ERP 354: How Trauma Affects The Brain & Relationships — An Interview With Ana Gabriel Mann

By Posted in - Podcast January 10th, 2023 0 Comments

Our personal history can shape the way we perceive and react to the behavior of others and the types of relationships we form. If we have experienced neglect or abuse in the past, it may be more difficult for us to trust others and form close relationships. We may also be more prone to anxiety or depression. On the other hand, if we had a supportive and nurturing upbringing, we may be more confident and able to form healthy, positive relationships.

In this episode, Ana Gabriel Mann discusses the use of neurofeedback as a treatment for trauma and other issues such as PTSD, brain injury, and processing disorders. They describe the process of neurofeedback and how it can be used to specifically target and address specific areas of the brain that may be over or understimulated. She also emphasizes the importance of self-care and the role it plays in healing and personal growth.

Ana Gabriel Mann earned her Master’s degree in clinical psychology before going on to serve as an educator, therapist, and corporate trainer. She currently coaches Go-Giver Marriage clients and leads the Go-Giver Marriage Coaches Training Program.

In this Episode

6:45 Exploring the use of authentic movement in processing and healing trauma.

11:57 The importance of boundaries in therapy, particularly in couples therapy. 

22:47 Understanding and managing flooding and multigenerational PTSD with EEG neurofeedback therapy. 

29:03  The Benefits of Neurofeedback Therapy for Managing Trauma and Overaroused Nervous Systems.

37:12 Neurofeedback for trauma, brain injury, and processing disorders: How EEG therapy can help regulate brain function and promote healing.

48:46 The importance of prioritizing self-care in trauma healing and personal growth.

51:42 How they’re helping individuals and couples.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Consider using neurofeedback as a tool to address trauma and improve brain function.
  • Have a CAT scan every 18 months to two years to guide neurofeedback training.
  • Focus on self-care and prioritize activities that nourish and pamper oneself in order to grow and improve overall well-being.
  • Consider working with a coach or therapist, to improve relationship dynamics and work on personal growth.
  • Check out the book “The Go-Giver Marriage” and consider joining the coaches’ training program to learn more about the principles outlined in the book.

Mentioned

The Go-Giver Marriage: A Little Story About the Five Secrets to Lasting Love (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Sharing Resources (*Google form)

ERP 270: How to Resolve Relational Trauma in the Body through Dance & Movement – An Interview with Orit Krug

Connect with Ana Gabriel Mann

Websites: gogivermarriage.com

Facebook: facebook.com/anagabrielmann

Twitter: twitter.com/AnaGabrielMann

Instagram: instagram.com/AnaGabrielMann

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Ana, thank you so much for joining us today.

Thank you, I’m excited for this conversation.

I am too. You and John were on the podcast many months ago at this point, promoting and talking about the gift of your book, and we can talk about that a little bit later. But it really occurred to both you and I that there was so much synergy in the work that you do. One of the things that you have a really beautiful voice and message around is trauma and how it relates and shows up in relationship. So that’s our topic today. I would love to hear, for listeners that are still getting to know you or want to know where you’re coming from as it relates to this topic, are you open to sharing what started helping you support people in this way? 

Absolutely. Well, first off, I became a therapist like a long time ago, 35, almost 40 years ago. I studied actually in a field that at that time was very new but now is quite mainstream, which is dance movement therapy. My initial break into it was really around working with a therapist who was a supervisor to me, who had a great deal of experience dealing with trauma, and who used a body-centered approach to dealing with trauma. It was specifically a method called authentic movement. Authentic movement, for those listeners that don’t know what it is, it’s that you’re alone, or even in a small group, in a studio space. You have your eyes closed. There is a witness, i.e. the therapist or the witness. And you move in any way that you feel like moving, which might mean you don’t move at all for the whole hour; you might just twiddle your finger. But if you embrace moving in a way that is authentic for you, you will eventually bump into, in your body, what it is that’s troublesome. I have seen people move in a space, and six sessions in, all of a sudden, they are very clearly in something extremely traumatic. They will basically move in whatever way is authentic to that experience, and come out of it realizing that they touched right on the base experience. 

In one of these cases, it was somebody who had been hit as a child. It was an extremely high-functioning person, they did not appear to have a serious history of trauma. They were doing authentic movement purely because they wanted to really understand the form. Then all of a sudden, in this unconscious and moving place, they bumped into a memory that they didn’t consciously remember. In the case of this person, their mother had actually taken green switches from the forest and had actually switched them back and forth across this woman’s legs. She was only four, and it had completely welted her legs. It was a reprimand. It was a beating, if you will. This person, who was probably 35 or 40, didn’t remember it, until she went into it in movement, and then she remembered it completely. So it was a lost memory that woke up. Then it was really a process over the next month or two or three, we worked together and she ended up really processing this journey. 

Free Focused male and female in casual wear sitting near boxes and looking through notebook thoughtfully while moving house Stock Photo

“Authentic movement allows anything that’s there under the surface, cellularly, to find its voice, if you will.”

Now, the thing that’s unique about authentic movement is that the witness is not allowed to make any inference into what’s happening with you. In fact, the witness only speaks if you, the mover, allow them to. So as the witness, you’re the container, and the mover gets to have as much privacy on that experience as they want. So this person chose not to tell me a thing for about a month, because she really just was so startled by it all that she just wanted to be with it and see what happened, as she continued to work with that. It was almost clear to me that you could see that she was trying to avoid being hit; she was moving in a way that looked defensive. Like, she was putting her hands up, and she was thrashing back and forth, trying to avoid being hit. So I was feeling a great deal of emotion. 

So when the mover invites the witness to speak, you are only allowed to speak about your experience. So I could only speak to what was happening for me as I was watching. I couldn’t interpret what was going on, or in any way project onto what was happening to her. That’s what makes it so unique. I think that in therapy, there’s always transference and countertransference. Having studied deeply unconscious communication, unconscious communication will always show you through derivative communication, what the client is really telling you about the boundaries of the therapy.

Can you say, for people who maybe don’t know what you mean there, would you be willing to give an example or break that down for a quick moment?

Sure, absolutely. In derivative communication, the client might tell you a story about how they go to meet their friend for coffee and their friend is always late, and it really bothers them that their friend doesn’t care enough to show up on time. That is a direct communication, that you as a therapist are leaving them in the waiting room, and you’re spending that extra four or five minutes, whether you’re going to the bathroom, or whether you’re still talking to the client before them, it’s disrespectful. If you are going to be good at what you do, you end on time, you start on time, and you never make people wait. Because it’s just the boundaries, and the boundaries are critical. The boundaries are what create the security of the experience.

I remember studying in somatic therapy in my PhD programme, and the different forms of dance therapy and authentic movement being one of them, I did not study in a deep way as you’re describing. But I understand the space around what is revealed in the movement in the body and what we can confront in the container, and the importance of having that safety in that witness, and being really aware. Like, in the guidelines that you’re articulating as the helper or the therapist or the guide, that the person that’s doing the therapeutic work, the client, if you will, has a lot of power to decide how they want to experience their therapeutic process. So much so that I will ask you when I want you to say anything, and even when you do say something, I want you to talk about what you’re experiencing in your body or you are experiencing as you witness, but not to project and not to interpret or give some analysis, if you will. That it’s a very different thing than what we classically think of around a therapist. I know some people who have experienced therapy know that that’s not necessarily the job of the therapist is to give advice, if we know that. 

As we transition here to couplehood and trauma, I don’t know if you want to segue or bring this in for us. Often in my work with couples, I know that if I just sit back, they’re likely going to do the thing that they do, and they don’t need to pay me to do the dynamic that they do. So for me and my work, part of creating safety is offering a different experience for them. So I am facilitating more than I do with an individual, absolutely.

I do too, I jump in more in couples’ work. Because it’s important to be able to ask questions sometimes of someone, and to really get a picture of what historically happened for them. Because a lot of times, trauma is something that happened to somebody in their childhood, or in their teens, or in the case of a client that I worked with years ago, an assault that happened in her 20s. She simply hadn’t gotten over it, and it was impacting their sex life; it was impacting her ability to be intimate. Those are things that really deserve work and deserve the healing. What was great was that, in a situation like that, if the partner can be really compassionate, the person with the trauma can do a lot of work on their own. It isn’t really about the couple. It is about the couple and how they’re interacting. But if the person who’s been traumatized can do some work on their own, it can often really start to melt away and be something that isn’t so much of a dynamic in their personal interplay.

Yeah. Even with a therapist or a skilled coach or a guide, they could even assist the dynamic between the interaction, between the couple and partner. I believe all of us have a history that informs what we’re experiencing, whether or not that’s injuries, small traumas, big traumas, there’s so much that we bring into relationship with your background. So as you’re describing, if one person has experienced trauma, it might not even be visible in the interaction, but it’s alive in the person. That if as a therapist, as you’re describing, can slow down, hold space, and even if the partner is just in witness, and there can be some work, whether or not also that individual that has experienced trauma gets individual support outside of the couple session, but even what can happen in the session, to be able to help some processing. That that can be extremely corrective to have a different way of holding and being present with, and then most likely, will access a little bit more vulnerability, a little bit more reveal, that will provide for that empathy and that connectedness. 

Because one of the things you described with the authentic movement that I just found so beautiful, in this story you mentioned with your client, that it took her a month. That she held space and she was ready, that she got to go at a pace that felt safe for her. Where sometimes, if we’re not really attuned, connecting with injury, especially traumas that we haven’t been fully conscious of in adult life, that can be a lot, and it can be overwhelming. So I like this pacing, and I love that just being attuned to one’s own rhythm around what feels doable.

Especially since a lot of people who have experienced trauma, experience flooding in couples. Often there’s one couple getting in the face of the other one, and the one that is being confronted, if you will, is flooded; they can’t even respond, they’re so overwhelmed. That is so typical of people that have any history of trauma or any history of neglect and abandonment. This is the thing I want to honor for people who are listening. If you have a history of trauma, you are a deeply sensitive person. There’s no way that you can be anything but. So if there’s a message I like to give people that have experienced trauma, and that would be about 99% of us, is to honor the part of you that’s very sensitive. 

John and I sometimes go to bed very early. It’s not about trauma, it’s just about we’re both so sensitive, that if we go to bed early, the next day is going to be powerful, because we’re rested. But if we stay up till midnight and get to bed and get a little less deep sleep. I mean, the sleep research is really clear that you get the most profound deep sleep before midnight. So if you can be asleep by 10 or 10:30, then you’ve really got your chances of getting an hour and a half or two or even three hours of deep sleep, and that is profound for healing your nervous system and healing your adrenals. Let’s be honest, all sensitive people tend to have a higher cortisone response; they’re much more quick to respond with a hyper-adrenal response, because they’re in that fight-or-flight or even freeze. Those are the very facets that make it hard to control how your body is just unraveling in front of you, and you feel emotionally overwhelmed and unable to move. 

So I really like to teach people a lot, that you really want to trust your body, you really want to trust and respect where you’re at even, in the middle of somebody getting in your face in a fight in a couple. It’s really important to say, “I can’t do this right now,” and walk away and be okay with that. That’s part of the work that I teach couples is that when one of you is flooded, there is nothing going to happen here. Because that person that’s flooded can’t function right now. So it’s kind of like, for one person, the battery has run out, and they no longer can respond. So the other person has got to sit down and cool off and let it be, give their partner time to regroup.

Well, and I know that it can be activating in the couple system if there’s not a trust that partners are going to come back. So if there is some felt sense of “we will revisit this,” that can make that much more tolerable. When you’re referring to the person that might be experiencing the flooding, you’re also helping us here to really acknowledge, there’s likely a lot of feeling and sensitivity, and that if we can learn to care for that, we’re going to be so much better in navigating this territory, including if we can set ourselves up well in getting sleep. I remember hearing that years ago, that one of the best ways to process cortisol in the system is through sleep. So on many levels, not only in the repair, but also in getting the resource for the following day or being set up for more resource in the next day to come. That these interactions in couplehood, we’re going to have a little bit more capacity perhaps, and/or the ability to discern that I’m getting flooded. Because if we’re asking so much of ourselves, that we’re not getting good sleep, we’re so back-to-back with all of our tasks, and then we have previous injury and trauma, it’s like, “Which way is that? I don’t even know.” Then flooding, just to reiterate, would you please help people? I know most people know what flooding is. But can you explain just what that looks like?

Free A Man Affectionate to Another Man Stock Photo

“Flooding is when your emotions rise so rapidly that you’re almost unable to respond, and you get so overwhelmed that you can’t even figure out what to say or how to respond in any situation.”

I mean, I have a daughter with special needs who gets flooded in the middle of a job interview. It’s because her anxiety has risen to the place where she’s sure that she’s not going to get the job. She has cognitively talked herself into this corner where she feels like she’s the least attractive applicant. Her anxiety rises to the point where when the person interviewing starts really pressing in with questions, she starts to freeze up, and it’s so painful to watch. 

This is really worth saying. A lot of people who are traumatized have what I call an over-aroused brain and an over-aroused nervous system. Now what does that mean? I am trained as an EEG Neurofeedback therapist, it’s one of my additional trainings beyond being a therapist and a coach. In EEG Neurofeedback, the way that you diagnose what’s needed for the person is through a CAT scan. You can do a CAT scan with a good portion of the brain, or you can do a CAT scan with the entire brain, where every last sight on that CAT is picking up what the brainwaves there. It will tell you exactly what areas of the brain are over-aroused; the amygdala can be over-aroused, the frontal cortex can be on fire, the frontal cortex can have high beta, and high beta means you can’t even think you’re so overwhelmed. These are very normal reactions to adverse cortisol release, where you’re releasing cortisol simply because you’re anxious, and/or you’re drinking too much coffee, you’re not really getting enough sleep. All of these things rev up the engine that will then keep and perpetuate the anxiety. 

People who grew up in situations where they felt anxious as children—perhaps they had an alcoholic parent who was screaming and yelling all the time, and they were constantly afraid of getting hit, or afraid of just the fact that Daddy was hitting Mommy, or whatever was going on in the home—they often will feed their own cycle of anxiety by revving up the engine with caffeine and with things that get them going in the morning and keep them going. Then they’ll use alcohol, pot, whatever they can at night, to self-medicate, to sort of take themselves down. All of these cycles contribute to people being flooded and feeling like they’re in overwhelm and they can’t get out of it.

In survival mode, really.

Yeah. So once we have a CAT scan on somebody with EEG neurofeedback, it’s really profound. I’ve not only been a client, but I’ve been an EEG Neurofeedback therapist. As a client, I can say that I grew up in a family where there was a whole lot of action going on all the time. I had a father who was a PTSD World War Two vet. I didn’t really understand multigenerational PTSD. But he grew up under a father who was abusive of his mother, to the point where he had to threaten his father’s life at 16, in order to stop his father from hurting his mother. Then he went to World War Two at 19, and was there until 22. So it’s like, it was really young ages for what he witnessed; the amount of death he saw, just all of the things he witnessed. So I grew up under this father who was exceptionally loving, he never hit me. He was an incredible father. But he was very traumatized, so he was always worried about us. He was always saying things like, “Look out, watch out for this or that, if you’re ever in a car with a boy…” He would lay out all these scenarios that were dark, and explain them, what do you do if this happens? 

He was tackling all the threats and the risks. 

Exactly, and so I grew up with this anxiety. So when I got trained as a Neurofeedback Therapist, I became a client, and of course, my brain showed that I had a hyper-aroused brain. It was so refreshing for me, because it was sort of like, I thought I was always Type A, but I wasn’t Type A. I had an over-aroused brain, which is kind of like thinking you’re Type A, but your brain is just working overtime; your nervous system is aroused, you’re always hyper-vigilant. I was always paying attention to every nuance, which as a therapist can be a skill, because you notice when someone’s tapping their foot, you notice every little nuance. But on another level, it’s very tiring, to always be in that over-aroused state. 

So when you get a training, and they down-train that over-arousal, I remember going out of a session one day and feeling like I’ve been meditating for a week. I was so calm, and I felt so relaxed, and my brain was not doing any kind of ping-pong game. So for people who are traumatized who are listening, I really want you to recognize that over-arousal is the part of you that has your brain and your nervous system working overtime; you are overthinking, your brain is racing, there’s a great deal of difficulty quieting things down. So that’s yet another tool that can be powerfully effective for people, if they want to look up somebody. They’re all over the country now. There are EEG Neurofeedback Therapists everywhere, and they can really help you calm down things.

When you’re describing this for people that may have interest and want to explore this further, the down-training, is that using the neurofeedback or what would you say there?

Yeah, neurofeedback is really simple. I mean, they’ll have a computer in front of you. It could be like a visual picture that comes together while you’re training. Or it could be a game, it could be a Pac Man game. They have every possible thing. You can do it visually, or you can also close your eyes. There’s like a little beep in the background going off, and as your brain is responding to the training, the beeps will increase. The therapist that’s running the computer on their end, they might have one little node here and another one on the back of your head, and what they’re doing is they’re taking different areas of your brain that are over-aroused and they’re calming them down. Your brain will always try to win the game. It will always try to increase the beeps. It’ll always try to make the Pac Man eat the cookies. It’ll always try to make that visual image come together on the screen. And it’s very fascinating to watch. Because people with ADD can get more organized thinking, people with trauma can become calmer and more in control of the feelings and emotions they have, and it really gives people an opportunity to gain some measure of control over trauma. 

Especially PTSD, for those of you who are listening who have experienced flashbacks, I was a therapist for almost 15 years before I had an experience where I was having my own flashbacks, so I understood what flashbacks were. But my brother was killed in a tragic car accident, and I was at the scene of the accident for four hours. I was the only person in the family who saw him after the accident, and I just couldn’t get the images out of my head. It took probably two years for the flashbacks to back down. 

So when you’ve been traumatized, and it’s particularly playing like a movie in your head, something like EMDR or neurofeedback, or any number of things that can calm the trauma down so that your nervous system isn’t overreacting constantly, that you’re not in that state of flooding and feeling so out of control, those can be extremely important tools. Because sometimes you just feel like you’re on a roller coaster ride and you can’t control it. I mean, I was seeing clients then, and I could be in the middle of seeing the client and suddenly feel hot and sweaty because I had a flashback just wave over me, an image that I couldn’t just shut down. So I would just be sitting there, trying to breathe, and stay calm. That’s the kind of impact. People are in lots of very important jobs, people have high positions; they’re teachers, they’re therapists themselves. There are all kinds of different jobs in the world that are extremely important, and when you’re in that state, it’s almost hard to continue whatever you’re doing.

Oh, my goodness. Well, I appreciate your sharing just the experience of your own in your own life and the impact and just to really validate and normalize how powerful trauma influences our experience and impacts us, and also how much we can engage with these therapeutic resources to help regulate, to help down-regulate. Did you say down-train?

It’s down-training, yeah. Down-training is to calm an aroused brain, and up-training is to elevate an under-aroused brain. A lot of people who are under-aroused, really, a bomb could go off next to them and they wouldn’t even jump, those are people who have trouble thinking and who are very slow on the uptake. Anyone who has been through a brain injury has an under-aroused brain often, and they need their brain to wake up. The beauty of EEG Neurofeedback, unlike other forms of training for trauma, is that it’s specific to your brain. So you have to do that CAT scan first, and that gets read by an expert. There are these incredible experts at UCLA and Stanford and at all different kinds of facilities, where their skill is reading a CAT scan. Once the therapist really understands, then there’s a protocol for training to really be specific to those areas of the brain. So if the amygdala is over-firing, it can be quieted. If high beta is clouding someone’s ability to think clearly in the frontal cortex, that can be completely addressed. So trauma takes many forms in terms of how it impacts the brain in the nervous system. 

I love this. So as you’re talking about someone who’s under-aroused, and that shutdown or freeze, is the brain also under-firing, if you will, or do you see that the brain is actually still firing in these ways that indicate like the amygdala, and I would imagine so, and yet their somatic or their physiological state, it’s almost exhaustion? Like, it’s overwhelm, it’s exhaustion, it’s chronic, repetitive. Where we have felt like we can’t mitigate the threat anymore, that over-arousal hasn’t worked, so it’s like the next best or the most primal option, playing possum. What do you see in those CAT scans?

You see a brain that is completely not functioning in certain areas, and is hyper-aroused in other areas. So the training, we’ll take people, we will quiet down the hyper-aroused areas and upregulate the under-aroused areas. That brings the brain into a more dynamic balance. It’s very interesting, because I’ve had clients that couldn’t articulate. The trauma was so deep and so constant, and they were so over-aroused and so flooded at the same time, that it was difficult for them to talk about it. Then all of a sudden, as the brain became calmer, not as over-aroused in specific areas, like the amygdala, and at the same time, the under-aroused areas were allowed to come up and be a little more balanced and have a little more activity going on, then they were suddenly able to be articulate about what had happened. In a way that allowed them to see it and have cognitive understanding of it, and also to see the negative thought patterns. 

Because I’m also a believer in cognitive therapy, in the sense that if you can see the ways that you tell yourself negative stories. People will tell stories, like, “Oh, this is going to be a terrible day, I just know it,” and they start off the morning in that fashion, and they keep repeating to themselves the mantra of “I knew this would happen. Oh, I just knew I’d be late! Argh!” They stay in that pattern of verbally and emotionally and personally circling, they will create that bad day, because they’re really just in it. It’s like a soup they’re swimming in and they can’t get out of it. 

Free Boy in Black Long Sleeve Shirt Sitting on Brown Wooden Bench Stock Photo

“Once you can help people to see those negative thought patterns and start to take it in a new direction, it is very powerful. People just sometimes need to retrain themselves to the way they think about things.”

Well, two things. One, it sounds like this neurofeedback has a little more specificity and being able to access. How often do people get this CAT scan?

I recommend people have a CAT scan every 18 months to two years; you don’t need to do them often.

Oh, I would wonder though if the brain is in a different state.

Well, it changes, but it will revert back to the pattern, and then it’ll come back as you do the next training. The thing that’s interesting about neurofeedback is, people train either once a week or twice a week, and that’s it; you don’t need more than that. Because the training will last three to five days, and then your brain will slowly start. Because this other pattern, this trauma pattern is deep. It’s ingrained. Your brain wants to go back to that loop. It’s like a hamster on a wheel, it wants to go back to that loop. But the more that you specifically train to calm down your over-arousal, and to elevate the places where you’re cognitively slow or you’re not able to express, you will find that it really just gets incredible. 

My most favorite moments in that are people who have been brain-injured. I mean, I’ve had stroke, I hate the word “victim,” but people who have experienced a stroke, and they’ve lost their verbal skills, that area of the brain has shut off. But as you uptrain that area of the brain, suddenly they’re starting to speak, they’re able to get phrases back, and suddenly those phrases make them feel really giddy and happy. They can say, I’d like a cup of coffee. I mean, these are people who can go into a Starbucks and not speak, because the stroke has damaged them. So what the brain will do is it will rewire wherever the damage is. It will go right around it and say, “Oh yes, let’s have a cup of coffee.” Whatever it is that you have forgotten how to say, it will learn again how to say, and you’ll be able to get all your language back. These are things that happen more in the case of stroke victims or people with brain injury. But brain injury often slows the brain. So you see people with brain injuries having very slow responses, and that’s what processing disorders are all about. Processing disorders often are about slow processing. They are not a sign of a lack of intelligence, they’re a sign of not being able to process quickly. 

Free Man Carrying Woman Stock Photo

“For somebody with a processing disorder that’s based on a brain injury, neurofeedback is a powerful, powerful tool. Because it speeds the brain up. But it’s very specific to the regions of the brain that need to be sped up.”

So a stroke will go through the brain in a specific pattern. It might start on the left side of your neck and go up and lodge on the right side of the cranial region. That stroke will cut a path through the brain, and where it cuts that path, there’ll be tremendous damage. But all those areas of the brain can be trained specifically. The electrodes just go in wherever they need to go; they can go behind your ear, they can go right on the top of your head, they can go on the crown, they can go at the base of your neck, they can go on the inside of your eyebrow. They can go down any number of about 16 places on your forehead, so that it’s operating directly on the area that needs it.

Well, this is profound, and the healing and what you’ve been able to witness, and the impact of people’s functioning based on their brain’s functioning. I love just your ability to name how it can have a specific result with specific experiences, like a stroke. You’re also saying, for people that have experienced trauma, and it’s almost like this assist, that being able to help get some support to operate in a different way. The second thing I was going to say was, it also feels like it mimics or has a similar aspect of, like you mentioned, EMDR, or some other therapeutic approaches that offer a little bit more space, so that there can be a little more regulation and functioning to them to start to process. Like, we can’t actually do the therapeutic healing if we’re so dysregulated, and either hyper-aroused or hypo-aroused (the under-arousal). So it sounds like the neurofeedback also has that, as well, working for it.

Exactly. Taking it back to couples and normalizing it a little. Again, I believe that 99% of people have experienced trauma in their life, that impacts how they get triggered in their day-to-day life. So let’s go back to a couple. You’re somebody, let’s say, a woman or a man who likes to be in control, and control is just how you manage. You like to have everything in its place, you like to have your tasks all laid out. Maybe you make a list every night before you go to bed. Maybe you keep a day planner, where you really have your day organized and planned; everything from your workout to every last detail of your workday is all organized. So when you get in a couple, and he leaves his socks on the floor, this is a problem. Sometimes people will get triggered because there’s somebody else in their space and you can’t control them, and that will suddenly bring up stuff that makes you want to get critical, makes you want to try to control the other person, makes you get into codependent behaviors. All of these things are really reflections of whatever your historical background has brought to who you are in the present moment. 

I find that it’s really easy if you can get aware of them. Like, a lot of the work I do in coaching and counseling with couples, and it’s worth saying on this podcast, I work only with individuals. I will occasionally work with a couple, but I will often see both of them individually, and then we’ll work as a couple. Because I really want to understand what’s their piece, what’s their partner reporting about them and what are they reporting about their partner, and what are the reactions, who’s reacting how? Because when you can start to get conscious of the fact that maybe you really have control issues, and maybe those control issues have to do with having been assaulted in college 15 years ago. But you were assaulted in college, and now you really are a control freak in a lot of areas of your life, because that experience made you feel so out of control that you vowed you’d never be out of control ever again. So there’s a dynamic there that people can really start to get conscious of. 

Part of what we talk about in our book when we talk about the five secrets to lasting love is that there’s five opposites to the secrets, and they are things like, criticism and control, contempt, stagnation, not growing in your own life, things of that sort. If you can get a grip on those things, and not figure that you’re going to change yourself, but change the behavior, so that you actually employ the secret instead of its opposite, you can really start to change your pattern. We have found that even with couples where one of them clearly is traumatized, hates feeling out of control, wants to smack her husband, or he wants to yell at her because she has interrupted his day or challenged him in some way or another. 

Free Peaceful female looking at camera and leaning on chest of pensive girlfriend while sitting near tree trunk in countryside during weekend Stock Photo

“Fights often break out when people are triggered, and triggers are exactly what people experience that have trauma.”

It’s like you’re triggered suddenly, something has triggered you. That’s just so important to pay attention to and to really honor in your own self. It’s like, it’s okay to get triggered, it’s okay to be flooded. It’s like, these are natural things that happen to 99.9% of couples. It’s just about getting awake to them so that you can change the pattern with the smallest gestures and the smallest behaviors that can help you change the pattern.

Well, Ana, that’s one of the things I’m really hearing from you is that it’s almost as if in the couple dynamic or in the relationship, there might be certain things that get activated or triggered. We use that as a curriculum, if you will, to then look at the inner constellation of what’s happening internally, to do the individual work to understand and welcome it, as you’re saying, and to look at it. Not judge it, make it bad, but really turn towards that, and the transformation that can come from that and the healing that can come from that and opportunity there. Am I hearing that right?

Absolutely. Also, just really coming from a place of compassion for yourself, as well as your partner. I’ve got to tell you that the two years after my brother’s car accident are kind of a blur to me. I was in a previous marriage, and I don’t have any idea what kind of a partner I was, but I don’t think I was a very good partner. Because I was barely coping, and I had a child with special needs and a job, and the combination I was running without my head on, and trying to just squash down flashbacks. Even though I had been a therapist, I didn’t understand them until they were happening to me. Then my compassion for my clients went through the roof, because I suddenly had a whole different understanding. It’s kind of like the [Invasion of the Body Snatchers]. You’ve been taken over by a foreign entity, and it’s out of your control almost. It really is truly out of your control.

So what I’m also hearing you say, and really helping people get a sense of how we can override this, I know we have said this, and you’re saying we can feel hijacked by this nervous system brain functioning. It is critical that we get support for that. To think that we can just overcome that, that that’s a setup, if you will. I just really appreciate you bringing so much light and attention. I know we were going to really focus on how trauma impacts relationship, and we’ve really spent a lot of time here talking about the inner work and just how important that is and how much that does impact the relationship. I know we have just a couple more minutes here. So I’m curious, is there anything you want to say in our conversation here that maybe we haven’t touched on?

I do. In our book, the most important secret, in my opinion, is the fifth secret. The first four secrets are about being generous with your partner. But the fifth secret is about being generous with yourself. The fifth secret is called Grow. I operate both as a therapist and as a life coach. Part of the reason I choose that is that I have found that when I work with clients with trauma, when we focus on their dreams, where do they really want to go in life, there’s something that happens where they light up, and they start to choose experiences each and every week. Because we’re working weekly, they’re mapping their week, to include experiences that are about pampering themselves, taking care of themselves, spending time with their women friends or men friends, having playtime with their child that’s completely stress-free, going out for ice cream. It all sounds like Pollyanna, but it’s not Pollyanna. Because everyone has dreams. Maybe they’ve wanted to go back to their hobby of painting, and they love painting and painting really feeds them. Maybe two hikes in nature every week just nourish them. Maybe really prioritizing that hot Epsom salts bath every night with lavender oil and just a candle, and just taking care of themselves in a different way. That that’s what growing really is, when you take care of yourself. That’s when you’re really growing. 

So I like to emphasize that. Because I feel that when clients really, or any person, decides to take care of themselves in ways that they haven’t in the past, magical things happen. Their life lights up, their attitude changes, their trauma backs down. Maybe they go for therapy, maybe they go for EEG neurofeedback, maybe they decide to change their diet and eliminate sugar, or eliminate too much caffeine. It’s like, there’s just so many ways to grow. So I like to emphasize that for people. 

Free stock photo of affection, afro, beauty Stock Photo

“I think that we don’t give to ourselves, because everybody thinks it’s selfish, and they’re taking care of others so much, but they’re not taking care of themselves.”

I’m so struck. We could spend many, many podcast episodes with you. You’re giving us insight to so many different areas. You’ve also mentioned your book that you wrote with John. As we start to transition out here, what would you like to encourage people to connect with you around, or what you have to offer? I know we had a whole episode on the book, so I’ll make sure to link that to today’s show notes. If you just want to, again, say the name of that book, and then whatever else you want to encourage people to connect with?

Absolutely. The name of the book is The Go-Giver Marriage, and the subtitle is, the 5 Secrets to Lasting Love. It’s a parable, and then the second half of the book is a didactic how-to. It explains the depth of each secret, and it explains the opposite of each secret, and it’s very rich in its understanding and nuance of how to work with the book. The other thing that we are doing is that we are training a bunch of coaches that will work with the book and work with the material, so that people can work. People work individually with these coaches. This is not couples therapy, this is you working to change the dynamic of your marriage. Because it only takes one person in a marriage to really, really shift it in terms of the energy. So we also have a coaches training programme that’s launching in March, and people can reach us through GoGiverMarriage.com. That includes working with me directly if they want to work, that’s there as well.

Okay. So when you say work with you directly, that’s in the capacity of counseling or coaching?

Yes, and I work via Zoom. So I have clients in the Netherlands, in Switzerland, in Germany, and I also have clients all over the United States. So it’s from anywhere you want to be, I can work by Zoom. It’s really a wonderful format, it’s changed the world of therapy and of coaching.

Yes, it has. Well, I’ll make sure to put the link to the GoGiverMarriage, so people can access the book. I’ll also put an Amazon link there, as well as your coaching, training, and then how to work with you directly. For people that are interested in learning more and connecting with you, that will be there available. Ana, thank you so much for joining us today and spending your valuable time with us.

Thank you so much. It’s been such a pleasure.

Signing Off

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Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching