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Episode 133: Healing Generational Trauma and Improving Our Relationships with Lauren Zoeller





Brief summary of show

In this episode, we explore the concepts of generational trauma and its impact on our relationships. We also learn about somatic therapy, a unique approach to therapy that focuses on the nervous system and its connection to our emotional health.


Listen in as we talk about


- Introduction (00:39)

-What is somatic therapy and how does it work? (03:44)

-What happens when the Nerveous System is not regulated (04:50)

-What is generational trauma and how does it affect our relationships? (06:38)

-Physical elements (08:20)

-How to identify and regulate our nervous system's protective responses (10:18)

-How to get out of Survival mode (13:47)

-Where to find Somatic Therapy (15:07)

-How Somatic Therapy can heal relationships (16:03)

-Importance of couples getting in therapy together (18:06)

-What happens to your body when you’re in Survival mode 24/7 (20:09)

-Offline Brain (21:44)

-Final thoughts (23:00)


Notes from Natalie:


Connect with Me




View Transcript for this show:

Natalie Tysdal

Lauren, thanks for joining me. I talk a lot about therapy here on the show because health is such a big part of making us whole, right? But sometimes talk therapy, people, they tend to plateau or they're not getting what they want out of it. Tell us about what you do and how it helps people.


Lauren

Yeah, so I am a somatic therapist and simply put somatic therapy is therapy of the nervous system. So oftentimes with traditional talk therapy, we will go into a session and we will word vomit about all of our trauma or word vomit about the things that don't feel good in our life or things that aren't going well. And what somatic therapy does is it takes a different approach. In fact, the nervous system doesn't speak in story, it speaks in sensation and emotion.


And when we can look and see where our nervous system is choosing protection over connection, and we can go in and regulate those protection responses, we can connect deeper to ourselves and to others. So essentially what I do, I specify in relationships. So I help women have deeper relationships to themselves and also find and keep healthy love with others.


Natalie Tysdal

Well, I know you've spent a lot of time working on relationships and I want to get into that in just a moment because it's hard to have a good relationship when you're struggling with your past or with trauma or with whatever. But let's talk a little bit more about the nervous system. What happens when we're not regulated or when our nervous system is whatever you would say fight or flight, right? How would someone identify there in that stage?


Lauren

So the nervous system has four main survival responses. And the four main survival responses are fight and flight, which many of us have heard of, and then freeze and fawn. And fawn is usually one that people haven't heard of. What the fawn response is, simply put, is people pleasing.



So what my mother taught me at a very young age was that my happiness is dependent on other people being happy first. And if you look at the FON response, FON is people pleasing. It is I'm going to discount myself so that you are okay. And if you're okay, then I'm okay. And this is actually a survival response. It's the way that our body goes into a safety response to receive love.


So when we're talking about the nervous system and we're looking at these protection responses, we have to start to get really honest with ourselves and say, okay, am I not speaking my truth in fear of being rejected, or in my case, in the hopes of being accepted, or am I shutting down and not talking about my problems? Am I going into freeze? Because it feels scarier to actually speak or move because I could be rejected.


Or do I run away from problems? Do I feel like when I get in a relationship and big emotions come up, do I run away because it feels too scary? Or do I feel the need to fight? So it's looking at where are you protecting yourself from actually connecting with someone else? Let's restart.


Natalie Tysdal

Yeah, yeah.


Natalie Tysdal

Wow. How much of this is generational in what we're taught from our parents and what was classic in their generation that now we find ourselves doing?


Lauren

Great question. So it's funny, because if you look at the pattern I was just speaking about with my mother, where I was taught that you do not get to sit down and eat your food until everyone else has eaten first, if we look back at my generational line, my great grandmother came over here from Poland, and her husband told her, listen, you have to be careful.


Natalie Tysdal

How much of this is generational?


Lauren

Yeah, so all of it is usually generational when we really get down to the nitty gritty of it. And if you look at my story in particular, as I told you, my mother taught me at a young age that I do not get to sit down and eat my dinner until everyone else has eaten first. If we go back and look at my lineage, my great-grandmother came over here from Poland. And when she came over, my great-grandfather said to her,


Lauren

You just have to be accepted. So do whatever you need to do in order for people to accept you. So she started people pleasing. She started going into these survival patterns. And again, she needed to survive in order for people to like her so she could be accepted and loved. And so that passed down to my grandmother, and then to my aunts, and then to my mother. And so here I was as a woman in her late 20s, early 30s trying to have a deep intimate relationship with someone. And I kept attracting these alcoholics who I felt like I could save. And if I could save them, it would make me worthy of love, which is that same dynamic I learned from my mother. If you take care of other people first, then you are worthy of love. So it all compounded from my great grandmother coming over here just to survive.


Natalie Tysdal

Wow. Yeah.


Natalie Tysdal

Wow, yeah. Let's talk about the physical though. Like when you talk about the nervous system, can we feel, like talk therapy, you might get some of this, right? The generational part or people pleasing, but what is the physical element of all of this when you talk about the nervous system?



Lauren

Yeah, so the physical part is what somatic therapy is. And when you come into a session, we're actually tracking the nervous system by looking at what is your body doing in any given moment. So for instance, if you go into fight, the fight response or the flight response, you will feel your heart rate start to lift. You will feel your blood rush into your extremities. So some people say, I feel tingling in my fingers. I feel tingling in my toes.


That is the blood actually rushing to your extremities. In the fight response, you may even feel your fists start to clench. Or in the flight response, your heels may start to lift because you're about to take off. So all of these are tiny signals. Also, your eyes may start to flood the area. They might look left and right because you're scanning for threat. And so there's this sense of your body wanting to mobilize to get away from threat.


In the freeze-fawn response, we see the opposite of that. The blood starts to rush back into our vital organs, but it starts to slow down. So our heart rate can sometimes get so slow that we don't even notice it. We start to feel cold. We start to feel like we're caving in. Our shoulders may come in towards one another. And oftentimes, I know someone's in freeze because they look like deer in a headlight. Right, there's this sense of, oh my gosh, I can't speak. I can't say anything.



Lauren

For the fawn response, it's a little tricky because on the inside people are frozen, but usually on the outside they're peacocking, they're really boisterous. But if you ask them how they feel internally, they usually can't access how they feel because they're frozen internally. So at all, the nervous system gives you all of the clues that you need to heal.


Natalie Tysdal

Wow. All right. So give us some tips in dealing with this and understanding what those sort of understanding those physical things. Number one, how do we then move past that to have better overall mental health and better ultimately than better relationships?


Lauren

So the first thing I'll say is that if you've never learned the language of your nervous system, that's where you start. And this is what working with a somatic practitioner or a somatic therapist can help you do, is to really learn what is the language when my body goes into flight. How do I notice it? What does it feel like? What are the sensations when that happens? Also what does it feel like to be in safety? How do I know that I'm in what we call ventral vagal connection, which is, if you remember the two parts of the nervous system, it's connection, it's safety. So the first thing is understanding the language. And you do that, you can do research on your own, right? But I say work with a somatic practitioner to help with that. The second thing, and this is a fantastic exercise that everyone can do, this will help you learn the language of your nervous system is to do what's called a somatic check-in.



So the way that I guide my clients is to have them do these somatic check-ins to get used to the language of the nervous system. Because we need to remember the nervous system doesn't speak in story. So that story that you've been telling yourself about why something is happening the way it's happening, it's not serving your nervous system. You can't actually regulate in that space. So what I suggest doing is a somatic check-in. Set a timer on your phone to go off every three hours. And when the timer goes off, shut down what sensations you feel, what emotions you feel, and what you are doing. And start to watch the trajectory of how your body is unfolding. So for instance, if the timer goes off and you're answering emails, it's the middle of the day, and you notice your heart is super elevated and you're tapping your foot and there's this pit in your stomach, that's a really high chance that your body is in a survival response.


So you get curious about it. So that's the first place to start when you're starting to learn the language of the nervous


Natalie Tysdal

That's super helpful that you just become aware, obviously, of what's happening. So then how do you get out of that? So say you're often in that survival response, how do you calm yourself so that you can get out of that and think more clearly?


Lauren

So it's complicated because depending on how high you are in activation, this is again is why you work with a somatic practitioner, you will want to renegotiate that in different ways as you're working with a somatic therapist. However, a great tool for everyone to use is to actually notice if you're sitting down or if you're standing up, notice your butt on the chair. So actually notice it. And as you notice it, ask yourself, what sensations do I feel?


Lauren

And what emotions do I feel? Can I notice anything about my butt on the chair? And as you focus on that point, chances are you may feel warmth or you may feel a sense. I had a woman today that felt a sense of softening. So see if you can be with that sensation and get it to grow. And next thing you know, if you can get it to grow throughout your entire body, you'll move from that sense of activation into a state of what we call ventral bagel, which is safety inside of your nervous system.


But it takes practice and working with a somatic therapist is honestly the best way to do that.


Natalie Tysdal

Is that so how do people find a somatic therapist? Is it pretty common? Are there talk therapists that also do somatic therapy?


Lauren

Absolutely, there are definitely talk therapists out there that do have training in somatic experiencing. My favorite place for people to go and look for a somatic therapist is the SEI website. So the Somatic Experiencing International website. You can go there and underneath the line at the top of the page, there's a dropdown that says find a practitioner. And you can find a practitioner in your area that also specifies in the area that you want to.work.


Natalie Tysdal

That's great. So let's talk a little bit more about relationships now. Um, you know, a lot of people are held back from love. Um, but other relationships too, it could be a relationship with your kids or your parents or your friends. Talk about how this helps relationships.


Lauren

So we have to remember again, if we go back to the beginning and what I was speaking about, the nervous system has two functions. We're either protecting ourselves or we're connecting. If at a young age, because what we know about the nervous system is that from the moment you are conceived, your tiny little nervous system starts to pick up mom's state of where her nervous system was. So I'll give you an example.


If you had parents who never validated your emotions or they weren't there physically, emotionally, or mentally as a young child, and you learned at a young age that in order to receive love, I have to shut down my emotions. I have to just stay small because mom doesn't express hers. So if I express mine, mom could maybe not give me love or I may feel like I'm an outcast. You learn to protect yourself to receive love.


by shutting down emotions. Freeze response. So then fast forward to being an adult. Chances are you're either in a relationship where you don't have deep conversations, or you may be dating and you notice that men are ghosting or women are ghosting. They just leave you with no explanation as to why. And the reason that happens is because you developed that familiar pattern in your nervous system to be okay in the freeze response. That is how your body has become familiar with receiving love. So until you go in and regulate that freeze response and teach it safety, connection, you'll continue to repeat these patterns of connection or protection because that's what's familiar to your nervous system.


Natalie Tysdal

Yeah.


Natalie Tysdal

freezing. This is so frustrating. Okay. You just said, make sure it's working. Okay. You just said until you go in and regulate.


Lauren

Yeah. So can you hear me OK? So until you go in and you regulate these protection responses and teach your nervous system what safety, connection is actually supposed to feel like, you'll continue to repeat these protection patterns because it's familiar. It's what you learned as a child. So we have to go into the nervous system to regulate those protection responses into connection so that can shift for you.


Natalie Tysdal

How important is it that say you're looking to repair a marriage or just to find love? How important is it that both people are doing this to understand where their nervous system is?


Lauren

I mean, it's ideal. It's ideal for both. And I have a lot of couples who've gone through my program who didn't start as couples. I would work with the woman, let's say, and then she would find a partner. And she realized how important it is to know safety in her body and to also want that safety in a relationship. And now her partner works with me so that we can teach that language. Because it truly is, I'll say, if you want a long lasting partnership,



Lauren

that truly feels aligned and safe, this work is, it's a non-negotiable, really. I think everyone on the planet should do it.


Natalie Tysdal

Yeah. Well, what other tips do you have for people in getting to this place? I mean, identifying it, we know is important, but what tips do you have for understanding your body and your nervous system?


Lauren

Yeah, so I would get curious around what feels good to you and what makes you feel peaceful and calm and safe and start to incorporate more of that into your day-to-day routine. So for instance, if you're someone who's really high strung and you feel like you're always going, notice if going for a walk feels peaceful inside of your body. Or notice if going to yoga provokes a sense of calm inside of your system, just start to bring your attunement inward. And notice what feels good. And I know this sounds so simple, but the more that you can add in things that make you feel calm and safe, the more you expand your nervous system's capacity for connection. Because you're not in survival. So it's A, knowing the language of your nervous system, but B, also really tapping into what feels good, what feels safe, and doing more of that.


Natalie Tysdal

Yeah.


Natalie Tysdal

It just makes me think when we're always in that fight or flight or we're always in that your heart pounding, what happens to the body when you're in that so often? I think we live in this hustle culture, right? Where we're just working so hard and we feel like that's how, for me, I get this way where I'm like, if I accomplish more, I'll feel better. But then I'm always in that state of whatever you would call it. I don't know if it's fight or just work, work.


What happens to the body when we're not addressing the nervous system?


Lauren

Yeah, so believe it or not, when the nervous system is in a protection response, so this is the way that I like to explain it. Imagine a bear just suddenly appeared in the room with you, okay, a grizzly bear, like one that can actually smack your head off your body. Your body in that moment is going to go into, and I say your body, your nervous system, is going to go into a survival response to keep you safe from that bear. So what may happen?


The blood may rush from your vital organs into your extremities, your heels may lift, and you may dart, you may start to run. Which is the same nervous system response many of us feel on a day-to-day basis when we're answering emails and having to take calls from our clients and we're in that space of flight and fight. When that happens, you have to think about this from a physiological standpoint, your nervous system is not thinking about, okay,


If I take this path to the left and this path to the right, chances are this path to the right, I may be able to live longer than if I take the path. Your brain's not thinking. Your brain goes offline when you're in a survival response. It just is trying to get away from the bear. When the brain goes offline, what else happens? Hormone production shuts down. Your immune system starts to shut down.


Lauren

Your ability to digest starts to shut down because the only thing your body is wanting to do in that moment is survive, not thrive. So if we live in a heightened fight flight state or freeze-fawn state for an extended period of time, you see it all the time, we start to have digestion issues, we start to have immunity issues, we start to have hormone issues, we can't think.


Natalie Tysdal

Yeah.


Lauren

We have fatigue. We have brain fog. The list goes on. So it's important that we know safety. It's deeper than just relationships. It's in everything that you do.


Natalie Tysdal

Yeah. I think that's such an important point of just overall health and in understanding this. And for a lot of people, they have trapped issues. And maybe you can speak to this of even trauma from childhood. And that plays into all of this too.


Lauren

Yeah, for sure. Well, and when we talk about trauma, the actual somatic definition of trauma, it is the stuck psychosomatic response to an overwhelming event. So something that was too fast, too much, or too soon for your body to access safety. And what happens is that if you had an event in the past where that fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response didn't have time to complete to safety, it gets stuck. And next thing you know, you bump up to a situation that's similar to what you experienced when that initial stuck response happened, and your nervous system goes into survival all over again. That's what trauma is. So in essence, somatic therapy goes into those stuck responses. And what it does is it allows the completion cycle to happen so that you can access safety and that trauma response can be renegotiated.


Natalie Tysdal

Yeah.


Natalie Tysdal

Yeah, and you might not even know that that's what's happening. It might have been something that you thought you dealt with, but you really didn't.


Lauren

Yeah, well, because most of us deal with it through talk, through verbal processing. We talk about it to our therapist. We call our best friend, and we word vomit about it. But we haven't addressed how the nervous system feels in relationship to that trauma. And until you get your nervous system on board with your cognitive awareness, you're gonna continue to repeat those cycles.


Natalie Tysdal

Yeah. Oh, all of this is so good and so helpful. Where can people, if they want more information, they want to learn more from you or follow you, where can they find you?


Lauren

Yeah, so you can follow me on Instagram. That's where I'm most active, at Lauren Zoller. Also, you can go to my website, laurenzoller.com. I talk all about this. We're actually getting ready to release a somatic therapy certification. So if anybody's interested in becoming certified in somatic therapy, you can do that too. All of it though is on my Instagram and on my website.


Natalie Tysdal

Lauren, thanks so much for helping us understand this and why it's so important. And I look forward to following you. I've been doing so for some time and I've learned a lot. And we're always, don't feel for anyone who's never heard of this, that you have to fix it right away. We're always learning and developing and understanding our nervous system and our health. And that's why we do this every week, trying to learn. Yep. Thanks again, Lauren.


Lauren

So true.


Thank you for having me, Natalie.



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