S3 E23 TRANSCRIPT Secure Attachment & Nervous System Health
[00:00:00] Elisabeth: Welcome to Trauma Rewired, the podcast that teaches you about your nervous system, how trauma lives in the body, and what you can do to heal. I’m your co-host, Elisabeth Kristof, founder of Brainbased.com, an online community where we use evidence-based neuro somatic exercises to create resilience, change behavior, and re-pattern trauma.
[00:00:22] I’m also the founder of Neuro Somatic Intelligence Coaching Certification, an ICF accredited course that equips therapists and coaches with a framework and tools to create transformation from the level of the nervous system.
[00:00:35] Jennifer: And I’m Jennifer Wallace, a Neuro Somatic Psychedelic Preparation and Integration Guide bridging the powerful modalities of nervous system health into your sacred plant medicine spaces. I’m also a Junior Educator for the Neuro Somatic Intelligence Coaching Certification.
[00:00:50] Elisabeth: So today we’re joined by a guest that really needs no introduction. Dr. Nicola LaPera is a holistic psychologist trained at Cornell University, the New School for Social Research and the Philadelphia School of Psychoanalysis. She is the Founder of a global community healing membership, Self Healers Circle. And the author of number one New York times bestsellers, How To Do the Work, How to Meet Yourself and How to Be the Love You Seek. As this season is all about relationships, the nervous system and exploring complex traumas and attachment wound we really couldn’t think of a better person to bring in today. We’re going to deep dive into the power of relationships, the impact your childhood had on your current relationships, the neurobiology of trauma bonds, and most importantly, how to create interdependent and socially coherent relationships. Welcome, Dr. Nicole. We are so excited to have you here.
[00:01:46] Dr–Nicole: Elisabeth, Jennifer, thank you both for the work that you do. And it’s truly an honor to be here to connect with you and your community.
[00:01:51] Jennifer: Thank you so, so much. As Elisabeth was saying this season on Trauma Rewired, we’ve been exploring the impact of relationships on the nervous system health, physical and emotional health. And we’ve been doing this through looking at the lens of the social synapse and how we’re always impacting each other’s nervous systems and how our nervous systems are always at play with one another. And the more we explore and research this, we really find more evidence that immune function and mental health and resilience are all tied to our ability to feel safe in attachment. And you explore this in your new book, How to Be the Love You Seek. And I just love to hear your thoughts, Dr. Nicole, on the power of relationships.
[00:02:40] Dr–Nicole: I’m shaking my head very vigorously. And again, so, so very grateful for the two of you who are speaking so loud and clearly about the importance of the nervous system. And just, I know speaking from my own personal experience, it was nothing that was ever talked about in any of the many different training programs that I found myself in as I was in school training and even kind of post training, always seeking to learn. And for me, it was the big missing piece. I talk about that in How To Do The Work where I continue to feel so very disempowered working even relationally with the clients that I was seeing for individual work. Doing a lot of couples therapy. I was working with a lot of couples, a lot of families and a lot of group dynamics.
[00:03:23] Dr–Nicole: I did a lot of work in the substance recovery field. And again, when that was not a part of the conversation, I continued to hear, and see reflected in my own personal life, in my own relational life, just dysfunctional patterns that we’re being carried- some of us from generations that have gone before.
[00:03:44] Dr–Nicole: So having a conversation about relationships, in my opinion, needs to include a conversation about the physical body, about that internal sensor or the neuroception that is happening at the energetic level. I mean, for me too that was a big eye opener in terms of really understanding the human existence is being on an energetic level that, you know, we see kind of all the physical manifestations of our human body and the world around us, though, the reality of it is such powerful signals are being sent behind the scenes driven by our nervous system. And very much like dominoes are creating a lot of the conflict, the stress and the trauma cycles that I think so many of us are locked in. So for me having the insight and the information was part of the journey, part of my own individual journey, and my own shift into more a holistic model of wellness and of healing. Though more important than having the awareness that is part of the story is actually embodying the new choices.
[00:04:48] Dr–Nicole Which is where I continue to find myself today, challenged in a lot of ways by the neurobiological habits that are, like all of you listening, wired into my being all of the old ways that I used to find safety and the security, because I didn’t have the level of emotional attunement or the co regulation present in my early childhood. So continuing to see all the habitual ways that I’ve sought to maintain my connections to even express myself as an individual. Which for me was a lot of suppression, not actually in connection with that safe and secure container, not knowing who I was, if I had an inclination of what my perspective was or what I was feeling in any given circumstance, not feeling safe enough than to communicate that or express that outward in my relationship.
[00:05:38] Dr–Nicole I think the embodiment of the safe, secure container for us as individuals, understanding how we’re carrying the neurobiology of our past and repeating that into our present and then making the shifts and changes so that we really want to simplify it. We can each be uniquely who it is in our energetic expression and create the safety and the security for those around us to be themselves, if we want to put it again really simply, so that we can actually enter into really harmonious, compassionate, interdependent relationships.
[00:06:10] Elisabeth: Yeah. I think the embodiment piece that you were speaking to is so important. And I was listening to another one of your podcasts where you were talking about going through so much of life, like intellectualizing these concepts, but not being able to bring them into the body. And I related to that so deeply. So much of my life was spent up here in my head figuring it out. Figuring out how I was going to get out of these maladaptive behaviors, change my relationships. And honestly dropping into the body was scary. A lot of past trauma lived in there, big emotions that I did not have the tools to process. And I resisted that as such a deep survival level. And for me the process of embodiment, I use a lot of neuro tools and applied neurology to little minimum effective dose, to start to make that safe for my body. But I’d love to know a little bit, like, how did you get to the place where you started dropping into your body, what were some of the big shifts for you? And what is a simple practice that you use in the beginning to start to make that safe?
[00:07:16] Dr–Nicole: I think it’s so important and thank you, Elisabeth, for sharing your own journey. I think it’s really important for us all to realize that we have wired into us the habitual way that we’ve learned to navigate the overwhelm in our bodies, the overwhelm in our relationships, our early environments, and our circumstances in general. And some of them, like you’re sharing, even this kind of idea of intellectualizing, overanalyzing, I think have really been celebrated to some extent by the society around us. You know, obviously I’m very interested in the mind and my clinical circles. It was great to continue to self analyze and think about ourselves. It was, you know, thought to be a helpful endeavor. Another one of my adaptations are the ways that I ran away from the overwhelm in my body that I couldn’t cope with was through pushing myself, not just in my mind, but past my body’s physical limits in terms of achievement. Not even paying attention to when I was too tired, just continuing to truck through my endless to do list. I mean even hearing you read my bio and I’ve all this schooling, I mean, I would have kept going. There was really no end in sight because I was just continuing to kind of separate myself from everything that I had been carrying for the entirety of my life.
[00:08:31] Dr–Nicole: And again, I think that’s another area where it can be celebrated from the outside. Oh my God, look at how achieved you are. And I think it can, for me at least, create a bit of a shameful internal environment because despite everything I continue to achieve. Which also included having successful relationships, you know partnerships. being able to move close to my home where my family was, being in regular frequent contact with those relationships. I had this internal voice that was saying like, well, you don’t, because especially at the moment when I was working with clients who had a lot of big, terrible, destabilizing events in their life, I would shame myself out of feeling unfulfilled, feeling disconnected. I would more or less tell myself I didn’t have the right to feel as I did because look at all the life around me. So after living for decades of that, that’s when the shift very gradually started to happen. When I started to experience the more physical symptoms of blowing past my body’s physical limits for so long continuing to overwhelm and stress my nervous system.
[00:09:44] Dr–Nicole: I actually on two occasions lost consciousness, which was really scary. And really sent me into a kind of health anxiety spiral, which very much maps onto my early childhood environment where there was a lot of health stuff happening. And that’s when I was really given the gift of not only this information, but the gift to begin to apply it, to begin to create the safety in my body that I never had. Just to speak to that point again quickly, I think as adults we can shame ourselves in even hearing maybe me or someone receiving. What do you mean I can’t cope with my emotions? Especially as I talk about the emotions we’re carrying from childhood. I think a lot of us are like, Oh, that was so far in the past. Maybe we were just repeating this idea of ‘just get over it, it’s not happening now.’ Again, I think just shame that is wrapped around being of kind of older years, or accumulating years of existence, being in our thirties, being in our forties, being in our fifties, being in our sixties and being maybe suggested that we don’t actually have the physiological resources to cope with the emotions that we’re experiencing on a daily basis. And so for me, it was really looking hard at that reality, understanding that a lot of the disconnection I was seeing, the blowing past my body’s limits, the lack of fulfillment in all of those moments of achievement, the continued feeling of emotional disconnection in all of my relationships, which would usually end up me leaving the relationship at some point because I’m just not emotionally connected.
[00:11:17] Dr–Nicole: I’m really beginning to look at the role that I was playing in that disconnection, open the door for the beginning of my journey, which like I said, I’m still very much on today. To embody those shifts because it is, to speak your point, it’s scary. It’s overwhelming. Once you get past the shame and begin to deal with all of the energies and emotions that are in our bodies without those tools, without beginning to learn new adaptive ways to cope, to release our energy, to allow support and healthy co-regulation before we know it, we’re going to go right back into those old ruts, right, those old habitual patterns.
[00:11:54] Dr–Nicole: So again, just where I began with really understanding these behaviors are adaptive, whatever the cycle is that any listeners are finding themselves stuck in, that’s what we had to do at one point to create safety and security and connection. And that will be where we return to until we take that slow journey of going through all the discomfort that comes along with even sometimes healthy behaviors. Like I was sharing, opening myself up for love and connection and emotional co-regulation with a grounded individual feels so foreign and unfamiliar that, that in and of itself, could be exactly what sends me right back into ‘no I’m safer on my spaceship, I’d rather be disconnected or endlessly learning or thinking about myself or on to the next achievement I go’.
[00:12:33] Jennifer: It’s so true. We say that a lot on here too, once you start to be in safe containers, be in safe relationships and be in safety with yourself, those protective pathways, they’re the protective pathways that you’ve always taken. And so that well worn path is going to get triggered under perceived threat or perceived safety until you start to rewire and getting into the embodiment piece. And really that authentic aspect of full self expression. And speaking to some of the emotional piece that you were talking about that we carry on through childhood, what’s sticking out to me is how you talk about addiction emotions and how those emotions get carried on. And for me, those addiction emotions were fear, self doubt and anger. And those pushed and repelled, particularly my Fight response is so strong in my nervous system. I’m very aware of when it gets triggered that I’m affecting another body that is being repelled by my nervous system. So kind of being an active participant in the connection or lack thereof, just based on how my nervous system was primed for survival instead of connection. And it’s been interesting.
[00:13:53] Dr–Nicole: Yeah, I appreciate you highlighting this idea that emotions can become that familiar, for lack of a better word, addictive cycle. And I appreciate you giving insight into what yours are. Somewhat similarly though a bit dissimilar I would say my in are very much fear and shame. And it’s interesting because I never would have spoken that I felt, or I can’t recall any moments, where I specifically felt ashamed per se. Though lacking that safety, that container, that attunement outside of moments of achievement, which was the one kind of time and place where my mom was able to give me a more focus of attention, was able to be a bit more present to me. Shame had become so baked into the entirety of my self expression that it really was kind of the foundational soil, if you will, from which this personality that was based on achievement, not surprising because that’s how I was able to maintain connections, was really kind of born on.
[00:14:55] And me understanding again, first and foremost, that emotions live in the body. Again this was another piece that was more or less left out. I mean, you think of psychologists, you know about emotions. You can obviously, I think the projected belief is you can handle your own and you know how to help a client through them, though without a conversation about the physical body in which the emotions live, we’re really limited in terms of the tools that we could embody in practice. I found myself very limited in terms of the tools that I learned to embody my personal life, to deal with the emotional energies, the physiological shifts and changes and hormones that create the emotional experience in and of itself. And then as I began to kind of bear witness or become more conscious of my habits and patterns, I saw such a similarity, beyond shame for me it was more on the surface, the site, the cycle of fear and worry, of an anxiety to the extent that that actually felt like what connection.
[00:15:57] Dr–Nicole: What I would even maybe label, one of my hopeful takeaways for this new book How to Be the Love You Seek, is really that what a lot of us are even labeling as relationship and connection and love are based so much more on the imprint or the modeling of what those first relationships were. Because in the absence of a deeper emotional connection in my family we had- with limited boundaries between us- a lot of shared experience of worry, anxiety, in particular around health related concerns. Those were the moments where I felt closest to those in which I was supposed to have these deep emotional bonds.
[00:16:36] And then so as I marched forward in life, not only did I find, in moments of seeming peace where nothing’s going on, I have nothing to worry about, because I had all of that emotional energy still contained in my body my mind would race with things to worry about, things to think about. I’d agitate relationships if I was near them, pulling to mind or calling up, kind of issues that we can be discussed now. Which was really symbolic for me of how much I was cycling in this familiar, even though I was professing, logically to the world around me. I just want peace, calm. I just want a moment to relax in reality. I was so familiar with the opposite, with the stressful experience with even bonding around stress and agitation and worry. That I continued to repeat that whether I was alone, doom scrolling right on social media, or whether I was with other people, I would find myself locked in those embodied cycles of that emotional addiction.
[00:17:37] Dr–Nicole: So of course, you know, becoming aware gave me then the tools, I’ll always break change down into those two steps. We have to see and become Present to what is that cycle pattern. More often than not, wired into our neurobiology that we just can’t can’t seem to break. Becoming conscious then allows us to build the space to make those new small choices of actually breaking those patterns. For me, learning how to make choices that allow my body to embody peace, calm, grounded Presence, relaxation that, of course, don’t translate to those emotions or that experience immediately overnight. Though over time as I expand that window of tolerance right now, I can actually embody a peaceful moment, a calm moment, a responsive moment. As opposed to needing to feel close to those around me based for me on that cycle of stress.
[00:18:27] Elisabeth: I relate so much to the shame underpinning. And we’ve dive so much into shame on here, because it’s such a deep, heavy, immobilizing emotional experience in the body that not only drives behavior, and I can see so much of my behavior linked back to that shame response, that is protective trying to keep my connections secure. But it’s such a subconscious level. It’s taken me a long time to even become aware of it. And then also to the ways that my body is reacting with shame. The inflammation that starts to occur, the immune responses. And I really deeply believe a lot of my autoimmune is linked back to that frequently occurring shame response.
[00:19:13] Then that over-coupling that you talked about of stress states, dysregulation states, highly sympathetic activation with attachment that that feeling of dysregulation can get linked in our neuro matrix to feeling a closeness with someone, to feeling that attachment. And a lot of this season, we’ve really been looking at that- how our development shapes are relational and social health. And looking at complex trauma as real deep root and attachment wound, because as human beings that connection is really vital to our health, to the health of our human experience. But as an isolated human, we’re not having the full human experience either. So we suffer real social consequences, but also health consequences from that loneliness and disconnection. And so the essence of what it means to be human is a relational thing.
[00:20:12] Elisabeth: But then also with complex trauma maintaining that connection and that relationship is dysregulating with a heavy increase on our chronic stress loads. So you have this deep need for both social connection for development, for co-regulation, for stress management, social safety. And at the same time for protection against the threat of the stress that attachment and intimacy and connection have historically caused that individual brain, body and nervous system. And so we’re becoming wired for at the same time, simultaneously, connection and protection. And then there’s so much disorganization that happens inside the body. And you can really see the link then between those developmental environments and ACE scores and health outcomes with that chronic stress load. So I would love to just hear your thoughts a little bit more on the impact of childhood on your current relationships, but also health states.
[00:21:11] Dr–Nicole: Again, I’m vigorously shaking my head with all that incredible wisdom. The reality of it is to thrive as a human, based on the foundation of first surviving as a human. It really, again, if we want to simplify it, we have to feel safe enough to be who we are in the Presence of someone else. And again, the reality of it is, for many of us, our caregivers passed through generations didn’t have the education, the knowledge, the tools wired into their own nervous systems to create that safe and secure connection. So when we talk about, again, the shame that I wouldn’t even have known was present, it was so baked into my experience in the early kind of moments because I didn’t feel safe expressing myself in my entirety. I only felt safe expressing certain aspects of my being. And I think the large majority of us- and this was confusing for me- taking the ACEs, the very traditional score and not knowing much about complex trauma particularly until more recently, I felt even more shameful. Like I was sharing earlier, right? Well, nothing really “bad” happened. And understanding the intrinsic need of our nervous systems, we’re born as humans still developing. Our brain is developing somewhere into our early twenties even. We’re in a complete state of development.
[00:22:39] We quite literally, down to our biology, need the environment around us to give us the safety and the security so that we can physically and emotionally and spiritually learn how to have our needs met enough to express our emotional self so that we can ultimately be safe to be who we are. And when we don’t have that, I even write a very similar line to what you’re very beautifully sharing in the book, of how we are mismatched- our heart is wired for compassion for connection. We are all capable of that. Though many of us become at odds because our adaptation has been to seek connection and maybe this very sympathetic state where once the honeymoon period goes away, once there’s no passion- is often the word I hear people use- is over in a relationship. Once we’re not stimulated in that very high stressed way we begin to question or leave the environment. Others are more kind of wired for protection to keep ourselves distant from any possibility of emotional connection. So we end up continuing to pursue emotionally unavailable or maybe physically unavailable humans. Anytime someone wants to get close to us, maybe we’re the person who’s like, Oh, I just want to keep it surface, keep it, very kind of friends. And then if anything that gets emotionally close, we end up leaving. So we’re now manifesting, embodying our relationship, all of these behaviors that have us at odds with our most intrinsic need. And so I still, like I was sharing earlier, find myself while I have all this knowledge, I can talk about this, there’s still moments where in the safety and the security of the relationships that I’m in, in a moment of need I either find myself too vulnerable, feeling like a burden, unable to share what’s really going on or open myself up for just wanting someone to be next to me in whatever emotion I’m having my, I close myself off to that.
[00:24:44] Dr–Nicole: I often will make passive aggressive statements about how I wish I was supported yet not actually saying I need to be supported in this way. Or jokingly I say I kind of put my hand up in front of me with daggers out in my palms and then demand someone come hug me and wonder why they’re not. Well, of course, because I’m not acting in a way that’s wanting anyone, I wouldn’t want to be near me in some of those moments. Again, it really to this day keeps me at odds with my most, all of our, intrinsic needs, which is to be ourselves. Whether we’re feeling in a joyful moment of self expression or creation or imagination or passion or purpose. Or whether we’re feeling in a more difficult moment of whatever pain or emotion or anger that we’re in the throes of. We just want to maintain those connections and be safe in someone else’s Presence while we’re in our own Presence.
[00:25:41] Dr–Nicole: And again, so many of these patterns wired into us have us acting in ways that are out of our awareness, even activating, right? These age old patterns of protection. And then we find ourselves and our partners or our loved ones around us. We are all then suffering because we’re not getting our needs met. Chances are the way we’re adapted or however we’re habitually coping, by being eruptive, by being distant, by being distracted. I actually break down the different nervous system states and how they can manifest in relationships. Often then they have an impact on the loved ones around us. So this is, I think, why so many of us find ourselves in what I call kind of these trauma bond patterns of all of the dysfunctional habits that now two adapted individuals from oftentimes very different circumstances in past environments, are now trying to create the safety and the security and the grounded connection and support. Yet again, we’re relying on old habits that often have us at odds with all of the things that we want.
[00:26:47] Elisabeth: If you’re a therapist, a coach, or a practitioner and it resonates with you that there’s a deeper level to go in supporting your clients to create change and healing, Neuro Somatic Intelligence Coaching Certification is for you. NSI will distinguish you in your field and help you become an expert in brain based coaching. NSI allows you to not only understand functional neuroscience for behavior change and trauma resolution, but really to achieve performance, presence, and creativity at a whole new level. This creates value for your clients. It improves your client retention. It expands your impact and it reduces your own burnout. And the truth is, the world really needs coaches, therapists, and medical practitioners who can attune, co regulate, and practice trauma-informed teaching. You can get more information about NSI at neurosomaticintelligence.com. We’re enrolling now for the next cohort, and we’d love to chat with you to see if this program is a good fit. The link is in the show notes to book a discovery call. Let’s talk.
[00:27:48] Jennifer: When I think about heart space and self compassion, I really think about receiving. And receiving is not something that a lot of people with complex trauma, or not, really understand the energy of that. And back to how we’re rewarded by society with the overdoing and the over-giving of ourselves away. And shame was the big piece that really kept me from self compassion. It was really a barrier and a block. I was saying to Elisabeth just today, I have an ACE score of 4, and the big one is, you would think, would be the early sexual trauma. But really, I believe that the big one is the emotional abandonment and neglect, because that’s the one I remember in my nervous system. That’s the one I lived in for decades of my life that really drove the poor attachment style. Like you said, I was going into partnerships where people were not emotionally available to me. And abandonment became almost like a self fulfilling prophecy because in development, my emotional needs were not met.
[00:29:00] Jennifer: Although my physical needs were, my emotional needs weren’t. And then I was showing up super insecure, anxious attachment, massive self abandonment. Like I used to always internally say things like no one sees me, no one hears me and no one understands me. And yet I didn’t know how to do that either. And so finding the authenticity piece and the embodiment that we’ve been speaking of and releasing the shame, it’s really, gosh, it’s really a lot when you think about it. Even just to hear myself say it right now, I feel this deep gratitude for the work that we all do so that I can show up in relationship more securely, even in my friendships.
[00:29:47] Jennifer: You were just going on to start to talk about trauma bonds, and that’s not something that we’ve explored yet on this season in Trauma Rewired. You want to kind of dive into that? I think our listeners would be interested as well as like this interplay between the nervous systems and trauma bonds.
[00:30:05] Dr–Nicole Absolutely. And I can even tie this into what you’re so beautifully sharing with all of us. When there is that abandonment, emotional abandonment included, outside of self abandonment. There actually is research I share in my book and again this maps right onto our ancestral lineage. It was unsafe at a very early time in our development for us to not be a part of a group or a village. It was physically unsafe. It was emotionally unsafe for us. When we are ostracized, when we don’t feel included, connected enough just being who we are in that core, especially that core family unit on whom we’re completely dependent on for our survival in our early years. It lights up the physical pain center in our brain. So being alone, especially if you have had kind of the more traditional sense of trauma, the abuse, physical, sexual, right? All of those things happening- when you don’t have someone to be alongside of you and to hold space and explore how it is that you’re feeling when you’re alone in events like that how deeply painful.
[00:31:13] Dr–Nicole: And so it’s been very interesting when, especially in the Self Healers Circle whenever we talk about, especially around this book in general, a lot of the question is, well is this for me? Is attachment work appropriate? How do I do it even if I’m not in a relationship with someone else? And the reality being, and this I think, I didn’t truly embody this reality- just cause I heard you say self abandonment. We are always in a relationship, first and foremost, with ourselves, our physical and emotional being. And the reality of it is, and I can weave this into trauma bonds, so many of us are acting in self betrayal, in self harm sometimes, in maybe just self abolishment where we’re not even allowing ourself to have a Presence in our day to day. We’re not caring for our physical bodies. We’re squashing or suppressing all of our emotions.
[00:32:07] Dr–Nicole: So then of course we’re going to mirror those same patterns of self abandonment, self betrayal, self neglect in our relationships with other people. So again, I just want to emphasize for anyone listening, the first relationship and so much of even this new relationship book is built on the foundation of becoming more conscious to the relationship with yourself first. Creating that safety and the security so that you then can extend that outward. And then beginning to explore without judgment or shame all of the dysfunctional patterns that I would say kind of are what the concept of a trauma bond is. All of the early ways that we learn to relate to ourself our physical and emotional presence and all of the ways that we’ve learned to relate to those around us Of course, based on like we’ve been kind of sharing along, the awareness that the large majority of us didn’t have that safe in the secure container to learn how to be in care of our physical bodies, to learn how to navigate upsetting and stressful emotions which are a natural part of our human experience, to learn how to then express ourself and navigate conflict, difference of opinion, difference of wants, difference of needs, very natural things that are always going to be inherently present when we’re interacting with different other humans.
[00:33:22] So for me, it was really expanding the concept of trauma bonds beyond what I think kind of traditionally it was used this idea of being in a more abusive dysfunctional pattern at the same time, being compelled to love or depend on this person. And really expanding it to all of the different ways that we’ve learned to maintain connections, or safe and secure, whatever that definition is for us. Connections with our physical body, which for me meant not really being Present to it. Either living in the analysis of my mind or away or shut down in that dissociated state, I call it my spaceship. For me that then included, if I’m not connected to my physical body, I’m probably not attuning to my emotions. I definitely don’t have the tools to be Present in them. And then seeing those patterns translate right to exactly that complaint I described earlier. I’m not emotionally connected to the world I created around me. I don’t feel fulfilled by it. And I definitely don’t feel emotionally connected to my partners or my loved ones.
[00:34:22] Dr–Nicole:. And because that was really based on that dysfunctional or that trauma bond pattern for me of disconnection, of dissociation, of all of the ways that I learned to create safety and security outside of even my body so that I could maintain the connections. Which I thought for me meant being easeful, not sharing needs, not being a burden on someone else, always trying to achieve. Doing something outwardly either for someone else or for myself in terms of this endless chasing of achievement. And in reality, none of that was grounded in my physical Presence. None of that allowed space for my emotional self. And it continued then to be the point of attraction and the cycles that I saw in my relationships.
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[00:36:15] Elisabeth: I really love that- thinking of trauma bonds as just relational patterns on a spectrum. And the different protective outputs that we all experience in relationships, because relationships are always going to have stress, right? And those of us who have complex or developmental trauma, our reaction to that might be more intense, more disproportionate to feeling that relational stress. And then the patterns that we go into are protective and maybe more protective than someone who is, I don’t know who this unicorn is that grew up in the same secure environment. But it will be a little bit different and that they always. are rooted in that relationship with self because how we are anywhere is how we are everywhere. And so if I can’t be present with myself, certainly I can’t feel safe when another person is really present with me.
[00:37:11] I’m still at a place where I’m 41 now and in the first, safe, secure relationship. And my other relationships, like my work relationships and my friendships are starting to evolve into that place of safety. But it still sometimes feels like a lot to be sitting with someone who’s really Present with you, who really is going to notice when I check out and go into the spaceship. And so I think remembering too that our brains function on pattern recognition and are always trying to predict.
[00:37:48] Elisabeth: And so in that way something that is unfamiliar, even if it’s not great for our long term health, our relational goals in that moment, for our survival mind in the Present moment, that feels safer. Because we have the coping skills, though they might be harmful, we know, I’ve been in this situation before my brain can recognize it can generate an output and I can use substance or food or scrolling or numbing out to navigate this situation. I don’t know what is going to happen in this other situation of Presence and connection and true vulnerability. I don’t have a pattern for that. I don’t have a neuro tag. And so that creates an initial component of stress that has to be kind of worked through at that neurological level.
[00:38:40] Dr–Nicole Talking too about this idea of kind of imprinted similarity to our past. For me, it was such an eye opening piece of information that then obviously I explored within myself. I think it’s the work of Lisa Bartlett Feldman, I think is perhaps her name, but it’s the theory of constructed emotion. Which is universally there are core emotions. Like those physiological shifts and changes in our body, depending on who you read, I think there’s about like six of them. Anger, sadness, fear, joy, disgust, surprise being kind of the core things that all of us universally as humans will experience. They map onto specific chemistry in our body, elevations in our muscle tension, our heart rate that send signals. That’s all information in terms of how we’re experiencing the environment around us.
[00:39:22] What I did not realize, and what was the mind blowing piece for me, is how much of our experience of even those core emotions, let alone all of the other feelings, right, all of the other kind of minutiae and ways that you can break out those emotions into frustration and irritation and alarm and right, all of these other kind of ways we feel. How much that is a construction of our past lived experience. Meaning it’s not an objective reality. The three of us could sit in a room and have an experience happen and we might state or have the experience of a different emotion entirely. I think the most common easy example is the similarity between fear and excitement, surprise, and how neurologically again in our body that’s the same thing, right?
[00:40:24] So being uncertain about something or having a knock at the door for someone who loud noises, a parent barged in their room and something kind of violating or overwhelming happened on the end of that, might be fearful. In that same moment the person next to them might be in anticipatory surprise, who didn’t have obviously that past experience. Who might be in wait of something exciting on the other end of that door. Again that’s just a simple example though the reality of it as of it is we’re filtering and coloring based on the familiar physiology., the context of what once happened when that physiology was activated, and how we once felt. And now any similar shift in our physiology, shift in our filtered perception of what’s happening again, because we’re all viewing the world through filters. There’s no one objective stance on this is what happened, right? We’re all viewing it through all of this junk coloring from our past is going to be, then what contributes and creates to the emotional experience that we’re having.
[00:41:32] That’s huge in my opinion. Again, because it opens the possibility. It not only highlights the impact of understanding our past, our emotional kind of states of our past, how we are filtering and making meaning of and interpreting certain things that are happening based on the similarity of what had once happened. And now invites the possibility or the opportunity to create a bit of space, a bit of grounded Presence where we can in our minds question, of course, coupling that with shifting our body’s physiology in some moments and then creating new ways to navigate whatever it is that we’re feeling.
[00:42:10] Dr–Nicole: So again, just loving the topic and the title I should say of the podcast itself, really right down to the rewiring of our emotional experiences because the majority of us are reacting to the similarity of the past that we’re actually co-creating that similarity in these cycles, like we’ve been talking about in our Present moment.
[00:42:33] Dr–Nicole: So, of course, what was I began this whole conversation saying- we’re all feeling stuck. Of course, we’re all feeling like, even for some of us who so well intentionally affirmed we’re not going to repeat that past that was so very painful or shameful or whatever it was for each of us. We’re still doing it because of, again, all of these perceptual systems that are driven by this neurological or neurobiological, neurophysiological, dysregulation that are continuing to put the same filters, assign the same meanings. So the story goes until, of course, we listen to beautiful work like the two of you put out, right?
[00:43:11] Dr-Nicole: You kind of get this information and then you begin to embody these new choices to actually shift then, not only our emotional experiences in the way that we’re filtering the world that are creating or contributing to those emotional experiences, though we’re giving ourself more options, more of a grounded Presence and a responsiveness in terms of being a bit more in control as opposed to disempowered. ‘This is just what happens every time I feel this way’. To saying, ‘Okay, I feel this way in my body. Perhaps I’m feeling this way because of how I interpreted what happened? Perhaps I’m feeling this way because of all the stagnant energy I still have stuck in me, a fear of alarm, of anger, of sadness. And now I have the opportunity to intentionally shift physiologically, mentally.
[00:43:55] Again, this is I think why a lot of us, for very well understandable reasons, affirmations don’t work. Well, they won’t work until we couple an affirmation with a shift in our physiological experience, right? And we notice all of the times we’re viewing it through a story of our past, the world around us that is, and begin to shift and reframe and rewire right down to how our body is physiologically reacting.
[00:44:19] Jennifer: I say all the time that affirmations are just limiting beliefs. The body is not going to believe you, no matter how many times you repeat this. If you can’t bring that into your body and believe it at a really subconscious level, it’s not likely to shift or it’s not going to be a sustainable shift. You might experience little dabs of manifestation or whatever it is, but it will not last. And that is the beautiful thing about the brain and the nervous system is that we can rewire it, that we can lay what y’all were talking about- both of you, is this new template, this new pattern. And it’s about every day how can I walk this path to lay this template? Because eventually the brain is going to be like, we don’t go that way anymore. We don’t go down the way of self abandonment. We don’t trigger that Fight response so easily anymore, because it does feel safe in the body.
[00:45:04] Jennifer: And to have that safety in the body, you’ve come back to it so many times, is like the relationship to self is the most important relationship that I have now and that I will have for the rest of this human experience. And I’ve seen and lived the contrast in my body and in my life experience and I simply will not live that way anymore. Elisabeth expressed that she got autoimmune. I had cancer from all of this stress from childhood. So like and the idea of that who up for whoever is listening that you might be feeling stuck right now, you’re not you are absolutely not stuck where we are. And we really loved to talk about that rewiring that you’re talking about as well.
[00:46:07] Dr–Nicole: I think what’s important to also acknowledge for listeners is when we hear, at least again when I heard new information, right, people doing incredible things, transforming their life around. I just want to go back to this idea of limiting belief. I would read it and not as I think is a natural response when we hear new information that challenges ourselves, our identity, how we’ve been showing up in the world, some of us for our entire lifetime. Some of us were outwardly criticized. I would take it in and though I would keep myself separate, right? I would kind of subconsciously in my mind say, Oh, well, good for you. You were able to use the power of your mind, create this incredible life, translate trends, transformation for yourself, live this seemingly incredible life. Uh, that’s not possible for me, right? Because up then came all of my own limiting beliefs around what was possible for my physical body. Of course, grounded in the experience of my family around me who struggled with chronic health issues, chronic pain issues. So I had a lot of limiting beliefs in terms of that.
[00:47:10] Dr–Nicole So saying that to say, I think a lot of times when we hear new information, even this suggestion that you’re not as stuck as you might feel yourself to be when you maybe even hear objective conversations about how to rewire and make these small choices to move out of that familiarity zone so you can begin to lay some new neural networks that become like you’re saying, just the path I go down now. I think it’s important to honor what for a lot of us is a very natural stage of healing, which first can look like resistance. Like I had, right? Oh, that’s for you, not me. That can then evolve from like, okay, well, maybe, you know, it could be for me yet. What does that mean about me now? Who am I? What does my life look like? What do my relationships look like?
[00:48:02] Because so many of us have created a lifetime of identity, of roles in our relationships. For some of us, like me, I had all this outward expression of this practice and this professional identity, right? How scary it is. Again I think this is another area where as we age, in terms of our chronological years, we’re like well I should know who I am and it should be I should be okay with myself. And as we begin to shed and to rewire, unlearn some of our conditioning, make new choices. And we’re first met with the abyss of, ‘well, what does that mean for my life?’ How scary, not only do I have to mourn who I thought I was, how I thought I was, possibly some relationships if I need to create new boundaries to honor myself- which was a big part of my journey. Relationships that I thought I would have for a lifetime, even making the choice to separate from my family of origin for almost about a year and a half to give myself actual space to actually put up a physical hard boundary because I struggled to do it. Stuck in the cycles of chronic stress and worry and being relied on and depended on,. How much mourning there was there. I know for me, the grief was almost overwhelming. It almost kept me from creating the distance that I needed and some of the relationships that I needed at the most. And then when I did bravely make the choice to do that, it was so painful.
[00:49:29] Dr–Nicole: And then returning, right? Or shifting dynamics in relationships. Not being the person that was always present to be relied on no matter what was going on in my own life at that time meant mourning again, an aspect of my relational identity. So I think it’s important when we talk about, you know, as possible as change is- and of course I always want to end on the hope of becoming more aligned with yourself, creating the space to honor and the security to begin to explore your self expression.
[00:50:03] Dr–Nicole: I mean, I have never felt so connected to a purpose and a passion- things that again I didn’t think were going to be part of my journey. I’ve never seen myself transform things that I again thought was limited to certain other people. I’ve never begun to feel securely and safely able to be emotionally received the support that I need from those around me. To develop that authenticity. So there’s so much kind of hope in the possibility in the embodiment of transformation. And now truly being what I do believe to be like, I can intentionally, bringing this whole full circle again, if I’m caring for my physical self, my emotional self. If I’m allowing the support in that I need, I can show up as an, as an intentional creator, right? Just being responsive to each of the moments. And aware of the moments where I need to remove myself, where I do kind of go down those other pathways. But when I’m doing it in consciousness, I’m so very empowered. But again, saying that to say with the journey comes a lot of grief, a lot of shedding of identities.
[00:51:12] Dr–Nicole: I say that to make, not only to relieve possibly the concern that so many of us have when we’re faced with those existential questions of, ‘well, who am I?, what does this mean now? But for the pain that many of us then have to walk through as we’re mourning who we’re not any longer. As we’re experiencing the shifts in the dynamics with those around us. Sometimes as we’re hearing externally from those around us, what their perception of our new way of being is, because they’re wired just like us. They prefer the familiarity. They’re used to us showing up in the way that we’ve always showed up. So sometimes when we hear, ‘you’ve changed’ and it’s not said in a good way. Or we’re outright criticized or shamed. It’s not because they maybe in their hearts don’t want to be supportive. It’s because they’re in a protective state right then, in that moment, that our change feels threatening to their own self, their way of being, possibly their relationship. If they have their own abandonment wound, now they’re faced with what does this mean for the tenure or the longevity of our relationship? Well, I have to now change. And it can bring up a lot. So I just wanted to add that in. Because in my opinion, again, in my lived experience, that’s such a real part of this, as positive as so much of it is and feels so good, there’s so much of it that really feels very, very difficult, painful, and like a lot of loss.
[00:52:40] Elisabeth: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a really important part to acknowledge. And also the other people’s reactions to that change as well can cause that grief and that loss. We have a saying around here, we all do the best that we can at the level of our nervous system. And as your nervous system changes, it will resonate differently with other nervous systems. And there are relational shifts that occur. And so much of my healing journey, so much of the work that we do with clients too, it has to incorporate a grief practice and a way to sit with that emotion. Because as I started to change my nervous system, there were times, just like you’re talking, about where it was like this abyss, is a really good word that you used, where I don’t know who I am anymore. I’m different. My operating system is different. And what’s going to come now, what’s going to go in that void. And there was a loss of my former self. And so Jennifer and I are very intentional about a minimum effective dose grief practice and setting a timer for like 30 seconds a day to sit with the internal sensation so it’s not overwhelming. And then that grows in time to allow that to move through. Because there is so much resistance to change if we can’t also sit with the loss that comes to honor that growth. You know with the growth, there’s also loss. And if we can’t sit with it, then it impedes the growth.
[00:54:09] Dr–Nicole Yeah. And I think another thing too, coupling with something I saw come up with a member in the Self Healers Circle membership portal. We have a place where it very much looks like a Facebook and members can put posts up. So she was asking other members if they have had a similar experience, because what she is noticing is a lot of anger and was wondering- ‘Oh my gosh, I’m feeling so much more Present to my life. Present to my emotional life. And what I’m Present to it’s a whole lot of anger. I kind of affirmed back that anger is completely natural when our needs have been unmet, some of us for a lifetime. When we become Present to all of the ways that we’ve been violated, right? Our boundaries through self abandonment, self betrayal, in our relationships. Of course, we’re going to feel angry. That’s that natural physiological emotion that I was offering earlier, one of the core ones that happens when those things happen. That’s what many of us are becoming Present to. Needs that have gone unmet, physical needs that have gone unmet, emotional needs. Talking about complex trauma that have gone, many of us are becoming really Present to all of the ways that we’ve violated or in relationships where we’ve been physically or emotionally violated, right? So, of course, and anger, I just wanted to offer that here because I think very few of us are equipped to navigate our anger. We didn’t have the models. Some of us, anger was completely avoided, swept under the rug. There was never any speak of anger because it was one of those negative, bad emotions that have no Presence here. Others have seen or experienced an explosive consequence of anger. And I think again, a lot of us continue to have that conditioned idea around anger. I think a lot of us have a conditioned avoidance, that it is inappropriate or anger means something. It absolutely means what I was just suggesting. And it means that, though it doesn’t mean that in terms of our relationships, of course, we’re going to be angry. If in a relationship with someone, even in a healthy one, right?
[00:56:14] Dr–Nicole: And I think understanding how to navigate our own anger, how to explore moments of disagreement or conflict, which can activate our anger and our relationships is a skill that most of us as adults need to create. Not only theoretically in our minds by knowing what it is that we want to say to express our anger, but actually physiologically learning how to navigate anger and all of the different ways that we’ve habitually learned to express it.
[00:56:42] Dr–Nicole: And then on the other side of those moments of explosion or disconnection or whatever it is to reconnect and learning how to come back together. And shift from that very self focused survival mode where I can’t care about your perspective when I’m angry. You’re simply the threat. Who’s maybe violated me or who’s between me and my needs getting met and out of physiologically regulate ourselves so that we can learn to expand the space to care or at least hearing another person’s perspective or experience or their wants and their needs in any given moment.
[00:57:14] Dr–Nicole: So then we can actually actively negotiate it. So I think again, anger is another one of those really early emotions that can come up that can feel like we’re going in the wrong direction. Like, wait a minute, I’m supposed to be healing. Now I’m angry all the time. And again, I think it’s another area where very few of us are equipped to deal with our anger responsibly.
[00:57:33] Jennifer: Befriending my anger was a portal, honestly, to myself, to back to my joy. You know, we talked earlier about repressing emotions and are you even experiencing the emotions fully on the spectrum if you’re repressing anything, or one of them. You were just talking about someone who could have experienced multiple violations. You made a post on Instagram, maybe a month or so ago. And it says does a teenage girl who’s been violated repeatedly have borderline personality disorder or could this be the modern label for hysteria, a label given to over 75% of women. This post hit Elisabeth and I so hard. It resonated so deeply from our own personal experiences of that being that teenage girl. So I would just love to open that up to you.
[00:58:33] Dr–Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. I’m so grateful that the two of you resonated with that. I think a lot about how much what labels are given, especially in the context of this conversation. How many of our habitual, first of all natural, understandable feelings and emotions. And then habitual ways of expressing those, how many of those have been categorized and labeled in a very unhelpful way. Again, when we think about our development, at any years, kind of early in life, in our teenage years, in our twenties when we don’t have the safety and the security to be in our bodies- when our bodies are violated, when our emotions are violated, when we either don’t have adults that are physically or emotionally Present. I think a lot of times the trauma it’s kind of a twofold trauma that happens, right?
[00:59:30] Dr–Nicole: We have the event, the violation that happened, and then we have again that absence of attunement, anyone around us to know or sense or be the safe person to go to and share what has happened. Or if we do even more devastatingly share what has happened, sometimes we’re met with denial, right? We’re told it didn’t happen. Or we’re told we can’t say that it happened for whatever reason that is given to us. So the complexity now of trauma upon trauma that has happened it then I think comes outward in what sometimes are being labeled diagnostically having emotions that are very natural and normal to the experience of violation. That are very natural and normal to the experience of being emotionally invalidated or told that our reality isn’t real or having no one even present to care about our reality at all to even notice if anything happened.
[01:00:28] Dr–Nicole: And if we did have someone then Present to have it violated or invalidated in and of itself, right? I think a very common word that’s thrown around now is gaslighted. In a sense right where we’re told that didn’t happen or it wasn’t as bad or again not to say it for whatever reason. And sometimes for very well intentioned reasons maybe we’re offered support or were sent over to find the clinician, find the therapist, you know, seek the support. And then who is unfortunately kind of outwardly seeing the manifestation of very understandable emotions, very natural adaptations. And are giving us labels that might be connected to certain treatment pathways. Sometimes those then not only the labels, the byproduct product of the treatment, that if it isn’t holistic, somatically based, trauma-informed understanding where the manifestation is even coming from, getting at the root of it, if you will, to be able to actually help, kind of heal or cope then we can really set up, I think a system, a cycle.
[01:01:34] Dr–Nicole: I can’t tell you how many women in particular though, people in their adult years, who have shared with me decades of endlessly trying to seek help that isn’t helpful. Because what’s not being looked at again is the root cause, that lack of safety, of security, of attunement, the lack of space and boundaries for a physical and emotional self. The lack of empathy and resonance and support and coping when things outside of one’s control do happen, outside of the home. And then the labeling again of all of the different ways that those can manifest. And some people I do think have been caught in a system endlessly seeking help that hasn’t really been able to understand the route, even just the presence of your podcast and me being on this and me having the opportunity to write books. Having such a global community that is beginning to talk about this is so hopeful to me, that we are beginning to shift in awareness of what is causing some of these cycles of behavior.
[01:02:40] Dr–Nicole: So that over time we’re beginning to provide the access. One of the biggest priorities for me is, always outside of if you have the financial resources and choose to buy the book, I’m endlessly grateful for the support. The opportunity that offers me to continue to retailers to stock the book. Though I’m just as impassioned around all of the free accessible conversations, community and resources. Because this has to be talked about. I think it has to be, we have to expand our awareness of what’s causing a lot of the cycles that we continue to find ourselves stuck in. And I’m of the belief, especially within the context of community, that a lot of incredible healing can happen when these conversations are happening and when there is a new base of security that we’re able to create as a result.
[01:03:30] Elisabeth: Thank you so much for offering that beautiful shift in the entire mental health paradigm. It’s really courageous to put these ideas out into the world. It’s a big shift for people to think about. And there’s a big institution behind diagnosing a lot of these things. So I really appreciate your willingness to talk about that with us today. Thank you for putting those ideas out. And I think it’s a really important conversation that I’m very happy to see growing in the world and to contribute to. Thank you so much for your time today. And your wisdom and all of the wonderful insights that you’ve brought into this space. I know that people can get the book How to Be the Love You Seek at howtobetheloveyouseek.com. And we will also have a link to the Self Healers Circle in the show notes. Is there any other place for people to reach out to you or anything else you want listeners to know?
[01:04:33] Dr–Nicole: Thank you, Elisabeth and Jennifer. This has been truly an honor. Thank you for the work, being right here along with me in terms of Paradigm Shift. I’m feeling such alignment, such resonance. And again so inspired every time I am able to connect with other individuals that are thinking this way, that are so publicly having these conversations and thank you all to everyone listening.
[01:04:56] Dr–Nicole: I do like I said, I have so much hope for humanity really globally in the future for everyone. Even the fact that I have the opportunity to have community as big as it is and have been given the opportunity to write books is really a testament to the community, to each of you individually interested in this. Hitting follow and giving me the opportunity to put out work in the form of a book. My gratitude there is endless. It’s really a community and I see the community quite globally shifting and I’m just so grateful. And so in terms of yes, there’s ways to follow me at this point pretty much across any of the social media platforms. So however it is that any of you listeners like to consume your content.
[01:05:49] Of course, the journey began on that Instagram account, The.Holistic.Psychologist, though at this point we have a TikTok, a Threads, a Twitter, a YouTube channel. Actually, we’re getting ready to start releasing a new season of videos on the YouTube channel coming out today. I know we’re recording in this, will come out later. So when you tune into this, there’ll be a whole new slew of videos on the YouTube channel. And I wholeheartedly mean that, such a priority here is these free resources. So please do come follow, get these resources. I’m often, you know, releasing meditations. And I just released a new “Relationship Future Self Journal” so a bit of a journaling practice very much aimed at rewiring some neural pathways in terms of the conversation that we’ve been having. So however you like to consume your content, come follow, come get this information. And I think most importantly, come join the amazing community of individuals who are doing this work right alongside each of you.
[01:06:36] Jennifer: Thank you so much, Dr. Nicole. It is such an honor to walk this path with you. And really want to express the deep gratitude that I have for you for this big message and your visibility and all of your wisdom. So thank you so much.
[01:06:50] Dr–Nicole: Thank you.
[01:06:52] Jennifer: There’s really so much to explore with Dr. Nicole. If you’ve been a listener of this podcast and you follow her on Instagram, you’ll find that not only are our messages aligned, but so is our hope for the future of mental health and shifting out of these old paradigms of perceived mental illness. Today was really fun for us. And we look forward to sitting with Dr. Nicole again. Please find her new book How to Be the Love you Seek as well as many other incredible free resources available on her website. Thank you again, Dr. Nicola Le Pera and thank you listeners. All the links to connect with us, Dr. Nicole and all of our offerings are in the show notes.