Welcome back to my series on your intuitive brains. We’ve looked at how to get intuitive info from your heart brain and your gut brain, and now it’s time to get primal.
We’re gonna look at your pelvic brain.
As a quick recap, you have “brains” (aka dense neural networks) in several areas of your body, including your heart, your gut and your pelvis. These brains work just like the one in your head using neurotransmitters to communicate and interact with your other systems like your immune and cardiovascular systems. Each brain is also wired to receive certain types of intuitive information. Take a look at my posts (linked above) for info on your heart and gut brain if you’re interested.
So, what kind of intuitive information can we get from our pelvic brain? Our pelvic brain is tied into our creative longing and what we are meant to do and make in this world. Our pelvic brain gets fired up when we think about something that’s in alignment with what we’re supposed to do in this world, what we desire to make, create, or interact with.
When we bring to mind something that is in alignment with our soul path, the pelvic brain says, “Yes, I want that so I can create magic with it.”
Our pelvic brain gives us information on what kind of transmutation work we are here to do. We each have a special sort of magic that we’re here to harness and use. Some of us transmute words into prose, some of us transmute love into a family, some of us transmute work into money.
Now, anyone can perform any of those things, and even be successful at them, but each of us has an area (or two or three) where we can sense that we’re doing so with the help of a muse, with the support of something more than just our human powers, with a sense of an almost magical support behind our efforts. We’re supposed to bring that unique, individual magic to the world, and intuitive information from the pelvic brain can help us do just that.
Here’s how to tune into your pelvic brain’s intuition – think of a problem or an issue you are trying to move forward on. Bring to mind the various options you have. Now, bring your attention to your perineum (aka your “taint”) and the area just above and around it. Go through your options one by one and notice if the quality of feeling in your perineum changes. Are there options that make you feel more lusty, more desire, more like you want to go after it and make it yours? The ones that do are more in alignment with your pelvic brain.
Check-in with your heart brain and your gut brain as well (directions for this are in the linked posts). How do they feel about this option? Are all 3 of your brains telling you something similar, in their own way?
Getting in touch with your pelvic intuition can be a very powerful thing, especially if you’ve been in a culture or part of a marginalized group that has been taught to deny your own desires. Let me know how this goes for you. I’d love to hear your experiences – send me an email and let me know!
And if this exercise has been helpful for you, I’m teaching a free class on Zoom, “Harness the Power of Your 4 Intuitive Brains” on September 22, 2022 at 5pm Pacific Time. (I’ll be sending out the recording after for those who can’t make it live.) Sign up here and I’ll keep you in the loop with all the details:
How do I love me? Let me count the ways.
Ask anyone who’s been in a long term relationship what the secret to success is and they’ll likely mention two things: You have to work at it every day and you have to make your partner feel special on the regular.
That’s sound advice, but it’s advice we rarely do in our relationship with ourselves.
Do you work on making yourself feel special every day? If not, why not? We all need to take time to celebrate and love on ourselves daily. It’s important because if we’re only relying on other people to make you feel special and loved and it doesn’t happen, it can trigger self-critical thoughts of being undeserving.
You (yes, YOU) deserve to have something happen each day that reminds you of how lovable, worthy, special and awesome you are. You are a beautiful ball of sentient stardust (shout out to @domesticblisters for that description) and you absolutely should be reminded of this, daily.
Let me tell you a trick for how I started doing this for myself. First, if you don’t already know your love languages go here to find out your top two or three. My top three are acts of service, words of affirmation, and receiving gifts.
Next, figure out ways that you can do these things for yourself! You’ll have to get creative here. How can I perform acts of service for myself? Well, I can hire someone to clean my house every few weeks. Or order food delivery once per week. What about words of affirmation? I can make a list of all the things I’m proud of myself for that week. Receiving gifts? Easy – I make sure if I see something I like when I’m out, like flowers or a yummy smelling candle, that I either buy it at the moment or add it to a list I have on my phone of stuff to get myself later.
If I find that it’s been a few days since I’ve done any of these things, I make a point to do it. And when life is especially sucky, I make a point to schedule them in. After my last break-up, I scheduled weekly flower delivery for myself for a few months and wrote myself encouraging notes to be included with the delivery. Every damn time I looked at those flowers, I smiled.
Now, I want you to pay very close attention to your inner critic when you start to do this practice. If I’m at the supermarket and I see something I’d like as a treat (a gift for myself) and I think, “Oh, that’s a nice thought, but I don’t really neeeeeeed it,” then I stop and take stock. If I saw my best friend’s favorite candy bar in the whole world at the market right before I was about to meet up with her, would I buy it for her? Of course I would — I would be so excited to do that for her! So, why wouldn’t I be equally as excited to do that for myself? If there’s any part of you that tells you you’re not “worth it”, there’s some shadow work to do, right there. I recommend bringing in your inner caregiver or protector to help you work through feeling undeserving or not worthy.
Because my friend, I promise you that you are worthy of that and so much more.
I hope you try this out and let me know how it goes. Like any change to our belief systems of self-concept you may have to “fake it till you make it” and almost force yourself to do small acts of love for yourself at first as the inner critic “I’m not worthy” voice comes up. But once you make it part of your routine, and part of who you are, then your daily practice of letting yourself know how special you are becomes one of the best parts of your day.
If you want to know more about how exactly to translate your love languages into things you can do for yourself, then check out my group course starting on April 25th, Unconventional Tools for Healing. We go into this in-depth and you can get personalized coaching from me on how to do this to make the most positive impact on your well-being.
If you’ve tried mindfulness meditation and haven’t been able to stick with it, I think I may know why.
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing our attention on one stimulus (like our breath or a mantra) and being mindful of any thoughts or other sensations that may take our attention and focus away. The practice is to notice when our mind wanders, and gently bring our focus back to our breath or the mantra again. This practice can be especially challenging for people with CPTSD because many people with a history of complex trauma think and process emotions differently. Here are two main reasons why it’s hard and what you can do to help fix these issues.
Why is it so damn hard?
- A heightened inner critic voice. For many of us that lived through complex trauma, especially emotional abuse, have internalized the voice of our abuser as our own inner narrative. This can lead to frequent thoughts like, “I’m not good at anything” or “There’s something wrong with me, I can’t do this.”
This can make it challenging when thoughts or distractions come up in mindfulness meditation (and they do come up for EVERYONE, even Buddhist monks!) because instead of being able to just let the thought go, we criticize ourselves for “doing it wrong” or “being a failure” for having the thoughts at all.
- Hypervigilance/over planning. In order to survive as children in adverse circumstances, whether that danger was physical or emotional, we became EXCELLENT noticers and planners.
The ability to be tuned in and notice the environment, people’s moods, and read the room was a smart survival strategy when we were in the midst of an ongoing dangerous situation. Oftentimes, we were able to avoid or lessen the abuse if we could read the people around us and preemptively make adjustments to our behavior or the situation and avoid triggering the abuser.
Another strategy that kept us safe and protected to plan for multiple outcomes. Are you someone who thinks of everything that could go awry in any upcoming situation and has not only a plan A, but also a plan B, plan C, and plan D? Then you are an over-planner. Over planning can also look like mentally rehearsing upcoming challenging conversations over and over, or planning every last detail of an event so that there will be as few surprises as possible.
Hypervigilance and overplanning interfere with mindfulness meditation because it makes it especially hard to turn our brains off. Given any moment of downtime, our brains will fill it up with noticing and planning. So as soon as we try to meditate, here comes the tidal wave of thoughts, planning and noticing.
What can you do to fix this?
- Self-Compassion. Cultivating a self-compassionate voice in your head to counter the inner critic is vital for those with CPTSD. I call mine my “inner caregiver” and she does two things when the inner critic comes up. The first is to speak to me with patience, kindness, love and respect instead of criticism. The second is that she tells the inner critic off by saying something like, “Hey! This is our girl. You do NOT get to talk to her like that. She is a gem and we will treat her with the utmost respect and kindness.”
During meditation, this would look like responding to the inner critic’s thoughts with something like, “Oh no, you don’t get to criticize me like that. You know what? I’m just learning this. So it’s okay for me to not be good at it yet, that’s what learning is for!” If it helps to picture a particular character when you are cultivating that voice, that’s fine! My inner caregiver sounds like Carol Kane and one of my clients says Eugene Levy comes when she needs this type of mental TLC.
- Name the type of thought. Another powerful tool when hypervigilance and over planning starts is to name the type of thought. For example, if I find myself rehearsing a challenging conversation I need to have, I’ll stop and think “planning” and then gently come back to my breath. If I’m worried about something in the future, I’ll think, “worrying” and return to paying attention to my breathing. Once I name the type of thought I often combine it with my inner caregiver voice and say something like, “Thank you, brain, for helping me with planning, but that’s not what I’m doing right now. I love you and I’m going to go back to my breath.”
Mindfulness meditation has been one of my favorite tools for healing from CPTSD, but there is a steep learning curve, especially for those who have experienced complex trauma. It took me years to get to the point I’m at today, but now I can’t imagine not meditating each day. I look forward to it as one of the best stress relief tools I have in my toolbox.
If you have struggled with mindfulness meditation in the past, I hope you’ll give these two fixes a try. And let me know how it goes for you!
I heard this sentence so clearly as I woke up in the middle of the night a few nights ago. I’d been reading Ram Dass’ Be Here Now just before I fell asleep and I’d had vibrant, psychedelic dreams about the nature of consciousness. (I guess that’s what I get for reading Be Here Now right before bed.) I don’t remember the dreams per se, but about an hour later I woke from a very vivid dream to those words:
“You’re sick because you want people to see you as a person, not an object.”
As with most spiritual epiphanies, it was accompanied by a download of emotions, memories, and instantaneous understanding.
Here’s what I understood at that moment:
I was raised by a narcissist. One of the hallmark traits of that disorder is that narcissists see other people in the same way most people see objects. To narcissists, there is no qualitative difference between people and objects. And objects only have value when they are useful – there is no intrinsic value to an object beyond the usefulness that we assign to it.
One of my lifelong struggles has been to be seen and valued for who I am. Since I didn’t have a parent who saw my intrinsic value and reflected it back to me, which is something all humans (especially children) need, I have struggled to learn how to find this, recognize it, and take it in. As a child, I never learned how to be seen as a person with valid needs and innate value; instead, I received the message that I was just an object that may or may not be useful on any given day in someone else’s orbit.
When I was a child, being sick allowed me to be a useful object to my mother AND get her love and attention. She could take on the role of “long-suffering caregiver” and get attention from her friends who felt compassion and admiration for her, and I, in turn, would get her time and energy directed at me. It was as close to a “win-win” as our dysfunctional relationship could get.
I’ve had chronic fatigue for more than 10 years as a long-hauler side effect of chemotherapy. I realized in that moment of epiphany that being sick has been a way for me to have a “reason” to ask for love and support and a “reason” to deserve care. Since I didn’t believe that I deserved love and care just because, my body co-created an illness so that I could feel justified in my need for connection and care.
I know that this isn’t just a feature of my childhood – our culture at large objectifies us and measures our usefulness against other objectified humans:
- How nice to look at are you?
- How productive are you?
- How pleasant to be around are you?
- How good of a provider are you?
- How reliable are you?
- How appreciative of a sick/poor/disabled/marginalized person are you?
These are all measures of us as objects – as things that are either useful to others or not. It’s a losing game because there will always be someone who is more “useful” than you, there is no object that can’t be compared to something more useful.
But I am not an object and neither are you.
I’m a human being, not an iPhone — I don’t need to have a “usefulness” to be valued. I am valued and loved simply because I am, because I exist. In fact, the more that I come home to “I am” and let the rest go, the more that people show up in my life who want to love, support and care for me. The more that I come to see that I don’t have to create stories about why I am valuable, useful or worthy, the more that my intrinsic value shines through and others can see it and honor it.
I need to stop creating stories about why I am valuable in order to truly know why I’m valuable.
Well, isn’t that a paradox.
I’m going to use this mantra in the next few days and see what happens:
“I am not an object. I do not need to have a usefulness. I am valuable because I am.”
And if you are feeling any of this too, know that I see you. You are whole. You are already valuable. And if you can’t see that quite yet, please know that I already do and I already love you just because you exist.
When I was 25 years old, I attended my first meditation training. At the time, I was struggling with how to have a relationship with my mom. My mom was a malignant narcissist, although I didn’t know that label or diagnosis back then. Back then, I was a young woman trying to figure out how to have a decent relationship with mom – so I could have someone in my life who could support me, love me, and help me figure out the turbulent transitions of young adulthood.
I hadn’t yet realized that my mom was unable to do these things for me due to her mental health issues, and I was still trying to think of ways that I could repair or improve our relationship. I felt a huge weight of “fixing” our relationship on my shoulders. If only I could figure out the right approach, maybe we could become closer and have the type of relationship I needed.
After class one day I asked my meditation teacher, B. Allan Wallace, if I could speak to him about a difficult relationship in my life and get his advice. He listened as I explained my situation. I think he knew, even more than I did, that there was no way to have this woman in my life in any way that wasn’t damaging or toxic.
He told me that sometimes the only way to have a relationship with someone was to do so energetically. To send them compassion from afar rather than trying to work out how to be together in real life. He told me that there was a way of healing my relationship with my mom that didn’t involve finding the right approach for ways to repair or improve anything.
He introduced me to the idea of Mettā, which is often translated as “loving kindness.” He showed me how I could send this prayer, this energy, towards my mom as a way of having a relationship with her.
Mettā goes like this:
“May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.
May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”
He taught me how to bring my mom to my mind and send her this prayer. He said that this was a valuable, important and effective way for me to have a relationship with her.
And so, I did.
The amazing thing about this practice was that it immediately shifted my thoughts about how I didn’t want to give up having my mother in my life, to realizing that this was a way that I could that would bring me no harm. It gave me a sense of agency in a situation that had seemed dire and hopeless only moments before.
“May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.
May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”
I sent her the prayer often. I sent it to her when I felt furious and crushed by the hurtful, eviscerating words she said to me. I sent it to her when I felt deep sadness that I didn’t have the type of mother I saw my friends have. I sent it to her when my mother’s friends called me, demanding that I tell them what she had done to deserve such “horrible treatment” from her daughter. I sent it to her when I desperately wanted her in my life and didn’t know how to fix that.
Slowly, I started to heal.
I realized that I could separate from her and still have compassion. And that was indeed a type of relationship. My teacher was right, sometimes, it’s the only one we can have with someone.
Compassion is unique in that it can exist in the same moment as almost any other emotion. I can be angry and have compassion for the reasons the other person was mean to me. I can be traumatized and have compassion for the suffering that must have happened for them to know no other way than to hurt me. I can feel rage against the systems of social oppression that have convinced people it’s okay to think of other people as less than, incompetent or undeserving and still have compassion for the immense fear of losing egoic power that drives that behavior.
I still rage and cry and fight against all of this. And at the same time, I have compassion. It’s a weird paradox.
But then again, being a spiritual being having a human experience is a weird paradox.
I’ve continued to keep this practice as part of my daily life as a way to feel connected, held and interwoven with my fellow souls. Yesterday, I was at the market and the man working at the register looked especially tired. I felt the weight of his life in that moment. I looked at him and exchanged the usual pleasantries, but in my mind, I was sending him the energy of Mettā:
“May you find happiness and the causes of happiness.
May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”
I do this when I pass people walking down the street, whether they are smiling or looking sad. I send it to people I read about in the news or on social media. I send it to the people I see intentionally instigating fear, divisiveness and hatred in our society today. (That last one is a challenge, but when I dig deep I know that all humans do deserve to find happiness and be free from suffering. Much of their hateful behavior comes from a misdirected attempt to alleviate their own suffering, I know.)
So, I have a request. I’d like to invite you to join me. Find at least one person per day to whom you can send Mettā. Look them straight in the eyes and think to yourself, “Hello, my fellow human traveler. I see your messy humanity, just as I see my own. May you find happiness and the causes of happiness. May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”
Let me know how it goes. I can only imagine a world where everyone sends this energy to everyone else they meet every day. I don’t know exactly what that world would be like, but I know it would have to be a more loving, understanding and compassionate place.
PS – If you want to try a Mettā meditation, you can find my version of it here.
Determining your sympathetic nervous system response type
If you’re looking to recover from childhood trauma or C-PTSD then I want to know what kind of F*er you are.
No, not that kind of F*er! I mean, yeah, sometimes even I’m the asshole, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Your particular F*er type is derived from the 4 types of sympathetic nervous system response, also known as the “4 Fs” in physiology.
When we’re in a stressful situation, our nervous systems switch from calm parasympathetic mode into stressed out sympathetic mode. Stressed out sympathetic mode is super useful for getting us out of a potentially harmful situation, like almost being hit by a car or seeing a rattlesnake on a hike.
But what happens when most of life is a potentially harmful situation? What happens when you spent your childhood feeling neglected, scapegoated or silenced? It turns out, your nervous system acclimates to this and decides “stressed out” is just how it is. So instead of having your normal state be the calm, serene parasympathetic mode, your “normal” state becomes a stress response.
This is what causes the true damage of C-PTSD. Over time, this stress response becomes a trauma response, and we experience much of life as if it’s unsafe or harmful.
One of the pillars to healing trauma is to retrain your nervous system to have a more healthy baseline, a “normal” that looks like being in parasympathetic (calm) mode most of the time instead of sympathetic (stress) mode. So, it’s really important to know what kind, or type, of stress or trauma response you tend to have.
This is where the 4 Fs come in.
The stress or trauma response is divided into 4 types:
- Fawn (aka Appease)
To determine which kind of F*er you are, take a look at the following descriptions, and see which one(s) fit you best. Sometimes, we tend toward two response types, so there may be more than one that fits.
Fight: If you find yourself having a short fuse or easily getting annoyed at people or situations, then you may have a strong fight response. A healthy fight response is designed so that we can attack when threatened, like when someone fights back when a mugger tries to grab their purse or wallet. But when the fight response becomes a trauma response, we tend to go into anger/fight/annoyed/dismissive mode whenever we feel slighted, ignored, or threatened. It sometimes even surfaces to preemptively avoid a potentially triggering or stressful situation, aka “strike first and ask questions later.”
Flight: Are you someone who finds a good reason to suddenly leave your new job or break up with the new person you’re dating? Do you find that the thing you *knew* would be the right next step for you never seems to be right and isn’t what you thought it would be? Then you might be have a flight response.
The flight response is designed so that we leave a potentially dangerous situation, like when someone yells “fire!” in a movie theater. However, if most of life was a dangerous situation, then the flight response can become a trauma response. This is especially true if the dangerous situations you were in as a child were emotional abuse, gaslighting or manipulation. You learn that emotional closeness is inevitably followed by betrayal or heartbreak, so you learn to leave as soon as something starts to feel good or emotionally nourishing. While this is an unconscious response (nobody thinks,”this relationship is awesome! I think I’ll sabotage it.”) it is something that you can often see as a pattern in hindsight.
Freeze: Many predatory animals (including humans) are much better at perceiving movement than form or color. So in order to avoid being caught or attacked, many prey animals (including humans!) have developed a hide and freeze response where they become very still, hyperaware, and try blending into the background in the hope that the predator won’t be able to perceive them, and will eventually give up the hunt and go away. When this becomes a trauma response it can look like introversion, dissociation (depression, ADHD, or frequent daydreaming), or shyness (social anxiety or agoraphobia). Many times, this is a preemptive freeze response, where if we check-out-before-we’ve-even-checked-in, we can avoid any potential dangerous or triggering situations.
Fawn/Appease: So in keeping with the “F” theme, the 4th F is fawn, but TBH I like appease better — it’s a more accurate descriptor. Have you ever had a creepy guy say something that felt awkward or kind of freaked you out? Like, your spidey senses say, “let’s get away from this guy and make sure he doesn’t follow?” but instead of punching him in the face and running away (hello, fight and flight!) you smile and say, “Yeah, haha. You’re totally right. Thank you!” and then you say it was nice to meet him, and you gotta go meet your friends or something like that? Then you have experienced the fawn/appease response! (Interestingly, this 4th sympathetic type of response was only added a few years ago when researchers started studying how women respond to stress and found that it was different than men’s response.) What happens when this normal stress response becomes a chronic trauma response? It can look like people pleasing, HSP or high empathy, sensory processing issues, codependency, or a fear of conflict or confrontation.
My F*er type looks like freeze with a big side helping of fawn/appease. What does this look like in my life? Here are three examples from yours truly.
When I was little, I was painfully shy. I was scared of meeting new people (especially adults), and I would run behind my mom, grab onto her leg and start to cry if anyone talked to me. This shyness was a trauma response of both freeze and appease. The “freeze” part was running, hiding and refusing to speak. The “appease” part was putting my mom back into the center of attention as the “good mom” who was protecting her child. (A good survival strategy for being the child of a narcissist is to always put the focus back on them, in any way you can.) Fortunately, I’m not shy anymore, but I can easily see how this could have become social anxiety or even agoraphobia if I hadn’t addressed it.
I’ve also noticed that my hearing is really damn good, I can often hear sounds that are too quiet for most folks. I know this is from “freezing” and listening very closely (hyperawareness) from my bedroom whenever my parents came home. I became a expert in listening to determine their mood: How were their footsteps sounding on the floor? How forcefully did they open or close the door? Which room did they go to and what were they doing in there?
I’m still working on the appease response of people pleasing and fear of conflict. This is a big one for me as the fear of retribution or angering people is still embedded in my nervous system, and I don’t want to do or say anything that could potentially upset or disappoint people. I call myself a “recovering perfectionist” because this used to mean always being as perfect as possible and never making a mistake in order to minimize the chance of retribution, but I’ve been working on allowing myself to be a messy human and sometimes miss the mark without fearing repercussions.
Why is your F type important to know? There are two main benefits.
The first is you can more easily and quickly recognize and address the trauma response when it comes up. For example, if I know that I am avoiding sending an email because I’m worried about the recipient’s response, I can say to myself, “Ah! That’s my appease trigger” and I can use one of my tools to comfort, soothe and care for that inner child part of me.
The second is that it helps you figure out how to “complete the stress response” so you can get back into that calm, parasympathetic mode. For example, after a stressful day I often pick solitary “freeze” activities to reset my nervous system where I can be quiet, still and alone, like meditation, reading, watching movies, or crafting because I know that my nervous systems feels most safe in these activities and will be able to unwind and clear out any residual stress. If I were more of a “flight” type, then going for a long drive might help me reset into parasympathetic mode.
I hope this helped you identify your mix of parasympathetic responses and I’d love to know what type of F*er you are!
Drop me a note, and let me know because I like hearing from all you F*ers out there.
And don’t forget — while you may be shy or short-tempered or a chronic daydreamer, YOU ARE AN AMAZING GOD(DESS) WHO HAS SURVIVED SOME EPIC SHITSHOWS. I see you in all your human, messy glory and I love and admire you all the more for it. Rock on, my warrior friend.