Since the pandemic, we’ve been hearing a lot about trauma. It can feel confusing because for many of us, we were raised by parents who didn’t believe that they had the luxury of being able to deal with it. As a result, many of us were told that we ‘should get over it’ or that we needed to grow a thicker skin. That we were being too sensitive.
In this podcast, I’ve invited Denita Bremer to talk about how to identify and heal trauma, so that you can live the life that you desire, and have a better relationship with yourself and others.
About Denita Bremer
Denita Bremer is an intuitive trauma coach, helping women process emotions on a deep level. She draws upon several tools in her coaching, including mindset, knowledge of the nervous system, intuition and spiritual tools, and most importantly, the relationship between her and her client. Denita loves living near Denver, Colorado with her family.
If you want to take the work we’re doing here on the podcast and go even deeper, you need to join the Feel Good Sisterhood - my group coaching program for women in midlife who are done with dieting, but still want to feel good! The Feel Good Sisterhood is open for enrollment, so click here to discover if group coaching is a right fit for you and your goals.
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What you’ll Learn from this Episode
- What’s the difference between Big T trauma and Small t trauma.
- How to be able to identify a traumatic response & whether healing it is something that you would want to address.
- If you keep coming back to a specific thought or story, it’s probably because of how your nervous system is functioning. Story follows state in this case.
- A general overview of the nervous system and why understanding it can be helpful.
- What orienting is as a simple, but powerful tool.
- What trauma is and isn’t.
- The power of story.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
Full Episode Transcript:
Trauma, first of all, it started out as just like war veterans, right? And from a scientific point of view, trauma just means wound. That’s all it means. It used to mean like if you go to the hospital and they say, okay, we’re gonna go to the trauma unit. It’s like the urgent wound unit, right?
And so, that word has had a lot of connotations over the years, and I think that’s why sometimes we get confused about Big T trauma. I went away to war, I have P T S D, or somebody tried to rape me once, or I was in a car accident, right? These are sort of time defined events that most of the world would assume like, Ooh, that affected you, right? That’s what we mean by Big T trauma. It’s kind of the events themselves.
But over time, research has shown that trauma really isn’t the event. It’s how our bodies respond to the event.
You are listening to the done with dieting podcast. The podcast for women in midlife, who are done with dieting, but still want to lose weight and feel good in your clothes.
You know that diets don’t work long term. But you feel like there’s this secret that everyone else knows that you just haven’t figured it out yet.
I am your host, Elizabeth Sherman. And I’ve helped hundreds of women get off the diet roller coaster, change their relationship with food, exercise, and their bodies.
Through this podcast, my goal is to help you too.
Welcome. Let’s get started.
H ey there, welcome to the podcast episode number 1 0 5. Now, if you’ve ever been told to lighten up or that you’re too sensitive, or maybe that you should have a thicker skin because you’re too emotional, I’ve put that in air quotes. Or honestly, if you’ve never been told those things, you’re probably going to want to tune into today’s episode.
My guest on the podcast today is Denita Bremer, who is a Somatic Trauma Coach. And we’re going to explain all of that. But what we’re talking about today is really understanding what a traumatic experience is. And I do want to let you know that we do briefly mention domestic violence in this episode.
We’ve been talking a lot about trauma in the past few years, mostly since the pandemic. And so, the goal from this episode today is to really allow you to understand what trauma is and then how to release it, how to heal it. And I think that far too often, we’ve been told that because something wasn’t traumatic for one person, means that it shouldn’t have been traumatic for you. But that’s actually not true.
And in fact, research has recently emerged that childhood trauma increases the likelihood that one will be overweight in adulthood. So, trauma runs deep. If you’ve ever had a reaction to something that didn’t seem in line with the actual circumstance, or if you consistently misinterpret situations. It’s possible that that is a trauma response. So, I can’t wait for you to get to know Denita.
Let’s get started.
Elizabeth: All right everyone, welcome Denita Bremer to our podcast. Denita, I am so excited and well, I’m excited to have this interview, but I’m also really excited to get into the nuts and bolts of what you’re going to share with us today because I know that we’ve had a couple conversations, one-on-one, and what you’re doing is amazing.
So, let’s start with your introduction. Who are you? Who do you help? What do you do? Tell us all the things.
Denita: Yes, this might be the hardest question for me to answer actually. I’m Denita Bremer. I live in the Denver area. I have three teenagers and a husband. So, that’s fun. And I am a life coach. I say hesitatingly because I have a specific definition of what a life coach is. And what I’ve started moving into is more Somatic work, which is Somatic means body based.
And so, then I start to think, does that qualify as life coach or should I say, Somatic coach? Anyway, that’s why I say this might be the hardest question to answer. But I’ve really started getting into trauma. That’s kind of the story of my life. Developmental trauma, attachment wounds, things that happened when I was a kid that still affect me today. And it lights me up. So, I’ve been calling myself a trauma coach.
Elizabeth: Okay, so let’s go into all of the things that you just said. I wrote down a ton of different key phrases that I’m sure some of the folks who are listening have heard before, but maybe aren’t too sure. So, you said Somatic coach and you said body work. So, initially when I think about body work, I think of someone who’s physically touching me like a massage therapist, or something like that. But that’s not what you’re talking about, right?
Denita: No. I’m talking about more processing emotion based off of the sensations that are happening in your body. So, oftentimes when we think of life coaching, we think of mindset. What are you thinking? What are you feeling? Like, what would you tell me you’re feeling? But I take that a little step further, and I look into what does that feel like to you. Where is that in your body? When you tell me I feel sad, where do you feel that? What does it feel like? What sensations for you does that include, right?
So, that’s why I say body base. It’s not just we’re talking about the thoughts or what do you think about feeling sad. It’s more what’s happening in your body right now in this moment as we’re talking together. And sometimes it’s kind of hard to explain. It has to do with like impulses and movements that you want to make. Usually, where we start is the felt sense, which is just how does that feel in your body.
Elizabeth: Yeah, like how is that different then? And I think from what we’ve talked about before it’s that the Somatic work is potentially happening before, we have thoughts about it. Is that what’s happening?
Denita: Yeah. So, this kind of goes into understanding a little bit more about the nervous system.
Elizabeth: Okay, let’s talk all about that.
Denita: Yeah. So, sometimes your listeners might be familiar with a top-down approach versus bottom-up approach. And what we’re talking about when we’re talking about top-down is your conscious brain, your prefrontal cortex, the things that you’re highly aware of. That then informs your body, right?
So, sometimes we can think a thought and it makes us feel a certain way. That feeling makes us want to do a certain thing, right? That’s kind of the model, that’s a top down approach. When we’re talking about the nervous system, this is a bottom up approach. There are things that are sort of below the level of our thoughts, of our conscious thinking, right? We use the word subconscious or unconscious.
And the nervous system is a subconscious system. It’s not like we tell our bodies to digest our food, or to dilate our pupils, those kinds of things. We don’t tell our body to regulate our temperature, right? That’s all coming from our nervous system and the nervous system regulating us.
So, we can use our knowledge of the nervous system to inform or to understand what is happening. What is happening to me. So, we have these sort of three states of the nervous system. The first one is what I would call our window of tolerance. A really fancy term is ventral vagal, which is your rest and digestion and just be connected and the state we’re in when it’s just normal, right? Just normal, I can go about my business.
And then, we have sympathetic which overlaps because sympathetic is sort of our gas pedal. It’s the nervous system state that gets us going and moving, right? When we’re like, I want to exercise, but I don’t really want to exercise. That part of us is like, we’re going to do it. That requires sympathetic activation, right? And that can go to an extra place, too much activation, which is when we start talking about like anxiety or panic. That’s the ultra-activation from our sympathetic, and we need all of these things.
And then, we have the other end of the spectrum, it also falls under our parasympathetic, which are ventral vagal, our window of tolerance tends to fall under parasympathetic. But there’s this place in our parasympathetic, which is our shutdown, right? It’s the part where we maybe talk about depression. Where it’s like, I just can’t, it’s the break system, right?
So, understanding those three general states of our nervous system and how they work below our consciousness can help inform what’s happening in my body. Does that make sense?
Elizabeth: Yeah, absolutely. And as you were talking, I was thinking about weight loss and stress management and how when we are in that heightened sense of the parasympathetic nervous system just taking control, that’s one thing that will definitely shut down weight loss and its tracks, right?
And so, what we want to do is we want to turn on the sympathetic nervous system and suppress, or I don’t want to say suppress but yeah, turn down the parasympathetic, the fight or flight. And what some really interesting research that came out recently had everything to do with childhood trauma and being overweight later in life.
Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about trauma and what it means. Because I think that so many of us think about trauma in terms of the big T trauma, right?
Elizabeth: Death, violence. And maybe many of us haven’t had that experience, but we’ve still experienced traumatic experiences. So, talk a little bit about what are traumatic experiences, how do we get over them?
Denita: Yeah. And I just want to say that it’s really important to understand that piece of sympathetic activation. It calls upon your energy stores, right? So, it requires energy. And then, when we go into freeze mode, which I’ll talk about, that shutdown is conserving energy. So, the reason why there’s a link between trauma in childhood and our weight as adults is because it has to do with your body trying to conserve energy or needing to expend energy and that relationship, right? So, I think that’ll bring some clarity here.
Trauma, first of all, it started out as just as war veterans, right? And from a scientific point of view, trauma just means wound. That’s all it means. It used to mean like if you go to the hospital and they say, okay, we’re going to go to the trauma unit. It’s like the urgent wound unit, right?
And so, that word has had a lot of connotations over the years, and I think that’s why sometimes we get confused about Big T trauma. I went away to war, I have P T S D, or somebody tried to rape me once, or I was in a car accident, right? These are sort of time defined events that most of the world would assume like, Ooh, that affected you, right? That’s what we mean by Big T trauma. It’s kind of the events themselves.
But over time, research has shown that trauma really isn’t the event. It’s how our bodies respond to the event. Which is why I say we all have traumas, and that’s why we would call those little t traumas. Because when somebody calls you fat, when you’re 10 years old, it might not be like, oh, that really affected you. Like the world would say that comment affected you, even though maybe it really did. Maybe it really stuck with you. Maybe it’s echoing in your mind all these years later.
So, I think of trauma as any stuck emotion. Any emotion. So, you might have experienced something like that when you’re 10 years old and that was very emotional for you. Maybe you felt ashamed, or sad, or angry, or whatever. And 40 years later, you still think about that, right? Which tells me it has stuck with you. Not from like a logical point of view, but like your body has held onto it, right? Your body has been like, this is important. We need to be aware of this. So, a very simplified definition of trauma is any emotion that is stuck.
Now that tends to be negative emotion. It tends to be sadness, anger, shame, those kinds of things, right? Because the positive emotions, joy, happiness, we let them live through us. We don’t like hang onto them and be like, Ooh, what does this mean? And our bodies more easily kind of metabolize those emotions.
So, that’s why, in general. But I would say even for myself, there have been times when it felt dangerous to feel good. It felt like the joy was not allowed. In a way, that might be kind of a stuck emotion if I boxed up that joy. If I experienced joy, or happiness, or something like that but I wasn’t allowed to really fully experience it, I might’ve had to kind of quote unquote put it away. Which happens in our bodies.
So, this is one thing I really want people to know, trauma or these stuck emotions, it’s biological. We’re not talking about an airy fairy like thoughts or a feeling that doesn’t have a physiological, biological underpinning. This is biological because emotions are energy, right?
And when we have an emotion, even something like joy or happiness, it puts energy into our system, into our bodies. And then, if that energy doesn’t have a place to go, it doesn’t have an expression. Then, our bodies will essentially bundle it up and put it away in our cells. So, it’s like it is biological. This is something that I didn’t quite understand when I was first learning about trauma. And now that I’m like, oh, it’s in the biology of my cells. It’s a physical physiological thing. That’s why it’s related to our felt sense. And so, emotions are a felt sense and trauma is a felt sense. And so, all of it is related.
Elizabeth: Yeah. That’s fascinating. And I recently read about generational trauma. I know that I’m taking us off course. And what they did, they didn’t experiment with mice and maybe shocking them at the same time as having a scent of cherry blossoms. And what we know is that trauma was actually, passed onto their offspring.
So, when they then sprayed Cherry blossom Scent to mice that had never had the shocking, they still had an anxiety response to that. And so, I think that that’s absolutely fascinating, that the trauma actually lives in ourselves, and it gets passed down to our children.
Denita: Right? That is what’s called epigenetics because the D N A can get turned on or turned off by certain situations or environments, right? So, my mom for sure had trauma. Like she didn’t tell me what it is, but I just know. I know in my bones that she had things that happened to her that were very emotionally wounding. For a long time I said I learned shame from her because you watch your mom and how she acts around different people or different situations, right?
But now, I think it literally was passed down into my cells. And so, then when I have similar situations, that D N A activates. Most likely is actually both. I learned shame from her just by watching her. This is the primary female in my life. And as a female, I’m looking at what do females do. And so, this is what we do.
But also, just something in me that’s like in my bones, that generally just goes to shame very quickly. I do know a little bit about my family history. There’re some shameful things, right? Some abortions, and divorces, and affairs and abuse, alcoholism, like all those things that we know happened in our generations.
First of all, I think it’s so useful because then it helps me feel like, oh, there’s not like something wrong with me. I’m actually programmed to feel and act this way. So, that might be something that would be helpful for your listeners.
Denita: Yeah, it’s just so fascinating. There’re all these different levels of trauma and how we deal with it, and how we learn it, and how it feels in our bodies.
Elizabeth: Well, and the other thing I wanted to ask you about is I had read somewhere that two people can experience the same traumatic event and have very different stress responses to it. And what I’ve heard is that the difference between how one person may handle. Let’s say domestic violence and someone else might handle it differently could be how they have a compassionate ear that tells them that it’s not their fault. So, how does that play in?
Denita: Yes. So, with trauma, again, kind of bringing it back to the nervous system and that it’s a biological thing. It’s all about what resources do we have at our fingertips. What resources are in our biology even, right? So, somebody who has more support, like biological, physiological support will be able to withstand more demands on their energy without it really affecting them.
That’s why one person can have domestic abuse and it’s totally traumatic. They go into a shutdown, they get depressed, and another person can experience domestic abuse. And they’re like, yeah, that was hard, but I figured it out. Same thing like with car accidents, right? Some people go into shock. Other people, they’re just like, it’s okay, we’ll figure this out, whatever.
It’s all about the resources that are available to you. And one of the very first resources to our bodies is the co-regulation of our caregivers, right? Even if you think about being in the womb of our mothers, our mother and what she ate and when she rested and like her blood and all of those things were resources to us. Those are only resources. And so, once we’re born, that attunement that the caregiver noticing the infant, and what does the infant need, and meeting the needs. That’s a resource and it’s our first resource and it’s our biggest resource for a long time.
So, for most of us, when we experience something scary or overwhelming, if we are alone in it, it makes it more likely to be traumatic. It makes it more likely that that thing that the imprint it makes on us biologically, emotionally will stick with us. Part of how we as humans, as mammals, and social creatures, part of how we work through something is we go to our people, and we tell them about it. And so, when we don’t have that as a resource, then we’re left alone. There’s nobody telling us it’s going to be okay; we’re going to get through that. That’s just not there and available for us.
And so, it’s a huge resource that lacks. Even as I say this on this podcast, think about how this feels in your body. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to figure it out. It actually has this sense of like, aaah… Right? Like okay, versus whatever you think. I mean, you might have just gone and eaten a handful of chocolate chips. And if you’re telling yourself, and this is where like our internal witness comes in too, right? Because this resource informs our internal witness and the formulation of that internal witness as we age and grow.
If you eat that handful of chocolate chips, and if you’re anything like me, you’re like, Ugh, why did you do that? You didn’t need that. You should have eaten something else. Is that like a compassionate, loving, exchange with yourself? Or is that shameful or negative? So, even like being alone in it, it’s a felt sense of a lack, right? Of not being supported. Isn’t that so fascinating?
Elizabeth: Well, I love this because yeah, what you’re getting into is like self-talk and this is one of the questions that I don’t know that anyone’s answered. And I don’t know if you have the answer or not, but how do we come up with our self-talk? There are some people who seem to have less negative self-talk than others. Does that come from childhood, and how we are parented, and who caregivers are, and self-regulation?
Denita: Yes. That would be my answer. I’m sure it’s not as straightforward as that. But I think the first voices in our life probably strongly influence the voice in our head. I also think that when we talk about the nervous system, there’s a saying that says story follows state. So, the story you create, the things you tell yourself come from the state of your being. Right?
If you’re driving along in your car and all of a sudden, another car swerves into your lane, it’s not like you are thinking to yourself, oh my gosh, we’re scared. You just are scared. It kicks in automatically below the conscious thinking, a fear response, right? Then, that’s the state of your nervous system, fear. Then, you swerve, you hit the brakes, you act. And then if somebody else later comes along and says, Hey, what happened there? You have a story based on the state of your body, not the other way around. The story didn’t come first. The state came first. Right?
Now, the reason why we can use mindset coaching, it’s most effective when we’re in our window of tolerance. When we’re in that calm, creative, connected space where we’re not super activated, and we’re not shut down. We have a certain amount of activation that we’re living. But that’s the place where we can more effectively tell ourselves sentences and it can make some changes or shift things for us.
But if we’re super activated or if we’re super shut down, then more likely it’s the state of our nervous system that is going to then create the sentence versus the other way around.
Elizabeth: Say that last part again.
Denita: So, if we’re very activated or if we’re very shut down, the state of our nervous system is going to create the sentences. It’s going to be bottom up, from our nervous system, from our body up into our conscious brain.
Elizabeth: Okay. This is all fascinating.
Denita: Right? Isn’t it? And so, it really brings this holistic approach to everything we do. But in this case, health and fitness and wellness, it’s not just my thoughts that create my feelings. Yes, that is true. Hopefully most of us are in a regulated sort of window of tolerance, a connected creative space, the bulk of the time, right? So, that would be when mindset work would be helpful. When you’re standing there in the pantry looking at those chocolate chips and you’re telling yourself, I am healthy, I am healthy. That’s going to be so helpful.
But if you’re in anxiety, or panic, or depression, those sentences aren’t going to be as helpful. Because your system says, “We’re afraid, we need to run away, we need to fight, we need to shut down, we need to freeze. We need more energy, maybe.
I have a story. So, I have been gluten and dairy free for about three years. And I loved it. Being gluten free actually makes me feel like I have more energy. Something about my gut biome or whatever. My whole life I’ve always felt really sluggish and tired and like hard to wake up those kinds of things.
Long story of why I did this, but what I learned is that being gluten free helps me with that. But in the last couple weeks, I have felt this urge to eat gluten. And like my body like is telling me we want gluten, we want carbs. And I’ve been eating so much sugar and I’m like, what is happening? I’m really good at, especially my food. You know, it’s just an area that I’ve worked on a lot.
So, I’ve been noticing myself and like allowing myself these urges. And then, I learned that when you’re in a freeze response, this can be kind of a chronic freeze response, or it can be a more sort of localized freeze response. And for me, the holidays can put me into a freeze response it’s just like very overwhelming. So, I tend to like to withdraw. I learned that when you’re in a freeze response, a low carbohydrate diet is actually not good because when you’re in the freeze, your body is trying to conserve and generate energy. And so those carbohydrates are actually really good to generate energy.
Now, chocolate chips are not going to be as good of carbohydrate as say a sweet potato, right? There are grades, gradients of what’s better for us and what’s worse. But I just noticed myself kind of out of the blue just really grabbing for all of these sweets. And at the same time, I was noticing how I kind of wanted to hibernate. I wanted to just stop listening to all the things, and the classes in the podcast, and stop reading books, and still do a little bit of that. But I just really felt like less stimulation.
And my coach said, that makes a lot of sense for a freeze response. You’re wanting more carbohydrates, you’re wanting more energy, and you’re wanting less demand, less stimulation.
So, now that I know what I know, I’m like, oh, yes, it makes so much sense because I’m tracking my nervous system, I’m understanding the state I’m in. And it’s not like I’m frozen all the time. I’m coaching my clients; I am making dinner for my family. But overall feeling is like I need to hibernate. I need to hunker down. I need to conserve my energy. I need to do more to give myself resources and support that I normally need.
Elizabeth: Yeah. So, let me ask you. Now that you know that, how does that influence the choices that you’re making in terms of your food?
Denita: Well, so I think I’m just going to allow myself to eat more carbohydrates. When I eat a gluten-free diet, especially gluten-free, dairy-free diet. I tend to just eat fewer carbohydrates. It’s more meat. It’s more vegetables, right? And so, I’m just going to look for ways to increase my carb intake in healthier ways. So, probably up the fruits a little bit. I tend to not eat as many fruits. Up the vegetables. More of the good grains. I love quinoa. Because of what it is, it’s really easy to go to the pantry and grab my kids’ fruit snacks. That’s just so accessible.
But now that I know this, I can plan for it and be like, okay, I hear you, body. I hear you need some more energy, some more support in this way. Let’s give that to you in a smart way.
Elizabeth: Right. Yeah. Well, and it’s very similar and I wonder if the body is just acting the same way. Like when we don’t sleep well, our body will automatically go for higher carbohydrate items because our cells don’t regenerate. I wonder if the same thing is kind of happening there.
And so, just the awareness around, oh, last night I didn’t sleep well, so therefore when I’m craving sugar, snacks, whatever. Then, I can make a better choice just by the awareness around, I didn’t sleep well. And so, I’m wondering if just the awareness around this traumatic response or how my body is in this freeze response is going to also then, allow me to just make better choices. Just the awareness around it.
Denita: Yes. I think awareness is probably the most amazing tool that we have. Because I haven’t done a whole lot to quote unquote bring myself out of trauma. It’s been more about the awareness of my body, my emotions, my energy levels, my thoughts. That’s definitely part of it.
And then, that awareness informs the actions that I take. And it’s almost like I don’t really need to run models as much. Because I have awareness of all these different parts. It’s just like, oh, I’m needing some extra support, so I’m going to support myself. Like, I’m in that model of my thought leads to my feeling, leads to my action. But it’s kind of like a shortcut in my mind.
The awareness of like energy and nervous system state because it’s so much about energy and resources. Energetic resources. And something that I learned that I just think is so fascinating is that when somebody tells you, it’s going to be okay, I’m here for you. That is an energetic resource in your body. Your body relaxes or it responds in some way. Which is how we know, it’s like shifting the energy, right? And that all can inform so much of the actions we take or understanding why we’re not taking specific actions. That’s sometimes even more useful.
Elizabeth: Yeah. So, you’ve talked about the freeze response, and I remember growing up learning about fight and flight, right? Freeze is a third. So, let’s talk about the different trauma responses. So there’s fight, flight, freeze, and then a new one, which is Fawn. Yeah?
Denita: Yes. Yes.
Denita: So, let me just explain the phases of trauma responses. I think it’ll make it more clear.
Denita: When something startles us. Like I was talking about the person swerving into your lane. Our trauma responses always start with a startle with a woo, what was that? If you hear a loud clatter in the other room and you’re home alone, you’re going to be like, what is happening? So, we always start with a startle. Which triggers us to orient to that thing, to look at it, to go investigate it.
And our bodies, our nervous system makes a snap judgment. Is this actually harmful to me, or is it just a dish that fell off of the counter? And if it’s actually harmful, then your body, your nervous system is going to respond below the level of your thinking, and it’s going to put tons of adrenaline into your system. You’re going to try to run away from the threat.
If you can’t run, or if your body assesses that it’s too fast. Maybe it’s a car coming at you and running isn’t going to help. Then you try to fight, right? So, then you try to fight the threat. If that also doesn’t work, so the adrenaline comes in, we either run away, flee, or we fight. If neither of those work, then our body has a thwarted response, right? So, it could be that there’s something outside of us that thwarts us, right? I always think of the example of kidnapping. Super not practical or likely, but it’s the best example.
Someone’s running at us, we try to run away, we realize they’re way faster. Okay, I’m going to turn around, I’m going to fight them. I’m going to punch, kick, scream, hit, scratch. They’re too strong. They literally grab us and hold us, and now we can’t fight. That’s the thwarted response. It can happen externally or internally. And then, our body says, well, if we can’t fight and we can’t run, then we should just freeze. In order to protect ourselves, right? Because if we continue to fight, sometimes we can get more hurt and it’s also to conserve energy.
But remember we have all this energy running in our system, right? This adrenaline, the cortisol, whatever it is. And it has to go somewhere. So, the thwarted response basically slams the brakes, and it goes into our cells. Like I said earlier, it goes into our body.
Now, here’s the interesting thing. If we’re in this freeze response because we cannot overcome the threat, we’re going to go into an altered state. And part of that altered state, so sometimes this is called dissociation. Where our mind literally leaves our body in order to protect ourselves because it’s too painful.
And part of that altered state is just going along with what the other person wants. Which we would maybe consider a fawn response. Right? So, it’s actually, fawn is actually not a separate response. It’s part of the freeze. So, if we’re in what I would call a functional freeze where you look like you’re functioning in your life, but really your systems are pretty much shut down. You might just go along, right?
This is where we talk about marriages with abuse. Why the wife doesn’t leave. She might be in this freeze response and is just going along to conserve energy and to protect herself and her babies too, right? So, that’s part of it.
Now, sometimes the threat removes itself. The car corrects, goes back into its lane. The kidnapper, maybe somebody sees what’s going on, and then he decides, he, she, he, whoever decides like, oh, this isn’t going to work. They ran away. And so, if the threat removes itself or is removed somehow, and we have a felt sense that the threat has been removed. Because with trauma, it doesn’t have to be an actual threat. It can be a perceived threat. Then, we can start to heal.
And what we say in trauma is what comes up must come down. What goes up must come down and it has to go down the way it went up. So, if we’ve were activated and then we had that thwarted response, we go into freeze. Well, when we come out of the freeze, we’re going to be activated. So, this is where people thaw from freeze response, especially a chronic freeze response. They might notice more pain or soreness in their bodies. It feels like things are more stimulating to them, right? Because we have to go back through the activation.
The reason why we got put in the freeze response was because there was activation, and it was too much. It was overwhelming to the system. So, when we come out of that, we have to go back through that activation. And what happens to us is that if we have a low capacity to be with the activation, then we’ll get stuck between activation and shutdown. Activation and shutdown.
We’ll go into the activation, but then it’s too overwhelming, so we shut down again. But then we’re like, well, I don’t want to be shut down, or maybe we conserve some energy and so our bodies say, okay, we can be activated again. So, we get activated. Then, it gets overwhelming and so we just get stuck in that activation shut down and we never get to our window of tolerance. We never get to that felt sense of, oh, the threat is gone. I am safe.
So, what we have to do is we have to very carefully, usually with the help of a therapist or a coach that is educated with trauma responses, with the nervous system. We titrate, which is just a fancy word of we go really slow. We go really slow being with that activation little by little, right?
And we slowly grow our capacity to be with the activation. Which then eventually will bring us completely out of the trauma response, bring us completely out of freeze to a felt sense of safety and wellness. Questions. That was a lot.
Elizabeth: Yeah. It was. But no, it’s good. So, I was like, trying to think of a situation. So, when you talk about titrating or going really slow, I’m thinking about someone who might have an aversion to snakes or something. Would you just do a very slow exposure to snakes.
Denita: Yeah. You might just have them imagine a snake. And then, what happens in your body? What is that like? How does it feel? Where do you notice it? And maybe that would even be too much. So, then maybe we back up from there and we say, when you think about thinking about a snake. Right? So, as you see, it’s like everybody is different and what activates us is different.
But what we want is we want to touch in just a tiny little bit to that activation. And what is that like? Because over time, if we’ve learned to shut down, we’ve learned to separate our mind from our body. When you don’t use the nervous system is kind of like muscles. When you don’t use or live in that window of tolerance, that calm, creative place. It gets very narrow.
It makes it even harder to access. And when you’re always in the activation or the shutdown, those get very robust, right? So, we’re used to living there. We can spend lots of time there without shutting down even more. There’s always another level of shutdown. So yes, it’s just how does it feels in your body when even just at the edge of that activation comes into your awareness.
Sometimes that’s all a person needs to get activated, right? Sometimes people can be with the activation a little bit more. They can be like, okay, yes, I’m feeling some fear. It’s right here in my chest. I feel really warm. They can describe it; they can be with it. That’s okay. What we’re looking for is how much is too much. And every system is going to be different. And what we want is to increase the capacity to be with it, to be with that energy in your system without it shutting you down.
Because when you can be with it, the energy can run its course, it can do its thing and eventually you’ll get to, oh, that felt sense of I’m okay. I’m safe. It’s like when we go for a run. I don’t know, do your people run?
Elizabeth: They do.
Denita: So, we first have to go slow, we’re warming up. And then, we get into it and it’s like, okay, we got the energy, we’re in the rhythm. Good. But then, what happens with the cool down? Then, we have to slow down and cool down. And maybe we walk around a little bit, maybe we lie down on the ground. We don’t just go from full speed running to, okay, I’m going to get in bed now. It’s a curve, right? And so, when we have a stressor, we have that energy, we go up that curve, we use the energy. And then, the energy is expended, and the thread is no longer there. And we come down it.
That’s where we might go to our friends and be like, oh my gosh, you never know. I have got to tell you what happened. It was super scary. I can’t believe this happened. And the friend’s like, oh my goodness, what did you do? I’m so proud of you. Wow. So, we have that experience of sharing it, talking about it, because we process it that way. That’s part of coming down from the activation, right?
And then, we get to a spot, a place where we’re like, okay, I’m done telling that story. That’s kind of behind me. I’m over it. That energetic curve that we go up into and we come down out of. And if we have a freeze response in the middle of it, we are never able to come out of it.
So, then when we start coming out of the freeze response, we’re right there in the activation where we were. And we have to have the capacity to come out of it and let it run its course.
Elizabeth: Okay. So, we’ve been talking about trauma and the nervous system from a very high level. How would someone know if they have unresolved trauma?
Denita: Well, some of the signs. I mean, I would just assume all of us do. Not all of us have unresolved trauma that really affects our lives, our day-to-day lives. If you have been working on yourself and trying to reach a goal, say for a long time. You’ve tried a lot of different things and it hasn’t worked. Probably, a nervous system thing going on. Something happened.
Sometimes what I see is we try to do mindset work. We try to use the thought model. But it goes against the felt sense of our nervous system. And so, we just get nowhere.
Elizabeth: Talk more about that.
Denita: Say, we want to lose weight, right? Because your people want to lose weight. I’m going to lose 10 pounds. And I’ve been trying to lose 10 pounds. I’ve tried 17 different diets throughout my life. Now, I have Elizabeth and she’s amazing and she’s teaching me how my thoughts create my feelings, create my actions, right?
But if your nervous system is saying danger, danger, danger. And you’re trying to tell yourself we don’t need food, right? We’re not hungry right now. Those two things don’t match up. Because if there’s a danger, even a perceived threat, what we need is more energy. Right?
So, naturally we’re going to want to go eat carbohydrates, right? And I mean, it can work a little bit. We can be like, oh yeah, I was able to not eat the thing that I didn’t want to eat, I decided ahead of time, or I stopped eating when I felt hungry. We can do some of the surface level stuff, but if the nervous system is working against all the thought work, we’re trying to do, then we’re not going to get very far. We’re going to get to a point where we’re sort of stuck.
One time I didn’t do weight coaching or health coaching, but I had a client who really came to me for relationship stuff. But also, she wanted to lose weight. And so, it was strictly mindset just asking her, and she’d keep coming back to this. So, that’s another sort of red flag if you come back to a specific story or sentence. Probably, it’s a story that’s coming from the state of your nervous system. If it’s something you’ve been telling yourself for a long time, it might have been a thought or a belief that you’ve held before you even could really talk, right? It’s more nervous system stuff than it is mindset stuff.
The mindset I think can support the nervous system work. But anyway, my client, I didn’t really know. I didn’t have to eat this, or don’t eat that, I didn’t have those kinds of things to tell her. So, she had brought this up about once a month for several months in a row. And I just sat back, and I went, do you think that this thought works we’re doing is even going to help you lose weight? And she’s like, no, I don’t really believe that.
So, here I was for months trying to help her try on new thoughts and whatever. When really the underlying belief is there’s a limit to how much weight I can lose. I’m never going to get below X number on the scale. And we just spent a session with that. That is where her belief was and why. And I didn’t have any I’m like, I don’t know, maybe you will, maybe you won’t. But this is just so fascinating that you don’t actually believe you can get to the goal weight that you have right now.
And then, two weeks later she said, guess what? I got to my new low. And I was like, what? That’s amazing! Right? So, it’s sort of like these different layers of what’s working for me, what’s working against me, all the work about well, why do I even want that goal. But really if your nervous system is in a freeze or if you struggle with anxiety, it’s sort of like always very activated. It’s going to put more resources and energy toward that than reaching your goals. Because reaching your goals has nothing to do with staying alive.
Elizabeth: Yeah. So, what are your thoughts about if someone has a response that isn’t in line with what the situation calls for? Would that be a trauma response?
Denita: Yes. Normally, that’s like a red flag. If your kid spills their milk and you just go off the handle. And you know, you’re just like way out in Lala land. The response doesn’t really match the situation, like the appropriate level of disappointment, or anger, or frustration. Probably, something else is going on there.
Elizabeth: Got it.
Denita: So, maybe you are feeling very un-resourced, right? Like you’re just feeling very overwhelmed. There’s a lot going on. And then, that one extra thing, kid’s spills milk and is just, raaarrrrhh. We go into a rage. So, that is yes, very much another sort of flag of if the response doesn’t really match the situation.
Elizabeth: Got it. Yeah.
Denita: We’re probably carrying something from childhood.
Elizabeth: Okay. Okay. Awesome. A lot of what we’ve been talking about someone already knows that they have trauma. And so, they’re working with a coach and you’re working them through the steps to heal that. What would be the first thing that someone would do if they suspected that they had an unresolved trauma response?
Denita: I think awareness is always the first step. You can actually track your nervous system. I mean, yes you can.
Elizabeth: How do you do that?
Denita: I would set timers throughout the day. You could do it once a day, you could do it multiple times a day. But even just once a day, checking in with, did I feel like I was in that high sympathetic, very activated all day? Did I feel like I was shut down most of the day? Did I feel like I was in that calm, creative, curious, connected space? And you can just be like, oh yeah, I was really activated today. And then, you can ask like, well, what emotions went with that? So, usually the word we hear most of the time is anxiety. It could also be overwhelmed, it could be stress, it could be anger, those types of things.
Elizabeth: I think you’ve just described most of my listeners.
Denita: Yes. Yeah. I mean, it’s so common, right? Start noticing patterns. You can do this at any time of day. Like what happens when your kids get home from school? What happens when your husband gets home? What happens when you go for your walk? If you go for a walk every day or you do your exercise. There could be kind of situational or time of day type triggers. What happens first thing in the morning, last thing at night? You can start to notice patterns.
Okay. So, I always get activated when my husband walks in the room. Interesting, right? I always get activated when I’m in my kitchen. That might be interesting to know. Or maybe you get shut down when you’re in your kitchen, right? I mean, everybody’s going to be different. So, that awareness of what state do I think I’m in, what emotions come with it. You could even say, what actions? Like you could run a model and just add in. I think this is this nervous system state. Activation, shut down, or creative. I always call it creative, connected maybe is a better word. It could be really simple, but just start noticing.
The second thing I would say is I love the question, what do I need? It’s super simple and it speaks to this idea of resources and support. And whatever comes up, like really do it from a space of not from your logical brain, right? Like, Hmm, what do I need today? Ah, I think I need eight glasses of water or whatever, right? But I like to just put my hand on my heart and just be like, what do you need? And things will come up. Surprising things will come up, right?
I have a friend and she said that she just got her heart broken by a boy. And she said that her roommates came to her, and they were like, we’re so sorry. What do you need? What can we do for you? And they were like, can we go buy you some ice cream? Do you want us to make a cake? And she’s trying to work on her health, and she said, I genuinely don’t want ice cream or cake. You know, what would be so amazing? I just want to be with people. You want to watch a movie with me?
And I thought that was so amazing for her, this young single woman to speak to her roommates and say, I really just need to be with you. Can we just sit in the living room and watch a movie? And that’s hard for people to do sometimes to say that. Like even having needs sometimes. Especially as women is like a little taboo. So, if it’s something you can give yourself, maybe sometimes I’m like, you know what? I really just need to sit down and zone out at the wall.
Like, I’m so often on Zoom and on my computer, and then I’m go, go, go this and that. And I don’t really like sit and rest very much. So, my body will often say, just take a break. Sometimes it’ll be like if you’re like a spiritual person, you might say like, I need to pray, or I need to call this person, or like just whatever comes up, honor that is what I would say.
Because a lot of nervous system trauma stuff is about honoring the urges and the needs of the moment. Which then people will ask, well, how do I know that I need chocolate chips versus like my natural man, my body just wanting that. And my answer is always, if you connect deeply enough with your true higher self, you will always know. And maybe sometimes it is. I need to have those chocolate chips.
Elizabeth: Absolutely. Yeah. Sometimes you need broccoli, sometimes you need brownies.
Denita: Right. I guess my second thing would just be like, just start practicing connecting with yourself and asking what you need.
Elizabeth: Yeah. I love that. As you were talking, I was thinking about potentially a trauma response being acted out as people pleasing. Is that something that you see happen with your clients?
Denita: Yes. Especially, those of us that had chaotic environments growing up. So, I fall under this category. As young children, we learn to track our parents. Especially, but it could be siblings, or aunts, and uncles, or whoever is around us. We learn to track their sort of emotional states in order to stay safe. So, I have to know what’s going on for mom and dad, to know how I should be. And it’s very adaptive at the time, like it literally keeps us alive.
And so, there’s no shame in doing that. But what it turns into is a habit of noticing other people’s needs before we notice and connect to ourselves and our needs. And when it’s very lopsided that way, where it’s like, I know everything about my kids and my spouse, but when I’m asked what do I need? I’m like, oh, ah, I don’t know. Right? It’s because we had to. We had to do that to survive. So, we end up shutting ourselves down, shutting our own needs down and just focusing on taking care of our parents.
Sometimes if we had to grow up faster than developmentally appropriate, that is also like we have to pull those energy storages from our bodies in order to be more mature. It just turns into a habit of what does the environment need, what do other people need? And that’s my role, to satisfy those needs. I would loosely consider sort of trauma. But it’s really more about attachment and how we are attached to our caregivers. And usually, it’s an insecure or an anxious attachment. That’s my experience.
And what really is the difficult thing to do to work through that is to start paying attention to your own needs. Not necessarily ignoring, but putting other people’s needs kind of further down the priority list. And it can be very uncomfortable, right? Because we’re not used to it and what we’re used to is our comfort level.
So, sometimes it can get into kind of a codependent. That’s a word that is used where I need my spouse, for example, to feel good in order for me to feel good. And that’s very slow, methodical work to slow down what happens in your body when spouse doesn’t feel good. And can you be with that, and can you not rush to his aid, and fix whatever’s going on for him?
This is some of the most painful work that I have done for myself is it’s hard to watch somebody else around you, quote unquote suffer. And not do anything when you’re used to doing things for 20, 30, 40 years. It causes a lot of cognitive dissonance, a lot of discomfort. So, yes, that people pleasing also could be like a biological pattern in your body.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Ugh, this has been so amazing. What additional things haven’t we talked about? I feel like we’ve talked about everything.
Denita: Yes. We covered a lot of ground. It has been amazing. The only I guess, kind of a hands-on tip tool that people can use is something called orienting. It’s always where I start my clients out with at the beginning of their packages when they sign on with me, and also at the beginning of each session.
And all it is, is noticing using your senses. Usually, it’s sight but you can use other senses as well. Noticing things that feel good in your body. So, if you look at your wall and the color on your wall, you love that color. When you look at that color on the wall, how does that feel in your body? So, it’s kind of like we’re looking at the thing and we’re also feeling into how our body is responding. It could be anything. It could be an object that we look at. It could be a color or a texture. I was doing this the other day and I looked at a book and there was this line on the book. And I realized it was the contrast between one side of the line had color on it and the other side was white.
And for some reason that contrast was just really attractive to me that day. So, it could be anything and to just orient, we can orient to each other, right? So, this is why we do introductions. It’s like, where in the world are you from, and how old, and do you have kids or not, or those kinds of things. We can orient ourselves to our environments.
Recently, we had to take a tree down of this giant a hundred foot tall tree that was in our backyard. It was sick, it had to come down. And I had to spend some time out in my yard, in my new yard without this tree. So, there’s a lot of different ways to orient, but basically, it’s just using our senses to figure out like, who am I? What is my environment and what feels good to me?
So, the most simple way is just looking around your environment, letting your eyes fall on an object, or a color, or a texture that seems pleasant. And then, noticing what happens in your body. And that is really simple, just like we were talking about awareness is very simple. It’s a very simple practice, but it’s a building block to creating a sense of safety, a sense of calm, and aliveness in our bodies. It’s an awareness practice and it just helps us figure out who am I and who are you and where am I? Like all of that. It’s what babies and toddlers do, actually. Right?
When they’re growing and they’ll say, mama, mama, mama a million times. And the repetition of it is what helps them understand, oh, this is me and this is mama. Or they’ll name objects, right? And so, this is sort of like where many of us have to go back to in this sort of developmental learning is just over and over again repeatedly, ugh, this is me, I’m here right now. It’s grounding is a form of orienting. Or sometimes we call it like, containment is like, this is me.
So, that’s just a simple practice that I do every day, almost all day long if I’m being very aware that you can start doing and you can experiment with it and make it your own thing as well.
Elizabeth: Oh, this has been amazing. So, tell the listeners how they can get in touch with you or work with you if they like what you’ve said today. Because I think I might have to sign up with you myself.
Denita: Yes. Well, my website is denitabremer.com. I normally focus on helping L D S women, but I’m not going to turn anyone away. It’s just sort of my marketing engine.
Elizabeth: And what is L D S?
Denita: L D S is latter day Saint. So, specific denomination of Christian. So, that’s what you’ll see when you go to my website. That’s why I say that it’s very Christian talk and scriptures and things like that on there. But you can sign up for a free session. So, I always do a completely free session with anybody that is interested in working with me because it’s so important that whoever you work with, you feel very safe with them, right?
So, we don’t want the practitioner themselves to make you feel unsafe. I think it’s best to start with a kind of foundation of this feels safe, this feels right. And sometimes it’s not going to, and you’re not even going to have a reason. You might come onto a call with me and be like, I don’t know. I just wasn’t feeling it. So, that’s why I always do a free session and then if it feels good and safe, then we go to a consult and talk about logistics.
Yeah. And I’m actually launching a group program that is going to be about all of this nervous system, trauma felt sense, all of that is like creating resources and support for ourselves. And the group I want to be very hands-on and more like a workshop every week. So, we’re going to be kind of using breakout rooms and practicing things.
So, I think of it more like a yoga class, but for your nervous system, which yoga’s amazing too. I’ve a huge proponent of yoga. But more of like an ongoing, like we come to practice and then hopefully the things we learn, we take it out into the world with us. So, that’s what’s on the horizon for me. And hopefully all that information is on the website as this comes out.
Elizabeth: Yes. And of course, all of those links will be in the show notes. So, if you want to connect with Denita, you can go check out the show notes.
Elizabeth: Thank you for being here today. This was amazing.
Denita: Thank you. Thank you. You’re doing amazing work, bringing so much information to your audience.
All right everyone, I learned so much from chatting with Denita. I hope our conversation cleared up any questions that you might have had about trauma. And if you want to have a conversation with Denita, I would highly recommend that you schedule some time with her to understand what’s happening with you.
And if you want to get in touch with her, just go to the show notes for this podcast to connect with her at elizabethsherman.com/podcast/105.
That’s all I have for you today. Have an amazing week, and I’ll talk to you next time. Bye-bye.
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