when we buy into the message of that inner critic when we can’t take a step back, and this is where I tell my clients all the time, not only around shame, but all of these emotions I go sometimes you can’t out mindset, your emotional brain, right? You can’t use your cognitive thinking skills and your cognitive talking types of therapy to manipulate your emotional brain. Your emotional brain’s gonna win that battle every single time. So this is where tools like NSI are so valuable because if we’re gonna help the survival brain and the emotional brain to calm back down, come back to homeostasis, let’s have a conversation. We need to use the language that it speaks, which is the language of neurological inputs. Not English or French or Spanish, or whatever language that you speak, right? So we can’t mindset our way back into emotional safety. We have to address the emotional brain and the survival brain on their own terms with appropriate tools, then we can kind of take a step back from that critical language and go, here’s what my brain’s actually trying to tell me. And, and that’s all, hugely preferred to just buying into it hook, line and sinker, and starting to believe what the inner critic is saying about me.

[00:41:37] Elisabeth: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like for me when I’m in that place, I’m definitely an emotional flashback and shame is a huge component of an emotional flashback for me. And my mindset is not something I can trust in that moment I call it the always has been, always will be voiced. Like this is how I have always been and I always will be and my perception is that is like  that is the way it’s always has been, and it’s the way it always will be. And so I can’t think myself out of it from that place because the whole world matches that perception of reality. And I am only finding evidence that matches that when I look around and

[00:42:23] experience things. And so it’s really important for me to move from a place of direct stimulus with my nervous system and body movement and lean into those practices because I’m just not gonna be able to talk myself out of it. And in working with clients who experience shame, there’s also something called a backdraft effect when you’re working with someone that you can actually exacerbate someone’s experience of shame and the emotion of shame in all of the physical manifestations of it by talking about it.

[00:42:53] And it’s this idea that just like when there’s a fire and you let light and air in, the fire can actually get bigger. And so it’s been really important to find other ways to help people work through shame using neurosomatic tools where we don’t have to talk about their shame. We don’t have to cognitively deconstruct it.

[00:43:14] We don’t have to sit down and be eye to eye and have this conversation. You know, Peter Levine has people sit at a 45 degree angle so that they don’t have to make eye contact when they’re talking about it. but even more, maybe we don’t even talk about it, maybe not for a while, maybe not ever.  Maybe we just regulate the nervous system around it and learn ways to mobilize through that immobility and create a new experience and not try to think our way out of the shame. And sometimes that can be enough. 

[00:43:48] Jennifer: Getting back to the is it Freeze or is it shame? And not really even understanding it or knowing it 

[00:43:53] sometimes noticing the immobility that I’m experiencing, like it’s very rare, like you were saying by like the cognitive, like the I Ams that I always lived with, always have, always will be.

[00:44:06] It was so damaging those self-beliefs. And I was driving this sometime last year and I opened up some nail glue to fix a broken nail and the whole thing spilled out all over my car. And the very first thing I said was, god I hate myself sometimes. And it was a real moment for me to be aware of the way that I had spoken to myself.

[00:44:34] And I happened to catch it at that moment, but how many times didn’t I catch it? How many times had I just told myself that for so long? I had to get out and mobilize that because that was turning into shame. Like I damaged my car and it’s all, it’s always been like this. It’s always gonna be like this.

[00:44:53] And getting back to some of the drills and some of the tools- it’s the stomping, it’s the getting the bones to shake, it’s the palpating of the ribs and engaging in rotational movements. It’s tapping to understand it, to get to the releases. And it’s been so beneficial.

[00:45:19] Beneficial is not even the right word. Like there, I don’t know what the English word would be to best describe the level of expansion that I’ve been able to move through by releasing the repressed emotions and understanding real time. How am I talking to myself? It takes a high level of awareness to catch yourself in those things, and I’ve been working so much on that.

[00:45:44] Now it’s not so scary. I catch it and I’m moving it. I’m not staying with that. So it’s been crucial, critical, amazing, awesome.

[00:46:07] Elisabeth: Speaking of awesome and wonderful, it’s, I think, also important to talk about positive emotions because you know, positive emotions are something that we think we naturally want- Joy, connection, intimacy, relaxation. And all of those can also be really threatening to our nervous system if we’re not used to them and if we’ve been repressing some of our emotions and then everything has been kind of dolled down because we’re not allowing that emotional expression to come through.

[00:46:42] Matt, would you tell us a little bit about why positive emotions might be scary to the nervous system.

[00:46:51] Matt: Yeah, they can really be mostly because they’re unpredictable, right? It’s like all the sayings that we have in our culture, like the devil you know versus the devil you don’t. And you know, it’s, it is tough to know when it’s safe to go into a positive emotion, cause I don’t know if right around the corner there’s gonna be some kind of backlash or some criticism I might overstep and appear different than what my social circle is expecting.

[00:47:21] Or maybe I convince myself it’s possible things are too good to be true. So I might be afraid to express positive emotion or feel a positive emotion because what if my reality doesn’t live up to that? What if things come crumbling down? So the ability to experience positive emotions, I think is difficult.

[00:47:45] Because it can be hard to predict, but because some of the deeply held beliefs that can also get in the way. If, if I have critical self-perception or self-beliefs, like I’m gonna screw this up. Nothing ever works out for me. Every other relation I’ve been in has always failed. It’s hard to trust or have faith that one of those words is probably appropriate, that you’re not gonna end up in the same kind of hurting negative perspective or situation again. Like, things are gonna be better this time and your brain’s going, really? I’m not sure I trust that. Like, things are happy now. Really? I don’t know. So it almost runs completely counter to our brain’s way of trying to protect us through a predictive process to, to just jump right into a 

[00:48:48] positive emotion. It’s really hard to let down our guard to be vulnerable and then have faith that things are not gonna crumble out from beneath us. When we start to feel those things. 

[00:49:01] Jennifer: I started out applying minimum effective dose to places where I knew I 

[00:49:08] would be feeling joy. Say for instance, I went to a wedding, that’s a joyful place. Love. It’s fun, but how much of that can I enjoy at one time in an internal landscape that’s not used to joy?

[00:49:25] So I’m gonna go, I’m gonna leave, I’m gonna regulate. I might come back in, might decide to just leave. I think of all of these repressed emotions like a clogged drain. And what happens when we clear the gunk? It’s vitality. It’s that new fresh body water running through, right? It’s like the memory in the water that doesn’t hold that imprint. There’s a new water memory available now within the body. And I love that idea. 

[00:50:16] I love that visual of what’s created. And then it’s just really all about the regulation that goes around any of the emotions that we’re experiencing. Like, how can I hold onto this joy? 

[00:50:29] I love to just always be tracing things back, looking further into them like how do I get to stay here? And Elisabeth mentioned something earlier about how your relationships can change. And my relationships have really, really changed. Almost all of them have changed. And you know, before I was always showing up as however you wanted me to be with whoever, which one of you I was gonna show up with, right?

[00:50:56] There was always so many different parts of me and that was a huge level of self abandonment. But I thought I was being authentic in those moments. I thought that was my authenticity. But those deeper connections are really teaching me safety and trust and that is making it more safe for me to receive- receive time, receive love and in those moments it’s not just the receiving of these other emotions like joy and all that. It’s receiving abundance. It’s receiving into the flow of life, right? We talk about nervous system tools have no boundaries.

[00:51:41 Well neither does receiving. Receiving is receiving. How we show up anywhere is how we show up anywhere. So if I can receive safety and trust over here, what else is possible in receiving? and a lot of that honestly has to do with me clearing my anger. Cause I was so mad at everybody. I was so mad at everything, so distrustworthy. And it was like I released that anger and it’s like, wow this really has nothing to do with them. It’s my radical responsibility for these emotions. 

[00:52:21] Elisabeth: Yeah, I’ve definitely had to lead into minimum effective dose practicing of all of the positive emotions because I will really find myself pushed into one of the four Fs if I take in too much of that too soon into a real threat response. Like in my body, my heart is racing, my palms are sweating. I gotta get outta here.

[00:52:40] And just like Matt was saying, our brains are trying to predict all of the time, trying to keep us safe for our survival. And it feels really unpredictable to me. And I also think about  my hyper vigilance of trying to protect myself. And there’s this belief or this fear that this sensation won’t last or it’s, it’s not safe to really trust another human being.

[00:53:04] It’s not safe to have this level of connection. If I let myself experience this joy, it’s going to go away, and then that’s gonna really hurt. Then I’ll have the loss of grief. And one of the things that’s been really important for me is having a practice of allowing myself to experience the duality of emotions and allowing myself to feel that like I can simultaneously feel grief and joy.

[00:53:29] I can simultaneously feel fear and also a deep sense of self and be grounded. I can simultaneously feel anger and also excitement and power and energy. And knowing that things don’t have to exist apart from one another, and they’re kind of always there in this flow moving through me, and that I don’t have to be so afraid of losing the emotion because nothing is static, right?

[00:53:59] It’s not here and then it’s gone. There’s nothing for me to lose. It’s just part of how much can I allow myself to the extent to which I can allow myself to experience it is the extent to which it will stay there. And so doing regulation around allowing myself to feel excited and then especially in terms of allowing myself to connect with other human beings, connect with clients, connect with my partner.

[00:54:25] And it made a lot of sense as Matt was talking, like, abandonment and neglect is a huge thing for me. And so, I’m trying to protect myself against experiencing that again. And so it feels scary to have that really deep level of intimacy and connection, and it will trigger into one of the four Fs for me.

[00:54:45] And so if I start to allow myself to practice that, to really show up, present to regulate before and after, to take little baby steps and being exposed and vulnerable, and then give myself the movement, the neuro tools, the practices that support me in creating that safety, then I can do that. And I also have this deep sense of safety inside of myself so that even if that person leaves, like now I’m not abandoning myself all the time, now, I’m okay.

[00:55:15] I don’t need that person for my regulation, for my safety. And that really changes how threatening it is for me.

[00:55:26] Matt: Yeah, I think on the lines of minimal effective dose, but also, we aren’t as static- we aren’t as fixed as we sometimes think of ourselves. And that’s a really important concept from neuroscience. That is humans, we’re always changing, right? The process of neuroplasticity and our brain changing and rewiring itself is always happening whether we want it to or not.

[00:55:54] And neuroplasticity itself is neither good nor bad. It’s just is, right? And it’s more about the direction that you go that’s either serving or nonserving. But to recognize in those moments, like earlier you talked about the always and forever voice, Like it’s always been this way and it’s gonna be this way forever in a critical sense.

[00:56:15] And you know, by the way, that’s a really good reminder for all of us of, if I’m in my always and forever voice, I’m probably not being my truest self at the moment. But when our brain starts to predict and we’re becoming fearful of these positive emotions the same thing occurs. Sometimes the always and forever voice comes back and says, yeah, but what if this doesn’t last? What if things change? What if it crumbles? What if my relationship changes? you know, those what if questions? And I think we can take great encouragement- which time out for a quick second cause even that word encouragement I’m gonna lead into is to bring courage, right? Encouragement, like to bring about courage. And the reason that’s so important is that it can sometimes be scary to move forward into those positive motions or to let the negative ones go. Like we get our identity tied up in those things. We get our stories bound up in those things to be able to process and let it go like the clog in the pipe that Jennifer talked about,

[00:57:27] the clog in the drain to process it, to let it go, to step into something new with courage doesn’t mean to step into it without fear.

[00:57:37] It means to be afraid and do it anyway. So the whole point here is that we can be encouraged by remembering that neuroplasticity is happening and that we are always changing and those of us around us that we have relationships with are always changing. And there is no permanency to personality, emotions, beliefs.

[00:58:09] Who I am, who you are. There is no permanency. When we get it really digging into the nervous system and the human brain, it is always changing. And so I think if this is coming out as clearly as I’m really trying, I’m hoping if we put together the ideas of minimal effective dose and that there is this kind of like a time shift, like things are not always the same, but we’re always shifting and evolving and growing as people, that the more we practice those small pieces of emotion, small positive emotions, small release of negative emotion, that the things we practice are the things that we become better at, right?

[00:58:59] And so the more that we can dig into that and go Hey, you know, you two are not the same two people that we talked with last week.  I’m not the same person that I was last week. My wife is not the same person she was last week. Like in every relationship that I have, we’re always changing and adapting so that we have the ability to turn off that always and forever voice and be more present in the moment so that we can engage.

[00:59:27] Jennifer: really beautiful. Just like we talk about 

[00:59:34] what we do, we get better at. I mean, that really includes regulation too. The more we practice our regulation, the more we heal our deficits. You change, you don’t change so much as become who you are internally. Your soul begins to match the human form that you’ve taken on And you start to move into the world differently.

[00:59:55] And, and from regulated places, it’s easier to ask for support, to receive the support that you need, and let the abundance flow, whatever the abundance is that you desire. And I think too,we talk about structure snd practices and when I first started with these NSI tools a couple of years ago, I had a much different practice.

[01:00:21] It was kind of a little bit more structured. I would do this in the morning. I had some things sprinkled through the day and then I did something at night and I even kept whiteboards and now it’s like, doesn’t require as much regulation to get in through the day, to get up outta bed and have to do the things that make my life possible.

[01:00:42] The work, the laundry, the home care, the relationships. It’s like moved into an easier place of regulation that I’m super thankful for. This conversation’s been awesome you guys.

[01:00:59] Elisabeth: I think actually really the biggest thing that nervous system work has given me is the ability to come out of dissociation and be present in my body for the full spectrum of my emotions as I live this human experience. It’s what connects me to other people. It’s what allows me to be in the present moment and to have a big, full life.

[01:01:45] And as you were talking about Jennifer too, as I do this practice, my body and my system know how to do this. They know how to express, they know how to move this energy through. Like Matt said, we’re always changing and that energy is meant to move through us, and our bodies are made to express and to connect and to grow and evolve.

[01:02:08] And the more I do these practices, the less I have to spend this really calculated amount of time regulating around my emotional expression and have this almost like clinical practice of being with my emotions that makes it safe in the beginning, but eventually they just start to move through me. And I have just the ability to cry when I’m moved or to scream and move my body in a way that expresses as I need to, when I need to, when I’m out in nature, whenever it comes up. And that is really awesome to have that just unfold in that way. And as I was looking through my notes for this episode, there was a definition of emotional intelligence that really stood out to me. Pete Walker, who we talk about so much on here, he says the quality of our emotional intelligence is reflected in the degree to which we can accept all of our feelings without dissociating from them, expressing or suppressing them in a way that does not hurt ourselves and others.

[01:03:18] And then I thought back on our conversation about the nervous system and the developmental brain, and talking about neuro somatic intelligence as the ability to integrate and regulate into the present moment. And so in this capacity, it’s really using tools and nervous system training to be able to regulate and integrate into the present moment of the emotional experience so that we can accept our feelings as they are as human beings without dissociating or without suppressing them in a way that is harmful to ourselves or to the people that we love, or to the other human beings around us. 

S2 E51

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