ERP 423: How To Transcend Trauma (And The Effects Experience In Relationship) — An Interview With Dr. Frank Anderson

By Posted in - Podcast May 7th, 2024 0 Comments

Have you ever wondered why you react the way you do in certain situations or why certain relationships feel so challenging? In many cases, individuals may not realize how past trauma is influencing their present relationships and personal well-being.

In this episode, we talk about trauma, its various forms, and its profound impact on individuals and their connections with others. Featuring expert insights from a leader in the field of trauma therapy, the conversation sheds light on how trauma from our formative years can shape our adult behaviors and interactions. Through an in-depth examination of cutting-edge therapeutic approaches such as internal family systems, and emotional focus therapy, this discussion provides valuable tools and strategies for identifying, addressing, and healing these deep psychological wounds. Discover how to reconnect with your inner wisdom and potentially transform your relationships and self-perception, moving towards more empowered connections.

Frank Anderson, MD, completed his residency at Harvard Medical School. He is both a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist. He specializes in the treatment of trauma and dissociation and is passionate about integrating current neuroscience knowledge with the IFS model of therapy.

His most recent book, entitled “Transcending Trauma: Healing Complex PTSD with Internal Family Systems” was released on May 19, 2021. His memoir, “To Be Loved,” is set to be released on May 7, 2024.

In this episode

03:26 Understanding the multifaceted nature of trauma.

09:33 Understanding the connection between present-day struggles and unresolved childhood trauma.

19:01 The dynamics of emotional intimacy within relationships, particularly in the context of therapeutic approaches like Emotional Focus Therapy (EFT) and Internal Family Systems (IFS).

26:02 Understanding trauma responses and their varied manifestations.

32:45 Embracing healing and reconnecting with self.

43:32 Inspiring collective healing through personal narrative.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Cultivate deeper emotional connections by holding space for each other’s feelings and vulnerabilities.
  • Share your struggles authentically with your partner, allowing them to support you without feeling responsible for fixing everything.
  • Instead of shaming them, acknowledge that your trauma responses are attempts to protect you, and appreciate them for their intentions.
  • Trust your inner wisdom and intuition, reconnecting with yourself after disconnecting to survive past traumas.
  • Engage in healing practices to release the energy of past traumas stored in your body and psyche.
  • Once you’ve healed, work towards forgiving both yourself and those who have harmed you, recognizing the humanity in everyone.
  • Participate in collective efforts towards healing and transformation, whether through personal initiatives or broader community involvement.

Mentioned

To Be Loved: A Story of Truth, Trauma, and Transformation (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Transcending Trauma: Healing Complex PTSD with Internal Family Systems (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Connect with Dr. Frank Anderson

Websites: frankandersonmd.com

Facebook: instagram.com/frank_andersonmd

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/frank-anderson-654b1836

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

Frank, thank you for joining us.

Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited about this conversation. 

Me too! It is such a gift, with your level of training, expertise, and stature, and just your level of what you’re offering in the world. So it’s a huge gift and honor to have you on the show. 

Oh, thank you. 

Yeah. One of the things we’re just going to help people look at, as we orient in our conversation, is given your expertise on trauma, and also just relational trauma, and as we focus here on the Empowered Relationship Podcast about relationship in intimate relationship, where would you like to start in just orienting about trauma and the effects of it? Can we start there?

Yeah, it’s a great place to start. Because oftentimes, people don’t even really know what trauma is, especially people outside the mental health field. People in the mental health field do know it. Most of my career has really been spent in the arena of relational trauma, or what we call complex PTSD. But what I like to tell people is, trauma is what happens to you, what event you experienced, what kind of violation you’ve gone through, what significant life events have happened. It could have been a rape, it could have been a loss of your loved one, it could be a car accident. So trauma is kind of what happens, and then your response is a whole separate issue. Like, I think about frequency, intensity, and duration, when I think about trauma; what happens, what effect did it have on you. Because some people can go through the same exact thing and have very different responses. But I’d like to look at frequency, intensity, and duration. 

We can have a single event, like I said. You can have a family kind of trauma, what we call transgenerational or family type of trauma, which gets passed down through the generations. Relational trauma is what I’m really focusing on; most people growing up in dysfunctional families, and the ways they repeat these patterns in their adult life. Not really aware that the fifth person that I’ve dated who’s cheated on me is, oh, actually related to my young attachment wounding when I was six months old or something like that. So the relational trauma realm. And to finish off, super honestly, this is a weird thing to say, but I’m excited, because we’re so much more aware of systemic trauma, cultural trauma, people who are marginalized in society, in culture. We’re more aware of that now in a way that I think is very important, because it’s an important piece of the puzzle here. You can’t really talk about individual or relational trauma anymore, without looking at the systemic or cultural or institutional events that overlay it. So it’s a complicated answer nowadays, which is important.

Yes, thank you for just giving some scope to this. Because what you’re describing is the ability to identify and really give credit to these experiences that have profound impact on our learning, on our shaping, on our lived felt experience. This informs how we relate to the world, how we expect others to respond to us, what we feel in our nervous system. So perhaps people who have had associations with PTSD or trauma think of it in a certain way, perhaps in these more acute or single events or big things that happen. And they don’t identify with that, and with this new understanding about more complex relational traumas, how that fits with just even the family learning. Then also the collective and the culture and the systemic, and what we’re really able to acknowledge, the profound impact that that has on someone’s sense of safety in the world, of belonging, of being responded to. It’s incredible. I see this often in my work of people confronting how people have responded to them in their life early, in their families, and just recognizing: Oh, I didn’t have the responsiveness in that and the impact of that. That’s just a whole different paradigm, to give credit to this. This is what you and so many other people are contributing to in such a really profound way. 

That’s right, it really is important for me to get this connection for the general public. Like, oh my behaviors, oh my struggles, oh my difficulties finding a partner or raising my children, are rooted in my unresolved childhood trauma. That is a big message. Because people don’t have that awareness. People don’t come into therapy, saying: Oh, I was unloved as a child, and I’m really struggling in my adult relationship. I’m having trouble in my sexual life because I was suppressed in my family and couldn’t express my authentic self when I was growing up. That’s not what they say, you know what I mean? They focus on the present day difficulties, and part of our job is like: Hey, I’d like to say. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) calls it the Float-back. So I’ll often say, well, where did this pattern start, when’s the first time you noticed this? I’m always trying to validate the current-day struggle, and then helping people start to float back and think about the origins of these. Oh, I have an image of me as a little girl on the playground being bullied. Or, oh, I remember my mother saying you’re not good enough, or you’re too not pretty, or your legs are too heavy, or something like this. So to give people this connection to the origin, I think it’s super important, and most people don’t hold that awareness. Because we suppress our wounding in order to survive. 

Absolutely, and these are fundamental. As you bring up attachment, the sense of feeling safe in the world, responded to, that these are very primal, fundamental needs. S when we’ve had pain, or we have had trauma, then we learn to adapt; we learn to deal. And the work of you and Dick Schwartz, all the Internal Family Systems, and the parts work. I mean, I would love for people to get a glimpse of that just so they have some recognition of what we’re talking about. But also, even access to this powerful modality that can really help people navigate this. Because part of what I think you’re describing is, when someone is coming in to seek support, they are initially oftentimes motivated by pain. Like, something’s gotten big enough where they’ve sought support, and maybe even a crisis. It’s hard to know what is what. So there’s a lot of, like you’re saying, validity to the current circumstances being painful and uprooting and unsettling, and the participation and the moves and how we relate and what we’re experiencing, that’s perhaps what you’re also paying attention to, to help give some understanding of the ways in which we participate and perpetuate maybe some of these dynamics.

People don’t know that most of their relational decisions are rooted in redemption of their childhood wounding. People don’t know that. Like, I’ll say to people sometimes when I’m doing workshops or teaching, like: Look, I didn’t make it this way, this was not my design, people. I’m just helping sort it out. Attraction is really an unconscious familiarity with: Oh, we have the same wounding, even though we may deal with it in opposite ways. Because typically, we’re drawn to someone who has the same wounding. But if we’re an introvert, we’re drawn to an extrovert.

Opposites attract on the surface. But our wounds are similar. And people don’t know that we seek out the familiar in an attempt to heal our wounding.

That’s why relationships fail all the time. It’s like: Oh, you’re going to be the mother I never had, or you’re going to be the father who loves me in a way that my father didn’t. But it’s a setup for failure, because an intimate partner should not be your mother or your father, any primary caregiver. So we unconsciously do this, and this is where we repeat our patterns. 

One of the things I talk about in my new memoir, To Be Loved, I’ve certainly been through the journey, and I really am very open and honest in that book. Because it’s important for me, for people to get that even an expert has been in the trenches, struggling with this stuff, just like everybody else. I married a woman, once upon a time, and totally was my father, and my ex-wife was my mother. I was controlling. I was aggressive. I was just repeating my mother and father’s dynamic in that relationship. I felt terrible about it, but I couldn’t help it. I was drawn to repeat. To hell with this, I’m coming out! So I came out and I was like, let me try it with a man instead. I’m not suggesting everybody has to do that, that’s not what I’m suggesting. But what I did when I came out, and it was shocking to me, was like, I became my mother and I attracted a guy that was like my father. So then I took on this more passive role, and I was drawn to this guy who was more like my father, violent and controlling and all this stuff. I was like, what am I doing? Like, here I am again, repeating this pattern I grew up with. It wasn’t until getting to like, what’s up, Frank? Like, you’re running out of options to repeat here, buddy. So where are you going next? Then it was like, oh okay, started healing the wounds I was trying to fix in my relationships. 

I’ll never forget, when I met my current husband, it was like, I don’t know this. It was kind of like new territory. It was very cool. It was a moment. It was like, this is not familiar to me, and it was intriguing because it wasn’t familiar and it wasn’t a repeat. It’s like, you don’t have to repeat if you heal your wounds. I think that’s a really important lesson for people to understand. I’d like them to read about it in my book, instead of having to go through a couple of divorces on their own, like I did, in order to get this lesson.

Oh, my gosh! Yes, I mean, this is living in that cis attachment system or compelled and the familiarity, there’s an attractive pull to that. Also, if we’re unconscious to the deeper fuel or the motivators, we’re likely to just play the part in the drama as we repeat the drama, perhaps with partners, and it’s just like: Oh, here it is again. Just this recognition, but also the attempt, like you’re saying, the underneath desires to have healing and to resolve that. Yet, when we’re unconsciously participating, we’re perpetuating in playing those roles. So when we can bring more contact, more consciousness, and have more choice in how we’re establishing and creating relationship. It’s unfamiliar. It’s likely going to feel, maybe the charge of it might not be the same, there’s some aspects of it that are going to feel different. Yet, what you’re describing is, there is capacity for healing and for choosing and creating and co-creating real, healthy relating.

Yes, that’s right. Relating not from your childhood wounding. We teach people in IFS, do the U-turn is what we call it, like, go inside. In fact, those young attachment wounds that we hold, other than the primary person who may have caused those wounds, they may or may not be available for authentic repair; sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not. But if they’re not, we’re the best solution to our childhood wound, and not our partners. That’s the hard lesson for people to learn, is it’s easier to want somebody else to fix it, instead of us being with the pain and healing in ourselves. That’s the real message around like, you can heal this, you can be there for those younger parts in a way that nobody else can, or should, outside of the original object. I was so fortunate. I did so much healing work on my own in the way that I’m talking about, and it was such a bonus at the end of my father’s life, who was my primary abuser, really, to have the corrective experience with him. That was amazing for me. Most people don’t get that option, and I was fortunate enough to have that. So without being able to work through it with the person or people who have harmed you, there’s a really good option, internally, to be able to heal all the wounds with you in the parts that carry the trauma. So that’s the good news here.

No kidding! I want to back up and reference some of what you were talking about how trauma is experienced. But before we do that, I wonder if you can speak to. Because some of the training that I’ve been exposed to and utilize a lot is the Emotional Focused Therapy with working with couples, and this gets confusing, I think for people, around so much of what is prompted is being able to turn to your significant other and have them respond. But I think the real difference is that there’s an ability to connect and hold space for what one is feeling in those deeper layers, the insecurities or the longings. To hold that, to be with that, and relate to that, and then show in a way that’s more softer visible so your partner can see it, and potentially they want to help. But they’re not responsible for it. That wanting to help or that ability to show up for it individually, and then also ask or set boundaries in relationship, and that partner can see it more, I think that that responsiveness can be more attuned. That can be an and. What would you say?

Yeah. So are you talking about Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy? I love Sue. Sue and I just did a workshop together. I did a course, and I interviewed her. She’s such a powerful force in our field, and I love her so much. She’s like, people have such a hard time feeling feelings, being with feelings! I’m like, they do, and it’s so true. So the first piece you’re talking about is helping people gain the capacity to be with their feelings. We do so much to push away overwhelming feelings. So this work and helping people be able to be with it, instead of farming it off, is huge. Because it’s easier to farm it off, or to blame somebody else for it. 

We’ve got to grow our capacity to be with the intensity of what we’ve experienced in the past. Once we’ve been able to do that, then relationships are about getting your needs met, that is appropriate. Not your unresolved childhood needs, though.

So once you can be with your unresolved childhood needs, then you will have the capacity to ask your partner from a different place. That’s the key. Not from the past, but from the present. And you can speak for your past, which is actually expressing vulnerability, and people are drawn to that. Like, you’re drawn to something when you say: “Hey, look, I’m really struggling with this. This is hard for me. I wanted you to know that that’s what I’m struggling with. But what I’m wondering is, would you be willing to give me a hug? Would you be willing to just take all of my pain and take it away from me? Please, please, please.” You know what I mean? 

Because we feel the energy of the desperate, and that’s what recoils people; you’re needy, you’re too much, you’re whatever, you’re on the spectrum, you don’t know how to feel. Like, there’s a way we can feel the energy of younger parts. Partners can feel it, and then they recoil because they don’t want that job. But that’s different than speaking for it, and then saying: “Hey, I am really struggling. I’m so sad lately, and this is why I’m sad, because this is what I’m working on. I’m not asking you to do anything. I’m sharing it with you. But this is what I’m asking for.” Then it’s more appropriate. Then your partner is like, what a relief! I can give you a hug. Yeah, we can go out to dinner, honey. It’s like that. So until we get a handle on it and we can be with that, farming it out is overwhelming for whoever we’re with.

Absolutely. I don’t even think even the one that would attempt to try, it’s even possible, because of the messiness of it and the unknown parts and all the things.

No, it’s not possible, you can’t, you know. This is a distinction I make in my book, To Be Loved, is I’ve had a lot of relational healing in my relationship with my husband. So I’m not saying relationships aren’t healing, they are. But it’s what you bring to the relationship and what you’re asking of the relationship. So if it’s like, I’m not supposed to get anything from a relationship, I have to do it all myself. That’s a repeat of my childhood. I had to do it by myself then, and here I am again. I’m like, no. If you take care of your pain and your wounding, of course you can get your needs met from a different place. That’s one of the reasons we enter relationships. But that distinction is important. 

Absolutely. I think it’s confusing, as it often is in relationship, around when there’s charge and it’s intense and the nervous system is activated and what’s happening, and this U-turn that you’re referencing, and how we can find an ability to be in touch with those intense parts, and have that and then show some revealing. Like, here’s what’s happening over here, and this is what would be helpful if you’re willing. Not your job, not your responsibility, and I know you love me, and here’s a little bit of visibility into where my world is right now. With that vulnerability, people typically want to turn towards.

Yeah, that is what vulnerability is. A friend and colleague of mine, Toni Herbine-Blank, who runs the couple’s trainings in the IFS Institute, she said to me years ago. She’s like, Into-Me-See, that’s what intimacy. I’m like, oh my God, I love it! Into-Me-See, like, let me share with you who I really am and what I’m really struggling with. 

See me, instead of fix me, and the vulnerability of sharing it draws people toward you. It’s like, oh my goodness, we have empathy for that, or we have compassion for that, instead of the burden of fixing it or taking it away.

Yes, qualitatively different.

Yes, and people know it. It feels different when you’re doing it, and it also feels super different to be the recipient of it.

Not easy work, though, to be clear. This is often terrifying. And what’s on the other side, what can come from these exchanges, is really mostly what we’re in service of, is this intimacy, this deeper connection that comes from this place of having access to what’s more genuine and real. 

So can we go back for a moment? We don’t have to spend a tonne of time here. But as you give us some perspective on trauma, also what it might feel like in the lived experience, through thought, through feelings, through body, and even maybe relationally, we’re talking about that here. Also, my understanding of the trauma being on a spectrum. As we’re saying, people might say: Oh, I don’t have that, or that’s not me. Yet, there’s a lot happening in the system that’s getting activated. Can you help around what that can feel like or the effects of trauma, and help people recognize a little bit more here?

Yeah, and it’s a good thing to talk about, because it’s interesting. On the tagline of my book, it says: Truth, Trauma, and Transformation. To Be Loved as a title, then Truth, Trauma, Transformation. There are so many people in the general public that are recoiling from the word trauma. They’re like, that’s not me, I don’t have that. I wasn’t in war, or I wasn’t raped. So there are a lot of people that say, not me, I don’t have that. 

Or even feel like, comparatively, why should I occupy space if I haven’t experienced what maybe someone has that’s more extreme?

Exactly. So what I really talk about is, have you ever been through an overwhelming life experience? That’s the languaging that I use. Have you had an overwhelming life experience? I don’t know anybody who hasn’t, in one way or another, whatever it is; medical illnesses, loss of loved ones, being fired at a job, teased at school, so many different things. So one is that, and it’s really the way we respond to it. I think about trauma responses that people aren’t aware of, and that’s most of the behavior that is intense, intentional, and seemingly problematic. That’s the way I think about trauma responses: intense, intentional. Like, I need to exercise, I have to exercise every day, and if I don’t exercise, I’m going to get fat, and people are going to hate me, and I’m not going to be loved; the story we tell ourselves. Or if I don’t get A’s, if I don’t do well in school, I have to do well in school, otherwise people are going to hate me. Or if I’m not thin and pretty. 

Like, there’s all of these very intentional behaviors that are rooted in protection. Or we can go to the other side around the avoidance. Like, I’m not going to do this, I’ve got to stay away. Or I’m going to drink one to two glasses of wine every night after dinner because I’ve had such a horrible day. Or every time I get in a fight, I’m going to reach for the vodka, or I’m going to eat to soothe my pain. So any of these behaviors, people don’t say: Oh, I have PTSD. It’s like, oh, I have behaviors that I’m struggling with. 

The way I like to approach those is, even if you want to go in the mental health realm, I have suicidal thoughts, or I get depressed, or I have panic attacks. Same thing, those are trauma responses too. And what I say is, thank your trauma response. That’s the way I talk about it. Thank your trauma response, don’t hate it, don’t try to get rid of it. Thank it, because it’s trying to help in the way that it knows how. 

People don’t really get that. “What do you mean, I’m supposed to thank my husband because he’s drunk every night?” It’s like, understand that him drinking every night is an attempt for parts of him to try and protect him, that it actually doesn’t have much to do with you. So his response is that he should thank his responses because they’re trying to help him. Yes, they have a negative effect on you. And what do you do when he drinks like that, what are your responses? Thank your responses. So I always want people to thank their responses and appreciate them, instead of getting rid of them. If I lose the 10 pounds, or if I stop yelling at my kids, whatever it is. Even yelling at your kids is a protective response. Because your kids have done something that activates your childhood wounding, and if you stop them, your parts inside feel better. So that’s the first thing for people, is identify that these responses that seem problematic are actually attempts at trying to protect you.

And probably regulate to some degree. That if we’re going to look at this from the framework of healing and being able to have more transformation, that these are also indicators that are alerting us that there’s things here that have been overwhelming that we haven’t been able to really process or turn towards. 

That’s right, exactly. So that’s really the first step is being aware of these behaviors, and getting the awareness that they’re trying to help. So if you can see them for what they’re trying to do, I always differentiate the effect that a part has from the intention at hand. Parts are always well-intended, the effect may not be so good, and they know it. Like, the part that drinks keeps drinking and keeps drinking to keep the pain of loneliness away. It only perpetuates loneliness the more it drinks. But it knows it’s not working well. So when we point it out, like, stop drinking, blah, blah, blah, blah, we just shame the part, because it feels bad about being ineffective in the first place. So it’s like, take responsibility for your own, and start looking at the positive intention of it. That kind of opens the door for a deeper layer of access to the pain, because that’s the first layer of protection is all of our responses. So if we can start appreciating that, we can learn more about what’s underneath it. Because that’s what needs to be healed, is what’s underneath our responses, not our responses; those are secondary things. 

Yeah. If there’s more safety, more curiosity, more willingness to listen, then there can be some support and container, perhaps to even have some ability to do this deeper work. So I realize, as we’re talking parts, I know we’re not going to go into great depth about IFS. But I’m curious, do you want to say anything for people who are the aren’t as familiar, just some of what parts means?

Yeah. So the model of Internal Family Systems was really, Dick Schwartz is the founder. I think it’s like 45 years, it’s been existent for a long time. It’s gained a lot of popularity more recently for sure.

With your contribution, in very much like a partnership and being a key founder and helping promote, yes.

Yeah. So really, it helped me change my life, and so I’ve become a lead trainer, I’ve written books about it, I’ve just really kind of taken it to the next level in some ways. But it’s this idea that we all have parts of our personality, we all have aspects of our personality. That’s actually normal, it’s not pathological. Like, the part of me that loves to run, the part of me that loves to travel, the part of me that loves children, those are all different aspects of my personality. Because of overwhelming life experiences, those parts of me can take on extreme roles, and they overwork in the service of protection, they overwork in the service of keeping the pain away. Because some parts of us try to protect from overwhelming experiences, and other parts of us carry the pain and the hurt of the betrayal and the violation or whatever we experience. And separate from these parts, we all have this concept called self-energy, which is our soul, our intuition, our wisdom. One of the things I love about IFS is it says, you have all you need to heal. I like to say, trust that you have everything you need inside of you to heal, and that’s really true. In relational trauma in childhood, we disconnect in order to survive; we disconnect from ourselves and attached to our caregivers for survival. So part of the journey here is to reconnect to our wisdom, because we learned to not listen to it.

Yeah, we got told this isn’t okay, or we learn to fragment to exist.

Exactly. I always used to hear: “You’re too much. You’re too overwhelming. You’re too this. You’re too that. You’re bad. You’re bad. You’re bad.” So those messages we internalize, and so we disconnect from ourselves in order to be liked and loved. So it’s reconnecting with your own wisdom. When I work with couples, especially couples that are deciding to end their relationship, they’re like: “I knew this was a mistake, and I was walking down the aisle. I was walking down the aisle. I knew this was wrong, but I did it anyways. I was still in disconnect with my truth mode, in order to please culture and society and my parents or whoever else.” 

Free Man in Green Shirt Sitting on Bed while Kissing Man in Brown Sleeveless Shirt Stock Photo

So we have wisdom, we are just taught to not listen. So part of what we do is teach people to listen again, and trust their wisdom, and trust that they know what they need for healing more than the expert therapist does. That’s very corrective.

We know what’s right, we’ve just been programmed not to listen. 

You’re such a great model of being in the practice of that. So I really appreciate your example. Just moments ago, you were talking about the parts and not shaming them or making them bad. I mean, it occurs to me that they don’t have any other options, they’re just operating in their best capacity. Like you said, they had a purpose at one time, and still are doing their very best. So if we can help create safety, and then deepen the listening. This is where you really help people know about the opportunity for healing or the capacity. Can you speak a little bit about that, if you’re willing?

Yeah, it’s a big piece for me. Healing is one of these overused buzzwords. Like, gaslighting was a word a couple years ago, where everybody was talking about gaslighting. Then I think this year’s word is narcissism, like, everybody is like, they’re a narcissist or whatever. I know healing has been kind of overused in social media and all this stuff. But I hold enormous value in the word healing, and I mean it. Because there are so many things that people do, or types of therapy that don’t actually get to the root cause, and don’t actually help us release what we’re carrying. Every traumatic experience, our system holds on to the trauma energy. Healing really is about releasing that trauma energy and transforming back to our original, unburdened state. 

This is a strange thing to say, but people are always like: “Gosh, Frank, you look so young. Oh my gosh, you look so young, 60 years old.” I don’t look 60 at all. But I’ve kind of got to this, yeah well, I exercise, but it’s because I’ve released so much trauma. I really do feel like the more of that trauma energy I release through healing, the younger I look. They’re like, what’s your face cream? I’m like, it ain’t face cream, you know. It’s the healing, people. I was with Tammy Nelson, who’s a friend of mine, and she’s a sex therapist. We were talking on a podcast, and she said: “Don’t do Botox. Buy Frank’s book. Forget the Botox, heal your trauma.” Because that’s the message. 

We can really release what doesn’t belong to us, and we can let go of what doesn’t serve us. Because it’s not ours in the first place. When we’re kids, we absorb it, because we don’t have a choice. But I want people to know, there is a way to heal.

There are some fundamental steps. Every kind of therapy has their own steps, and honestly, Jessica, they’re not so far apart. They really aren’t. I’ve done two courses on integrating different trauma treatments, and I’m like: Well, you use the word, organic faith, and you use the word self-energy, and you use the word trust your internal wisdom. But you’re all talking about the same thing. So they’re not that far apart. But there is this way we can heal. 

Part of the problem with relational trauma, and you referenced this before, is we absorb our environment, and we use that for protection. 

We have perpetrator energy in us, because we learn how to protect from the environment that we’re in. So we learn how to protect ourselves from the people who harmed us, and that’s the reality. So there is a way that we can release that.

There are steps involved in that. There’s ways to do that. And then we have to deal with it. For me, the next phase of healing is: Deal with what was done to us, and what we’ve done. Most people don’t talk that much about that. There’s this Us and Them mentality, and which side are you on? Are you on the good side or the bad side? I’m like, no, we need to stop that. It’s not a good side or a bad side. It’s like, we’re all both; we’ve all harmed people, and we’ve all been harmed. We have to look at that. Until you heal, from my experience, you can’t really appreciate the humanity in the person who harmed you. That’s a big step, and not everybody is willing to do that. I don’t know that everybody has to do that. But the thing that I’m talking about is forgiveness after healing. If you heal what you’re holding, can you look at the humanity of the person who harmed you, and can you look at the humanity of yourself and the ways you’ve harmed others? That’s taking healing to a new level.

Absolutely. The way I’m experiencing what you’re describing is, when we can engage in healing, there’s more space that we get to occupy; more life moves through us. I mean, I can just say, from my own experience, I continue to do my trauma work. Just when I’ve recognized different patterns, I’m like: Oh my gosh, I was so unconscious, I didn’t even know that I was perpetuating that. Or who knew that I was keeping myself so restricted in certain ways? It’s just profound. Or even my friend who I was in the Ph. D. program with, and my husband was asking her. She was talking about some health stuff, and he was like, how did you heal your inflammation? She was like, I did my trauma work. Not like it’s done, done.

Yeah, that’s right. Because so much we hold in our body around this energy that we’re carrying, because of what happened to us. Absolutely, trauma is a transfer of energy.

Yes. Part of what I’m hearing you also describe is, when we can start to move that and then do some of that work, then we have more capacity, and perhaps get to relate and understand and this humanity that you’re referencing, and seeing, you’ve even mentioned the intergenerational trauma. I mean, there’s layers here. So we can begin to have that compassion and that empathy, and also recognize it in ourselves too.

100%. I don’t think we’re going to truly be able to heal unless we’re able to do both. That’s a bold statement that I’m making, and I’m standing by it by my own personal experience, to be able to have forgiven and love someone who’s harmed you. It’s a place that people can get to, and I want them to know that it’s possible. It changes things when we stop blaming and stop othering, and looking at ourselves and looking at other people and holding the And in both of us.

Yeah, so important. I look forward to learning more from you around what you have to say about that. I want to make sure that you are able to talk about your upcoming book, To Be Loved. You’ve already mentioned it. What would you want people to know about the meaning and the purpose of this for you? 

Yeah, I mean, it certainly was a passion project. There’s nothing like being a trauma expert and then talking about every aspect of your life in a way. Sometimes I wake up with these panic moments, like: Oh my God, people on the street are going to know everything about me, and I know nothing about them. But I really do feel driven to really say, horrible things can happen to all of us, and it can be healed. It can be healed; you don’t have to carry this forever. That is the biggest message for me. Like, it is life beyond your trauma. I want people to hold that hope that yes, you can forgive others once you’ve healed your trauma, and you can forgive yourself. Those really are important messages for me. My hope is that when people read this book, that they see themselves in it, and then they relate to their experiences. Not exactly like mine, but enough to make them say: Oh, I can relate, or I can identify with that. Yeah, that happened to me. I can heal too.

Yes. I mean, one of the things that I appreciate is not only your, again, being an example and making this accessible through story, that the way in which you’ve done it allows for this relating, and what you’re describing and being able to have an experience as one’s reading, and to be able to relate and identify their own experience. Also, I don’t know if you would agree, but it also feels like there’s this concept of when we do our healing, it heals all or it helps heal all. There’s something about it on a collective that being in your position, I know you’re not speaking for a body of people, but you’re giving, I don’t know that I have the right words.

Well, I am. It’s not me. This is my message, but this is a bigger message than me. I do want to speak to the collective, and I don’t think I’m going to do it only. I think there’s a number of people that are showing up in this collective shift, I think of them. I don’t take ownership of it. Because I don’t think it’s mine, I feel gifted with this information to be able to share. So I’m like, I’m like a conduit as opposed to the one. Nobody saw one, right. It’s a larger message. and I think we all need to collectively do it in order to really heal because we’re in need. Yeah,

I appreciate you just acknowledging you’re one of many, and also just the development. I almost get this sense of fabric or the ability to offer an example of how this can translate or how this can affect the interconnectedness of all of these things that we’re describing. So yeah, thank you for that. Is there anything else you want to say? I know we’re winding down on our time here.

Come and join the collective is what I want to say. Go to my website, buy the book. FrankAndersonMD.com is my website. I’m doing a tonne of stuff. I’m opening a trauma Institute to bring trauma treatment together. I have another company in LA called Trauma Informed Media, bringing mental health content to Hollywood. So I’m busy with a lot of different ways for people to join up and help this movement. Because I think we have to do it together.

Well, wonderful! I’m so grateful that you’re being able to impact so many different industries and people to help, again, support this development and the collective shift around transforming and healing trauma. 

Thank you so much, and thank you for being a part of the solution also by doing this podcast.

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching