Dating Den Episode 156 – With Dr. Bessel van der Kolk: How to Create an Emotional Connection in a Relationship, Even if You’ve Been Burned
Marni goes deep in this episode uncovering the factors that contribute to emotional trauma and how they may be holding us back in dating and relationships. Her guest, Dr. Besel van der Kolk is a clinical doctor, researcher, professor, and author who specializes in post-traumatic stress. His book, The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma is a New York Times Science bestseller.
Key takeaways from this episode:
- Why we don’t have control over many responses and reactions
- Different types of emotional trauma
- Body-based trauma healing techniques
- How to create a loving relationship with your wounded parts
- Effective trauma healing therapies
- Four steps to start healing now
Why Our Bodies Hold On to Trauma [2:42]
Dr. Besel van der Kolk says that in nature when you are under threat the brain activates your fight or flight system. If it doesn’t work, the system shuts down kind of like playing dead. Most of the decisions our brain makes are unconscious. Be hungry, sleepy, liking someone, or not liking someone these are feelings you can not control. All the core human processes are unconscious, automatic processes and reactions.
It affects our ability to create connection and intimacy profoundly. It may be an extreme reaction to traumas and triggers from long ago. The first step to overcoming unconscious reactions is to become aware of how you are responding.
Listen to your body and uncover the source of your feelings.
Why Traditional Therapy May Not Be Enough to Heal Trauma [12:18]
In his book, Dr. Besel van der Kolk relates the automatic signaling in the brain to a smoke detector. The more trauma you have in your life the more sensitive your ‘smoke detector’ is. So, how would you know if your smoke detector is hyperactive? Are you needlessly shutting people out or shutting down emotionally because of a hyperactive smoke detector?
Friends and companions are in our lives to keep us in check. We need each other. Humans are social animals. We depend on the feedback of our friends and companions to keep us from getting stuck in a circle of shame and humiliation.
Why isn’t traditional talk therapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy enough to heal our childhood wounds? Dr. van der Kolk says “Telling people how messed up they are doesn’t really help. We are fundamentally body-based. You need to get to know your body and work on making your body feel safe. Learning yoga can be very helpful to take stock of the body.”
Allow yourself to feel what that child went through how he or she did to survive. Create a loving relationship with the wounded parts of yourself.
Managing the Fear Associated with Unpacking Trauma [22:51]
The job of therapists is to help people to go to the scary places and deal with trauma. There are several different techniques to help calm the brain such as EMDR and neurofeedback.
- EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing works by rearranging pathways in the brain. It creates different channels in your brain so you interpret the world differently.
- Neurofeedback is a method of putting electrodes on your skull which sends brain waves to a computer so you can play computer games with your own brain waves to calm the brain down.
If you are in a crisis and you have someone to listen to you. It can be helpful to you in the short term. For the long-term, you need to go deeper.
Our brain is a map of our world. If a brain was formed in a hostile environment or abusive household it expects to end up in more abusive situations. Coming to terms with the past while being grateful for the survival skills it offered can help us to wake up for the present and heal.
P.S. For those of you who are mental health professionals and want to learn the latest advances in brain science, evolving treatments for traumatic stress, and take Dr. Van Der Kolk’s work even deeper, you can attend his first ever online event here!
Learn more about Dr. Van Der Kolk’s event and the latest in brain science by registering here!
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