S3 E15 TRANSCRIPT Empathy and the Nervous System

[00:00:00] Elisabeth: Welcome to Trauma Rewired. In this season as we are exploring relationships, it would not be complete without talking about the Empath and the Narcissist. Today we’re joined with Matt Bush, co-lead educator of the Neuro Somatic Intelligence Training, to take a deep dive into the neurology of empathy.

[00:00:24] Elisabeth: I have so many clients that reach out to us identifying as empaths and talk about how overwhelming that is for their nervous system. And just how overwhelming it is to be in social situations as an Empath. And I think it’s a real big moment for them, and I know it was for me, to understand that that state is a state of being in nervous system dysregulation where we are operating from a place of needing others for emotional regulation. And we’re gonna get deep into that today, and it’s really interesting. So I hope you guys enjoy this conversation.

[00:01:04] Jennifer It was also slightly jarring for me, I’ll be really honest with you because I related. My identity was my sensitivity and how I would relate into the world. So I think this is one of those conversations from Trauma Rewired that’s like a little bomb drop, could be activating.

[00:01:27] Elisabeth: Could be activating and it’s important to remember, like it’s beautiful to have empathy. It’s beautiful to be a sensitive person, and how can we maintain all of those qualities while also taking care of ourselves and not causing harm to our internal state and not experiencing outputs in our behavior or consequences to our health that we don’t want.

[00:01:49] Jennifer: It’s a beautiful conversation, y’all. We know that you’re gonna enjoy it. So welcome to Trauma Rewired, the podcast that teaches you about your nervous system, how trauma lives in the body, and what you can do to heal. My name is Jennifer Wallace and I am your go-to Neuro Somatic Intelligence Guide, bridging this work of Nervous System Intelligence into your sacred healing spaces with plant medicine.

[00:02:36] Elisabeth: And I’m Elisabeth Kristof, founder of Brain-Based Wellness, a virtual platform that teaches you how to train, work with your nervous system to create resilience and behavior change. And I’m also the founder of the Neuro Somatic Intelligence Coaching Certification. 

[00:02:28] Elisabeth: If you also identify as an Empath and you are hearing yourself in this conversation, and you wanna start to work with your nervous system to create more capacity and to move out of some of those outputs that you don’t want, then join us at rewiretrial.com for two free weeks of nervous system training live on the site with me and Jennifer.

[00:012:48] Jennifer: I think this conversation will be one of that’s kind of controversial, you know what I mean? Like Empaths. It’s a thing.

[00:02:58] Elisabeth: (laughing) Yeah, for sure it is. And so many people have such a deep identity with considering themselves an Empath. We hear that from our clients all the time. You see it on social media all the time. I’m an Empath, this and that. And we’re gonna question some of that a little bit today. I feel like.

[00:03:14] Jennifer: And I’m excited to do so. In my states of my deepest states of Empathy were also my deepest years of dysregulation. (laughing) Like Matt said in our narcissism episode- the bugs, the animals, the trees, the people. I was feeling for everybody with no boundaries. Like just no boundaries within myself or in the world in general.

[00:03:40] So this is gonna be so fun to explore. From an NSI perspective. Also, Empathy is part of science. It’s a part of our brain. It has to do with our brain development and places of integration in our brain. So it goes far deeper, I think, than what we just kind of relate to as humans, we are empathic by nature. All of us have that capability.

[00:04:05] Elisabeth: Yeah, the broad definition of an Empath, just to kind of take altitude look for a moment, is an individual who feels more empathy than the average human. Empaths are exceptionally sensitive to the emotions and the frame of mind of other people or like maybe you were talking about animals, trees, whatever. Very deeply affected. It’s important to remember we all have Empathy as humans. It’s something that as a species helped us to stay connected to also help protect one another from predators, to connect each other for intimacy, for reproduction, and to keep us as a tribe which was adaptive as a species.

[00:04:50] So empathy is an important human quality that we all have. But I think the difference between being an “Empath” and having empathy, is that in an Empath the brain, the body, the nervous system experience the physiological reaction of the emotions of other people. Like you see somebody experiencing an emotion and inside your body you also experience that. You get the cascade of adrenaline and cortisol or the muscle tension or the increased respiration your body is experiencing, the emotions that you witness in other people. And you’re very reactive to the social signals. Like reading other people’s facial expressions, body posture, vocal tone. 

[00:05:45] There’s almost, I wanna say a hypervigilance about reading those in an interpretation of maybe a lot of threat or differences in the way that you interpret those signals that have a greater impact on someone who would probably consider themselves an Empath. So I wanna look a little bit more beyond the traditional signs of being an Empath. You have a lot of empathy, closeness can overwhelm you. You have a good intuition, you often don’t do well in crowded spaces. You have a hard time not taking on emotional responsibility for other people. These are kind of the signs of how someone might characterize themselves as an Empath, but from a Neuro Somatic perspective what are we looking at here?

[00:06:29] Matt: So this conversation as far as the brain chemistry and connections is gonna be very similar to Narcissism, because we’re back to talking about the insular cortex. Anytime we’re talking about self-awareness, there’s a little prefrontal cortex involved and how we view ourselves and how we understand our own behavior. But as we start to relate to other people, it really comes back to that area of the anterior insular cortex as reading social cues, belonging to the tribe, understanding the emotional standing of everyone who’s present in the situation. 

[00:07:04] So yeah, Empathy is something that should be hardwired into all of us that our brain is able to do. But becoming an Empath is when that gets ramped up another level. If it was a volume knob on the radio it’s taken to a volume that’s almost so loud that you can no longer turn it down. You can’t ignore it, you can’t dampen it, and it’s kind of always there with you. Often overwhelming.

[00:07:32] That’s why the difficulty in all the different situations. But still primarily comes from an insular deficit of some kind. Just like in the Narcissism conversation, that could be something that’s conditioned through social interactions or in a household where someone’s raised, but it could also be triggered by a brain injury, by TBI, concussion, perhaps as well by some type of an infection that affects the brain or the meninges like a viral infection or meningitis, bacterial infection that affects those areas that can throw those things off. So several potential causes, but ultimately it’s like a normal sense of Empathy taken to the utmost level where we have a very difficult time dealing with it at that point because it’s kind of overwhelming our own sense of boundaries and our own sense of self at times.

[00:08:25] Jennifer: And Elisabeth said because of the way that we mirror each other we will also start to experience, because we create the internal sense of reality that that person in front of us is feeling too, because it’s something that maybe we’ve had that shared experience of. So maybe there’s then that like shared neural representation of what’s happening in the social synapse.

[00:08:52] But when I hear about these kind of personality disorders- that we don’t believe in- that are so talked about like Narcissism, Empath; these are both created. If we talk about it from the place of cPTSD, not the brain injury other way that this is created, but these are both created by really inflated states of emotional discord within the primary relationship and cultivated by nervous systems that had a excessive lack of emotional regulation, attunement, and a real dissonance. And maybe that was also physical. So just like Matt was saying, with the Narcissist, like someone who is not shown, modeled or taught emotional regulation by a caregiver, and that once again, we’re back into this emotional place and threat.

[00:09:44] Matt: Yeah. I think the ability to feel or sense and read other’s emotions and to experience them is one way that the brain can cope and make the world a more predictable place, right? If I’m on uncertain standing with a social circle then I’m able to actually feel what they’re feeling, I can manipulate my own behavior or help regulate them to make the situation safer for myself or even for everybody involved. So Empathy itself is definitely like a prosurvival type of behavior. 

[00:10:17] I think what you hit on there is a lack of emotional control or a lack of emotional regulation that it becomes overwhelming when we can’t inhibit Empathy appropriately. And that might sound like an odd thing to say because so much of our culture kind of puts Empathy up on a pedestal and thinks being an empath is such a good thing. Jennifer, you might have something to say about that in a moment (laughing), but the idea is it’s not actually always a good thing. There are times in situations where you need to be able to inhibit your Empathy to others in order to maintain a boundary for yourself. Or to protect yourself from being taken advantage of or taken for granted, or even from being abused in a situation.

[00:11:05] Elisabeth: Yeah, absolutely, and I think it can also just be a very heavy stress load on a nervous system all of the time to be so reactive to taking in everybody else’s emotional states. It can lead to a lot of dysregulation, both physically and emotionally. We know that chronic stress over time is not good for our long-term health. At worst it can lead to disease, but it could also just lead to burnout and exhaustion and fatigue and the lack of ability to go out and engage socially without experiencing really strong protective outputs because there is so much disruption to the system when we’re taking all of this in.

[00:11:45] And I’ll never forget when I was taking an applied neurology course that dealt a lot with the interoceptive system and hearing the instructor talk about Empathy as being a big deficit in the interoceptive system. And that there’s a misinterpretation of the signals and there’s this overreaction inside of your own body to that. And saying you might be an Empath and have this interoceptive deficit if you’re watching TV and you see somebody get hurt and you flinch or curl up and react like, ‘oh my gosh, my body is being hurt.’ I definitely do that. So there’s this weird lack of boundary and misinterpretation of what’s going on and how it affects me. Then that can lead to prolonged stress over time. It also made me think about someone who chronically dissociates and the impact that that has on their interoceptive system. Then why that might lead to more of this issue with both interoceptive awareness and interceptive accuracy that can lead to empathic tendencies.

[00:12:56] Matt: Yeah, so the interoception angle is really interesting. As a classic definition of that- it’s your perception of the sensations coming from inside your own body. That includes visceral organs, hunger, thirst, fatigue, body temperature, the need to go to the restroom, all of the internal stuff. 

[00:13:19] Often for someone who has an interoceptive issue, we’ll talk about that their level of interoceptive awareness is either too high or too low. That they’re either catching all the signals, if it’s too high and they can’t ignore them. So they’re constantly doing body scans and trying to figure out, what was that? What was that feeling? What’s happening inside of me? Or their awareness is too low and they’re not feeling anything. And in both cases their accuracy is lacking. Even when they do feel something, they don’t necessarily know what it means or what it should mean. So their brain kind of goes into protective survival mode.

[00:13:56] Colloquially, we might say they’re freaking out about stuff that’s not really a problem. So when that interoceptive system is lacking in those ways and it just doesn’t know how to make heads or tails out of all the sensations they’re feeling, one of the ways that it can cope with that deficit is to start feeling and co-regulating with other people that are around them.

[00:14:14] So they’ll tend to lean into the emotional state of co-regulation in order to facilitate the physical co-regulation that can come with that. At first, that’s a great strategy, right? Because it helps me to regulate, I may not understand at the beginning that it’s a little bit codependent ’cause at least it’s helping me feel better. The problem is when I lean on that so heavily that emotional Empathy becomes the overwhelming sense coming into my nervous system, and it becomes the only way that I know how to regulate. Now we have a problem, because I’m always in need of making sure everyone’s emotions are set, stable, happy, calm. So I may start trying to help, we’ll use that word rather than saying ‘trying to manipulate’. I may try to help other people feel better, feel more regulated, feel more calm and that takes a great toll on me. But I’m doing that in a way so that then I can regulate from that person. It’s like a self-fulfilling type of behavior.

[00:15:18] So it can become this kind of self-fulfilling deficit where I lean more and more into that Empath type of behavior in order to get what I need from the people around me. Of course, I’m talking about this as if we could take a step back and look at it somewhat objectively. I understand anyone who’s going through this or feeling these things is probably not gonna describe it that way. Most people who find themselves being very high in Empathy think that it’s a good thing until it becomes overwhelming and they can’t escape it. So just a perspective there.

[00:15:55] Jennifer: I also think that there’s a level of almost emotional bypassing that’s happening for the person because they’re not processing their emotions, they’re not processing their stories, but they’re feeling it through another person’s experience. So having this person and maybe some very constant emotional dysregulation ups and downs, feeling this like it could be very triggering and very easily activated. And at the same time, the emotional stress is building up within that body because that’s not their emotional work. 

[00:16:30] Then something that Elisabeth brought up earlier that I wanna circle back to is the burnout factor.  I think we see this a lot with coaches, which is why NSI is so supportive for us. Because I think there’s something called compassion fatigue. And a lot of coaches, therapists, practitioners, guides, healers, they will experience compassion fatigue because they are Empaths, working with their clients who are exposing them to whatever stories and trauma and narratives, and then that person is totally taking it on without the emotional regulatory skills, and then they are totally burning themselves out.

[00:17:12] Rewiretrial.com is where you’ll go if you’re feeling yourself in this conversation and want to learn the tools to reshape your nervous system, to feel where you end and another begins. You’ll experience a new way of being in your body and in the world. Please join us at rewiretrial.com for live neuro training onsite with me and Elisabeth. Create sovereign outputs that shift the brain and body into integrated spaces. Rewiretrial.com. 

[00:17:40] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think both of you as you were talking about that, that there’s this deep inability to process and regulate your own emotions. So then having that need come through the co-regulation. This is really speaking for myself, and also what I see with a lot of clients, a lot of times when that internal world is very chaotic. Just to bring up attachment styles into this, as someone who lived a lot of my life in a disorganized attachment style, there was a lot of chaos with social connection. I did not have the skill to process the big emotions that I had experienced in my life. There was a lot of repressed rage and grief and it was wild. I didn’t understand what was happening inside. 

[00:18:32] So then absolutely, I found myself many, many times in relationships then only increasing that stress by not having the ability to set appropriate boundaries, distinguish myself from another person, taking on their emotional experience, being responsible for their emotions, all the way to becoming a full-time caregiver for someone that I was in a relationship with. Again, of course it’s a great quality to be able to have Empathy, but there’s something self-serving about that as well. I needed it for my own sense of safety and regulation. And it ultimately wasn’t sustainable in this way. It’s just leading to a life that is really harmful for my health over time because it’s too much stress and there has to come a time where I learn to process my emotions, to regulate my emotions and to self-regulate my nervous system so that I don’t have to always find it externally.

[00:19:37] Matt: Yeah. That leads me to a thought that it speaks to what both of you were talking about. It’s kind of another angle on where this insular deficit and Empath type of behavior comes from. So we teach about this thing called sensory mismatch which in the literature you might find terms like sensory integration disorder or sensory processing disorder.

[00:20:00] Those two are more clinically recognized disorders where the sensory systems of the brain and nervous system are having difficulty intaking and integrating different sensory systems like vision auditory. Vestibular, which is your sense of gravity and equilibrium, interoception, tactile sensation and touch, smell and taste. So you got about seven different senses that are pulled together. I would say sensory mismatch, we utilize that term as a subclinical descriptor. So it’s not a disorder, but it means that the brain is having a difficult time taking in sensory information just to figure out -where am I, what’s going on around me, and am I safe?

[00:20:50] If I had to really narrow down the seven senses to the three that are most prevalent, maybe four. From the external world it would be vision, auditory, and vestibular. Then if we added a fourth, it would be that sense of interoception, what’s going on inside the body. Now a lot of the sensory processing and sensory integration happens in the back bottom part of the brain like the cerebellum, it’s a great integrator area which brings together vision, auditory movement, and sensory feelings. That’s kind of a gross integration that happens there just to make sure that we can move through the world- like walk without falling over and move our arm without losing our balance.

[00:21:35] Then as you take that sensory information, like the whole back part of the brain, everything behind the frontal lobe is all involved in processing and integrating those sensory inputs. Then after they’re integrated, that information gets passed in the frontal lobe for us to really assign meaning to it and understand what it is that’s happening around us.

[00:21:58] So where this intersects with Empathy is if the back of the brain is having so much trouble, or it’s so challenged to take in sensory information and integrate it together, that the brain is spending most of its time and energy just figuring that stuff out. Then it doesn’t have a lot of energy or resources or time to engage in feeling its own emotions.

[00:21:25] So where Jennifer talked about emotional bypassing, I think sensory mismatch is a big component of that. This type of emotional bypassing that Jennifer’s talking about, it’s not a cognitive choice, it’s not on purpose. But the brain is so busy trying to figure out what’s going on? Am I safe? Is this predictable? Am I in a good place- physically, emotionally, socially? That it doesn’t have the time, effort, and resources available to spin up the insular cortex and experience any true depth of emotion. So when all energy is gone, resources are depleted because the brain’s focus is elsewhere, it’s easier to look externally to find out, am I emotionally good?

[00:23:12] It does that by sensing the emotions from other people. What I’ve found over the years is that my clients who have the greatest level of sensory mismatch also have developed the greatest sense of Empathy. I can only speak to correlation, technically speaking. I can’t go so far as to say that the sensory mismatch causes it. But what I’m describing in this process is generally understood as how the brain works physiologically, anatomically. The areas of the back of the brain that take in sensory information have to be given resources and fuel and oxygen first before the front of the brain gets its fuel and resources and oxygen. Because the back of the brain is what keeps us alive. 

[00:24:00] So there is a high correlation between sensory mismatch and high levels of empathy. And I think it is kind of a way to bridge the gap that goes ‘when I can’t feel my own emotions, I’m gonna go look for others as a way to figure out what should be going on.’

[00:24:14] Jennifer: That was a great circling back to that emotional bypassing and putting that into the relative terms of the nervous system and NSI. I enjoyed that.

[00:24:25] Elisabeth: Yeah, it makes so much sense to me and with my own lived experience too. As my nervous system has had more capacity and safety, it’s only then that I’ve been able to start using somatic processes and emotional expression processes to feel and express and experience my emotions. And have the capacity and the tools and the bandwidth inside of myself to re regulate after that so that it stays safe for my body. And until I started working with my nervous system and creating that capacity, like you said, it’s not cognitive it was repressed. It was below the level of my consciousness and I just couldn’t feel and express it.

[00:25:06] As you were speaking, I was thinking of another example. I have had a lot of issues with body dysmorphia and not being able to feel my body map and sense where I am in space and for a long time, until fairly recently whenever I was out and about, I would look at other bodies and be like, does that look like me? Does that look like me? And trying externally to figure out and gain that sense of who I am and how I’m doing and where I fall in the spectrum by looking at other people and finding that externally. It’s almost like that same thing with the emotional seeking outside of myself when I can’t feel it, when I can’t experience it. It’s like reaching outside of myself for that information that my brain and my nervous system need to understand who I am, where I am. Am I safe? What’s going on and make sense of the world and have predictions.

[00:25:58] Matt: Yeah, it’s not just emotional, right? What you’re describing is that the greater disorder is present with those incoming sensory systems and integration, the more that someone will go external to make sure everything is normal. That goes beyond the emotional state, that goes even to the physical body, is my body normal right now?

[00:26:22] So the other correlation that I’ve seen with my clients is the more difficulty they have with sensory integration, they go not only on the emotional Empathy, but they also go further outside themselves and they become more, it’s like they’re looking external for internal sensation. Let’s put it that way. They tend to lean more into things like energy work and spiritual practices. I don’t mean to be offensive in the way I say this, but the more disordered their internal sense the farther out- and I mean in terms of distance- the farther out their energetic sensitivity will extend. So they start to feel energy from other people, from other living objects, from the plants and the insects- like we talked about. But they’ll also extend all the way out to cosmic energies. So they’ll start to actually become more sensitized to cosmic energies and start to bring those into their work, into their personal health and self-care, into their coaching, into their practice. And I think a lot of that starts as a disorder of interoception, or at least a deficit of interoception, and integration of these sensory systems. So they look external to try to make sure that everything internal is working as it should be.

[00:27:43] Jennifer: When I hear it too, I just hear no boundaries. When I think of no boundaries, I think of the interoceptive system first as far as the personal system goes. I opened this up by saying my most Empathic times were my most dysregulated times because I didn’t understand what my deficits were and how to work with them. As I have moved through this work with NSI for years now, and also cultivated in this time deeper spiritual practices, I have boundaries within that and I can connect and communicate. I’m in the other realms and I love it, but I also have boundaries there. I know where I begin. I know what voice is mine inherently. Because, like you said, I just hear a real lack of boundaries with the self.

[00:28:38] Matt: I love that you have developed that and can say that it’s so powerful. When I talk with people who are highly Empathetic like this and we start talking about the nervous system, if I get pushback it’s usually because they think if I start to work on my interoception and I make my nervous system more healthy, I’m gonna lose my superpower. That’s actually not true. What will happen is you’ll retain your sensitivity, but you’ll be able to tap into it or tune into it when you want to and still maintain a strong sense of self, just like Jennifer was just talking about.

[00:29:16] Jennifer: I am much more highly attuned to my environment, to others and I have my own self-awareness. I have my own emotional self-regulation. I understand myself very well. And I can understand, usually, where the voices are coming from whether that’s even my own ego and narratives and patterns and stories. But yes, that does extend into cosmic places.

[00:29:47] Matt: That’s okay. That’s totally fine. And it’s beautiful that you can still know what’s your voice. You have a stronger sense of being pushed and pulled in all these directions. I have clients that I work with who are so sensitive and don’t have boundaries that they’re pushed and pulled by any kind of energy, whether it’s cosmic or another person or an animal, or the house plants. I don’t mean that sarcastically. (laughing) They get pulled off of their own kind of grounded self base. So I just love what you shared there, Jennifer, that you are regulating your nervous system, learning it, training it. You’re able to maintain all of your superpowers and you still have this very strong sense of self. I think that’s the goal for someone who has this kind of Empathetic side. That’s great, use it for good, but don’t lose track of yourself in the process.

[00:30:43] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think it’s incredibly important so that we can hone in on our gifts and express our gifts in a way that is not damaging to our own health and nervous system. We don’t get lost out there in the world. 

[00:30:59] I wanted to touch on too, I think sometimes there’s a little bit of overlap or a blurring between being an Empath and having social anxiety and hypervigilance in a social setting. A lot of empaths talk about not being able to be in large crowds or being overwhelmed by gatherings. And I do think that some of that is taking on the emotions of others around you and being very affected by that external system. Whether it’s a person or an animal or a plant. 

[00:31:29] Then also I think when we’re talking especially about cPTSD and having this real learned need to predict the behavior of others for your own safety and survival, to really be attuned to reading people’s facial expressions and paying attention to their vocal tone and their posture to know if you’re gonna be okay and safe. Because maybe you had a very threatening caregiver and you had to always be aware of their emotional state and try to regulate them or regulate around it. Or at least know when you needed to get out of the way and stay safe. Then that can carry into adulthood and when we’re in social situations, that’s a lot of stuff to try to be taking in all of the time; to be reading everybody’s faces, hearing what everyone is talking about, all of these things. Then you combine that with sensory mismatch it can just lead to a real big overflow of stress in the bucket that then leads to burnout and protective outputs of the nervous system: pain, migraine shut down after these kinds of events.

[00:32:31] Matt: I don’t have a great follow.

[00:32:32] Jennifer: I really don’t have a great follow either. One thing that did kind of get triggered in me though as a response is self abandonment. This extreme Empathy, this Empathic person that we’re talking about ,is consistently self abandoning in a way that could end up to be pretty harmful in the end, honestly. And for people who like to escape to other altered states of consciousness and are also Empaths in the way that we are speaking of there’s a massive escapism I see too. I think it comes back to really knowing ourselves and creating ourselves as the internal sense of safety and the vessel, right? The thing that we trust the most is ourselves. And to always be working to cultivate that relationship of deep awareness and intimacy within ourselves so that we can go into wherever we’re studying or healing or training or whatever relationships that we’re going into or that we’re in, that we can go into that with autonomy and self-awareness and self understanding. I think are really important for whatever.

[00:33:49] Matt: Jumping off of what Elisabeth and Jen said, when you start to think about ‘how can this change’ or ‘what can be done’ if you’re looking to change this behavior or these feelings. With clients I’ve always come back to, let’s check on the sensory mismatch first. This sense of Empathy in this insular cortex that’s affected is one of the areas that’s very difficult to address directly. It’s very difficult to tune down the insula in this way or to inhibit this particular part of it. Practicing good boundaries is certainly helpful, but that’s still kind of a cognitive to insular interaction, which we know from all of our discussion about the nervous system is very challenging if you’re already in threat, already in survival mode. 

[00:34:36] Your prefrontal cortex and your cognitive brain kind of shuts down. So instead of starting from the front of the brain and working back to the insula, it’s usually more helpful in this case, to start in the back of the brain with helping the back of the brain, like the amygdala, the cerebellum, the brainstem to have a better sense of sensory inputs and how to integrate those inputs first. 

[00:35:02] Because if they can do that more appropriately, then already the whole environment becomes safer and more predictable. The brain spends less time and energy just spinning in loops, in that back non-cognitive part of the brain that serves survival mode. And it frees up a lot more resources and a lot more energy for us to be Present in the moment, to establish mindfulness, to stay grounded and to stay regulated. So this one is not about ‘I wanna try to be less Empathetic.’ It’s more ‘I want to go back and make sure that my survival brain is taken care of, that I actually train my brain on how to take in these sensory systems and how to integrate them together.’ And that’s what NSI tools can help with. 

[00:35:50] Then start to establish the boundaries after I feel safe. That’s not only someone who has sensory mismatch, but also going back to what Elisabeth said, someone who’s experienced this because of interactions with cPTSD. In cPTSD, we know we have to get the survival brain to feel safe. We’re gonna spend a lot of time on inputs, a lot of time on feeling the physical body, connecting body and brain together. And then integrating sensory inputs from the external environment. So in both cases, or both causes, of Empathy that we’ve been talking about, to me that still is the key. That the more we can get the survival brain calm down and senses integrated well, then we have the capacity to set the boundaries that we want and to disengage from that external energy field. And be able to feel our own energy and our own emotions and establish that identity of who we really are.

[00:36:50] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think what you were just talking about is so critical. Because for so much of my life I understood boundaries cognitively. I would try to do work on that direction, but I think what we’re talking about is much more reflexive. It’s much more below the level of our consciousness. I’m around someone and my body responds. I’m around someone and I am dysregulated. Changed by whatever you want to say by their state. That’s not a cognitive decision that I’m making. 

[00:37:24] So how do I tell my body to enforce that boundary? That really is by working directly with the nervous system to have greater capacity for self-regulation, greater ability to process emotions. And to know that I’m okay, create that sense of safety internally, like we’ve talked about on here quite a bit, rather than reaching for it externally. I can’t figure that out. It just has to come from a different state of being of my nervous system. 

[00:37:58] I know that for myself, and in many of the people I work with, it really wasn’t until I started working with my survival mind and healing those deficits and getting rid of some of the really big visual deficits and sensory mismatch issues that I could bring into my life in a real way. Like, ‘this is my body. This is where I end and you begin’. That just wasn’t possible in a state of survival and dysregulation.

[00:38:30] Jennifer: It’s true. And also, I agree it’s just the nervous system. All of it can change. We change ours with intention every day, all the time with purpose. Everything that we talk about in this podcast, these protective behaviors that are learned in childhood are maladaptive in adulthood. So we have to go back to the operating system. We have to reshape it, we have to train it. We have to teach it another way of being and show it the safety. The best we can do is to know and understand our nervous systems so that we can experience the peace that we want, the calm and the safety. And that that is container of ourselves first, we learn about our bodies and find new ways to respond that are healthy and safe. And regulate our emotional body so that we can have healthy, safe relationships. And allow others with a really foundational belief that you can have your own emotional experience, it has nothing to do with me and it has no effect on me whatsoever. You have your own sovereignty. 

[00:39:32] Elisabeth: Absolutely. And the best place, just like you were saying, just to get started is by creating some safety inside of yourself, getting to know your own nervous system. So if you want to join us on the site for 2 free weeks of neuro training to begin to learn the tools that we have used to start to create that safety inside ourselves. You can work with us live and in community, it’s at RewireTrial.com. This is the foundation that we truly have used to create change in all of these patterns in our lives. So join us at RewireTrial.com.

S3 E15

Listen to more episodes of Trauma Rewired HERE

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