December 19, 2023

MaryCatherine McDonald – The Intelligence of the Trauma Response

Thomas is joined by PhD trauma researcher, life coach, and the author of Unbroken, MaryCatherine McDonald. They discuss Dr. McDonald’s work to redefine our understanding of trauma and eliminate the stigma surrounding it. Using scientific research, and through the lens of her own experiences with trauma and grief, Dr. McDonald has developed a definition of trauma that describes it as “an unbearable emotional experience that lacks a relational home.”

She and Thomas explore how symptoms of trauma are adaptive rather than pathological, and how feeling ashamed of them inhibits our ability to heal. Dr. McDonald explains that healing is “an evolution and a becoming, not a destination that we arrive at,” and offers insight on how relational attunement and group trauma work can support us on this non-linear path.

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“The trauma response is a strength response, not a sign of weakness or disorder.”

- MaryCatherine McDonald

Guest Information

MaryCatherine McDonald

MaryCatherine (MC) McDonald, PhD, is a research professor and life coach who specializes in the psychology of trauma, stress, and resilience. She has been researching, lecturing, and publishing on the neuroscience, psychology, and lived experience of trauma and stress for over a decade. She is passionate about destigmatizing trauma, stress, and mental health issues in general, as well as reframing our understanding of trauma in order to better understand and treat it.

Notes & Resources

Key points from this episode include:

  • A “Prismatic Account of Trauma” that combines the phenomenological, neuroscientific, and psychological viewpoints.
  • Exploring what healing looks like when we strip away the shame and oppression tied to trauma
  • The opportunity for growth that is inherent in healing
  • Learning to be able to sit with discomfort instead of constricting and bypassing it
  • The power of co-regulation in both small and large groups

Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: Hello and welcome to the Point of Relation. My name is Thomas Hübl. This is my podcast and I am very happy to be sitting here with MaryCatherine McDonald, MC – First of all, a warm welcome.

MaryCatherine McDonald: Thank you so much. I am so honored to be here. Thank you.

Thomas: Yeah, I’m so happy to see you. You’re already radiating so much joy into this place, so that makes me feel delighted. And I’m looking forward to our conversation. It seems like we do need to have a lot of passions in common. We’re both passionate about deeper understanding the trauma response, the pathologizing trauma, seeing how we can work with its intelligence, and basically how we can heal, grow, flourish, and how relationships are important on the path to healing. And so that all sounds great. Trauma is like the buzzword at the moment. So maybe you speak a little bit about your understanding, your research, your teaching about trauma. How can we look at trauma? Maybe how is trauma sometimes used to describe something else, maybe? So let’s start here.

MaryCatherine: Yeah, let’s start there. Exactly. The way the word is used is really fascinating because I think that the word trauma and this is true of many words, they kind of fall in and out of favor and they mean different things in different moments. And the history of the study of trauma, as you know, is very episodic. There are these moments where it sort of shoots to be the most important, most used word, and then it kind of falls out of favor, so much so that the word becomes taboo.

And so I think the way that we use this word right now is really interesting because we are using it to describe many, many things. When as a society, when our language becomes hyperbolic, it’s really important that we pay attention to that because I think it’s trying to reveal something that’s true. The definition that I use to define “trauma” is any time you have two things happening at the same time, an unbearable emotional experience that lacks a relational home. Those are the two criteria. I came to that definition after a very long time in academia, trying to understand why we were still arguing about the definition of trauma after 150 years of pretty sustained study in psychology about what trauma actually is.

Just to unpack that a little bit, I love the fact that I think that unbearability as a word, does a lot of work because it says that it raises the bar sufficiently high so that I don’t get to say that anything in my horizon is traumatic. It has to be something that I either struggle to bear in the moment or that becomes unbearable over time. So when you go to Starbucks and there’s no pumpkin spice syrup, that may be traumatic depending on the context, of course, but likely if you’re using that word in that case and it’s not traumatic, that’s kind of raising a flag to something else.

The second part about the relational home, I think it helps us understand both what we need when we are traumatized and also the incredible amount of hope there is when it comes to what we can give each other when we’re living in a particularly traumatic time like now. Our experiences, I think, all need a dwelling place. When we can’t find one, we can help each other find a dwelling place relationally. And that’s a critical aspect to understanding both how trauma impacts us and how to heal.

Thomas: Beautiful, I love both. I like this “finding at home,” I will come back to the home aspect in a moment. Maybe you can speak a little bit about how you came to look at trauma so deeply. What called you? When did you feel trauma research – that’s my thing? How did life call you into that? And what are the components maybe in your path that you see that enabled and made it possible, was the pressure towards that?

MaryCatherine: It’s such a funny thing because I think depending on the day, I could draw the line all the way back to when I was tiny, you know? Because I think when I was a little kid, I was very preoccupied with loss and death in a way that most children probably aren’t. Fast forwarding significantly, I was doing my master’s degree and studying loss and mourning and sort of went from a kind of an interdisciplinary perspective, says at the New School, as I was looking at it from psychoanalytic and philosophical backgrounds, what does loss look like? Why are some losses particularly shattering over others? Regardless of what your relationship was like with the person that you lost? And then what does that do to the self? And while I embarked on that study, both of my parents suddenly died in very kind of shocking and sudden ways. So then I embarked on a Ph.D. program, I switched schools, and started studying the self more intensely. And I wanted to look at the extent to which the self is a story or maybe isn’t.

One of the things that I kept seeing, and I think I wasn’t very consciously aware of this at the moment, but it certainly was alive in my life, is that when you’ve had a trauma, something shatters like some story you were telling, some through line seems to really blow up. I reached for trauma as a case study in a larger work about identity. When I did that, I just fell down this rabbit hole because I realized when I went to reach for it, I thought like, okay, well, we’ve been looking at trauma since at least the 1800s. So we should be pretty clear on what it is and how to treat it. What I found was that there was an incredible amount of debate about which kinds of things count as traumatic, and which do not. Are we supposed to be looking at this from a phenomenological viewpoint, a neuroscientific viewpoint, or a psychological viewpoint? And very few people were kind of bringing all those disciplines together.

So I started as I fell down this rabbit hole, I started grabbing from neuroscience and from phenomenology and from psychology to try to create a more holistic I called it, a “prismatic account of trauma.” If we use these disciplines to help shine both on each other and this phenomenon, what kind of understanding do we come out with? Then simultaneously, I started working with clients as a life coach. I got a coaching certification and started working with clients, many of whom I found were in traditional therapy and getting very little help with understanding how trauma was impacting their lives and what to do about it. And so on I trudged kind of working in this strange, nontraditional way in multiple disciplines and in this coaching world. And then eventually that kind of all came together into this last book that I wrote called “Unbroken,” which kind of aims to synthesize all of that, all of those years of study and work with clients to get out a new definition and understanding of trauma.

Thomas: That new definition or new understanding of trauma, could you lay it out a bit for us?

MaryCatherine: Yes. So very early on when I was studying trauma in terms of the biology, I became completely obsessed with the fact that the trauma response is adaptive. This is a set of coping mechanisms that come into our bodies, our beings. They’re hardwired. They come like default software and they’re there to keep us alive. So at its biological base, the trauma response is the body’s natural response to threat. We were reading it from psychology and from society as if it were a sign of weakness – it’s the opposite. The trauma response is a strength response, not a sign of weakness or disorder. And then it was like, okay, if we start there and try to unravel all of these years of shame, incorrect science, and oppression, if we strip that away, what does the healing path look like?

And when we begin with this idea that these responses, even when they become maladaptive over time, they are still at their basis trying to help you adapt. So if we can look at it from that beginning point, what then does healing look like? And then what kinds of science-based tools can we get out to people so that they can help wrangle their own symptoms? And then also that becomes sort of expansive, right, because you heal your trauma and then you also are healing other people, this changes the way you relate to each other and so on and on and on. I forgot the question, did I answer it?

Thomas: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Beautiful. First of all, I love that. I love the destigmatization of trauma and seeing the intelligence in the trauma response.

MaryCatherine: That’s wild. It’s like a miracle.

Thomas: Yeah, exactly. And that also changes our relationship. Like the relationship of many people that work on their trauma, but also our relationship to the trauma that we support in the healing process because we are not trying to get rid of something – we are trying to create a partnership with an intelligence and then we can move forward. That’s amazing.

So how do you work with the stigmatization of trauma as either a weakness or a part of myself that I want to hide or something that I want to get rid of? And when your clients or coachees in a way come to you, how did you see that stigmatization creating a blockage or not in their process? And what is helpful to learn to change our relationship to our own traumatization?

MaryCatherine: I think this is where I was so blown away by your recent book “Attuned” because you talk about attunement to the self and also attunement to each other in our interpersonal relationships and then also to society. But I think when we begin with attunement to the self, attunement is fundamentally non-judgmental. I’m so grateful for your work because I was reaching for language that didn’t feel like it was matching what I was trying to say. I kept talking about how the body is a barometer and if we learn how to read it, we get so much information about what we need, what situation we’re actually in, and what someone else may need. I think the first thing that I try to do with a client is to sort of meet them where they are and try to figure out like, okay, what what symptoms are coming through. You can see that pretty immediately when you meet somebody, someone is very anxious or gripped or constricted or boundaryless and sort of inside out, you know. And so I kind of try to meet them where they are. And then I’m trying to attune into their barometer and also trying to educate them about their barometer, see what your body is doing, see what your system is trying to tell you. What is the default narrative that’s rolling around in your mind that’s kind of running in the background that you may not have ever really clued into? What is it saying? Whose voice is it?

Then I think a lot of that is about sort of reeducation. It’s like you meet yourself for the first time: Who am I? What is my body doing? What does it need? And that, I think, is humbling, for me a very humbling experience because you realize that you don’t know yourself, and that can be kind of scary. And so it’s important to kind of get into that slowly.

The destigmatization is something that has to continue to happen because it’s so entangled in our narrative about symptoms in general. If you have a symptom, it is pathology that someone can cognitively know that the trauma response is adaptive and then still feel shame about the fact that they’re having symptoms. So constantly keeping that in check, constantly reminding each other what we already know, which is that, yes, you’re having this symptom. I know it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, shame is the biggest barrier in your way of healing. And if we can just try to get clients to just take the shame and sort of put it in a box and put it on a high shelf, like you don’t have to get rid of it because I think shame is an adaptation, too. When we try to take things away from people, they grip harder. And so it’s like, what would things look like? Let’s just try this on if you put your shame on a high shelf for a second and then we look at this problem or this symptom.

Then I think kind of the last thing is reframing healing. This is so tricky. As an evolution and a becoming –instead of an arrival point that we have to race to. Because I think when we can reframe it, when we frame it up as an arrival point, we set ourselves up for failure in this very basic way. Like every time, if I feel like, okay, I’ve achieved grief, I can check that off of my to-do list. And then any time a wave hits me, then I feel shame and I feel like, oh, I didn’t accomplish the task at hand.

But also, healing is an incredible opportunity for growth. If you can step onto that path willingly and say, yes, that wave hit me and it’s got something to show me, then our whole relationship to healing changes because it’s something you become grateful for. And those words sound very thin, But I think you know what I mean.

Thomas: Yeah, yeah, I know what you mean. And I love the part that you just said that reframes the notion of arrival. Because arrival is a fixation in itself. One way to control fear is to have an arrival point. And that’s really powerful what you just said. Like, how can we actually because that’s a trauma symptom – even with spirituality, there is a place I will practice hard, but then I will arrive and then everything will be good. Right?

MaryCatherine: And then I’ll be enlightened.

Thomas: Yeah and then it will be good instead of, yeah, my capacity will grow to be in the movement. But trauma releases more movements, so I will feel more immersed in the movement. But it doesn’t mean that I ‘arrived’ somewhere, I will go through life and experiences, but with more capacity.

Because that’s very common, I think many coaching and consulting environments are like, okay, we go there, and then we arrive there and that’s success. And the whole system is so questionable because what are we actually saying? We’re teaching people to stay in their own prison in this kind of framework. And so I love that you brought that. I think that it’s very powerful.

Also being more immersed in movement versus the holding that gives us some kind of stability because movement at first and I’m a bit curious about your experience because sometimes people mix their trauma holding with their structure.

MaryCatherine: Yeah.

Thomas: So then they say, oh, that’s my structure. But when they heal and that kind of holding starts to melt and then it feels like actually, oh all that I thought is me is kind of melting away and it’s even then it releases fear. And I’m curious about your experience when trauma releases and it melts into movement. How do you experience that in yourself, maybe, and also with your clients that we hear a bit of a few different perspectives?

MaryCatherine: Yeah, for sure. The most vivid one is maybe my own subjective experience and I can certainly talk about this with clients as well, but I was very much that restricted person. I tell the story sometimes I have to contact the first therapist I had after my father died. I called her on the phone. This was about 6 or 7 months after my father died, and very suddenly died on Christmas Day, he had been very healthy. So it was very shocking. And for six months, I was like, okay, well, if you go to work, if you continue going to school, if you do all your things, then you are okay. And so it was very much like tightening a constricting around this broken thing, this death. Then I started having panic attacks and the panic attacks started getting in the way of work, which was my proof that I was okay.

So I called the therapist on the phone and I left this hilarious message, (not hilarious at the time) I said: “So I had a loss about six months ago. I’m doing just fine processing it. Absolutely okay. But I’ve started to have some panic attacks. So I’d like to do maybe six sessions, figure that out so that I can continue working.” So you can imagine getting that message and being like, oh boy, this is gonna be a fun therapeutic relationship.

Thomas: Hahaha! Right.

MaryCatherine: I did not know it at the time, but I think what was happening was exactly what you described was that this constriction had come to a breaking point, and that had been my coping tool from when I was tiny all the way until that moment I was 24. When that broke open, everything was different and it was like the horizon completely expanded, which is at the same time a beautiful and terrible thing because I did not know how to be in the world. I did not know how to be in relation and I had lost all of my signposts and my metrics for whether you’re doing okay. It felt like a complete loss of control.

It was an incredible amount of work just to even get through a day like today to complete the tasks of living, because everything was so raw and different. I’m so grateful for the therapist that I had and the people I had in my life for helping me stay with that because the temptation is to go right back to constriction in one way or another. And that was certainly a pull.

It’s not like I’ve conquered this by any means, but I’m in a relationship with it in a very different way so that when the constriction comes in, I’m aware of it and I say like, Oh, okay, so we’re feeling out of control. We would like to know something. We would like to have a fixed point of arrival, as you say, I want to know, I’m going to complete these three steps and then things would be better and how can I sit with this instead? And can I sit with this for four seconds and then distract myself? Now, can I sit there for 30 seconds and then distract myself? This kind of pendulation into the discomfort and out and then the expansion just becomes the horizon and the world feels safe again in a totally different way.

I think the payback if anyone listening is in that raw time, is when you can open and stay as much as we can. And I think it’s a dance, then the thing you get back in exchange for letting go of your constriction is enrichment and awe, awareness and more intimate relationship both with other people yourself and also this wild thing of being in the world.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. Just touching how you speak about that experience, a lot of vulnerability, transparency. I think that’s also a sign of a healing process that you can frame it that way and hold it and share it with the world in that way. I have seen many, many people in our groups exactly at that point. And I think having a relational system or some relational support can help us to stay with it, as you said, and not shut it immediately down like and have some encouragement in the rough water to be in the rough water. And so that and then to do it skillfully. And now I would love to maybe hear you talk a bit about the importance of that relational context. What’s relating and relational support doing for us on the human level? We can describe it on an academic level, neuroscientific level. So let’s talk a bit about the holding space, like a home where a trauma can land. Maybe you can speak to that?

MaryCatherine: I love this the most. My mom had this friend who I think was sort of a mystic. I don’t know that she would have called herself that, but she said that there are moments when we fall off the edge of language. And I love that so much because I think that when we try to describe what this is like, we fall off the edge of language, which is both frustrating and amazing because it means you get to always keep trying to describe it.

I think that a lot of the way that our society is structured is in the way that we go about our lives. A lot of it is about hiding and discipline. And I think actually, going back to my experience with panic, I think that this is one of the ways that the trauma response biologically is so brilliant because it was like knocking on the door to try to get my attention. And I wouldn’t pay attention until it got in the way of what I needed to continue to function. So it sought its way and it was like, Oh, work is the thing. If we interrupt her work, then she’ll listen. And it went directly there, which I think is really fascinating and kind of really a painful miracle but a miracle. And so I think a lot of what we do as we develop is create these structures to protect us from vulnerability and from each other. And that’s not a fault or a pathology. It’s just sort of the way that it works. I think that relational spaces are spaces that break down those structures and barriers when we can be together in conversation and have that wild need to experience. Like if I describe something from my childhood that’s really unique and I’ve never talked about and you say, Oh my God, me too. I loved that same exact experience. Then we’ve now connected in this way that transcends our bodies, our structures, and our defenses, and it creates this other thing, this energetic thing that is now this connection. So I think we relate and it’s healing all the time, even when we’re not directly trying to heal. You know, if you are in a store and you have a funny exchange with the person who’s checking you out when you leave, that’s a relational space where something beautiful is being created, where we are transcending ourselves.

I think when it comes to healing, I think we like to make this very complicated, but it’s actually really very simple, which is just that if I can be with you in overwhelm, then you’re no longer alone in overwhelm. And I think there’s a thousand ways we do that. But, you know, when I’m working with a client if they are struggling to describe something that’s very painful, and they start having an emotional response and they start to tear up, their impulse is to race – let me finish this sentence. Let me hide this emotion. But if they let it free just a tiny little bit. If I can just sit there with them and feel that feeling with them, maybe tear up a little bit myself. Take that space, allow that pause, like hold back the race for them and with them. Then that’s the place where we are now together in this in what used to be a completely isolated, awful, terrifying experience.

Thomas: Mm hmm.

MaryCatherine: Does that make sense?

Thomas: Makes a lot of sense. I even described it in “Healing Collective Trauma” and also in “Attuned” and it speaks very much to what you said. A symptom of a collectively traumatized world is ‘my fear’ – that emotions become personal properties versus mutual spaces. What you just described is that when somebody is afraid and I feel that person and you feel that you are scared or afraid, then we create a mutual space. And the fear is actually our meeting ground. It helps us; it becomes the connection unit. And that resonance is deeply healing.

But I think the fact that we live in a world where that it’s often not happening, where people ask each other like, What do you feel? – If I don’t feel what you feel, if it’s a therapeutic intervention, then it’s great because it animates you to feel yourself. But if I ask because I don’t know what you’re feeling, then my emotional resonance is not picking up, even if you’re overwhelmed and numb. So I would feel it. But if you’re scared or joyful or whatever. So this emotional resonance speaks to each other. But often we don’t feel that in society.

That gap, I think, is a symptom that we are collectively hurt. And because it’s so prevalent, essentially there are only two people expressing that, there are billions of people expressing that. So it’s a systemic issue. Right. But I love what you said about the resonance and the sitting together with the overwhelm or with the emotion. And that is a mutual space.

MaryCatherine: Yeah. The image that I just got when you were talking is like of two little kids. You have an example that’s similar to this in “Attuned” where you talk about how if something scary is happening in a crowd and you look at another stranger, you kind of immediately regulate each other like, Oh, it’s okay. If you’re in a plane and you’re scared because there’s turbulence and you look at the stewardess and they’re very calm and you can feel calm. But the image that I just got while you were talking was of two kids, two little kids who were very afraid something terrifying is happening. And then they just sort of without speaking or looking at each other, linked hands – it changes the temperature of the entire thing. Nothing has changed outside, like the terror is still there and whatever’s happening is still happening. But with that connection, things feel and are completely different. It changes the nature of the experience, which is mind-bending.

Thomas: That’s right. That’s beautiful. So we talked about two way relationships, interpersonal relationships. What does this look like? What is the role of a community, what’s the role of groups, what’s the role of society in that? So when we expand a bit to radius teams in organizations – what’s the role and what’s the contribution of groups to trauma healing?

MaryCatherine: I think there’s so much hope here and it’s actually really exciting because I think that we hyper-focus on the individual, our individual problems, and then our individual relationships. But when we spin out just a little bit and we expand that circle just a little bit, we have so much more energy to heal. The thing that matters a lot is that we have similar and aligned goals.

So I think anytime we can get a group together that has a goal, say, of de-stigmatizing trauma, that has incredible power if that’s 20 people who want to understand how trauma, how traumatic experience impacts us, what that means about our adaptability, and then how to deal with the kind of traces the trauma can leave in its wake that expands. And now it’s not just one person talking to one person. It’s 20 people who are regulating each other and themselves all at the same time and then are going to go out into the world.

Clinically, there are tons of positive research about the power of the group modality because it’s more expansive than a singular, one-on-one therapeutic relationship. And I think societally, we have thought for a very long time that we can relegate trauma to pathology. We can say that this is a rare experience that some people struggle with. Most of the rest of us can basically ignore it. We can pretty much bet that we will live a trauma-free life. I think we’ve had that illusion for a very long time and I think the last 5 or 6 years have really shattered that illusion. People are really struggling because they have had a structure that they had in place that they didn’t know was in place that has been shattered. So I think that’s a terrible thing and it feels awful. And we can see the reverberations of that in the rage that we encounter in the daily just in traffic or at the grocery store. People are not okay.

But I think that the hope there is that now that we can get rid of that illusion, we can get closer to the truth, which is that a part of what it means to be human is to face traumatic, unbearable experiences. When we all know that and get on the same page and don’t look at that as pathology, then we can attune on the individual level, on the group level, and on the societal level.

So I feel like we are in this place of unprecedented hope right now, and maybe that’s its own illusion, but I think that it’s been very scary and dark, but I think it’s also it’s also very, very hopeful because we get this is the stuff these are the times when we really change the definition of things and start relating to experiences more differently. There’s so much work right now that people are just very clearly very hungry for attunement, about awe, about expansion, about spirituality outside of traditional institutional religion, you know. So I think we’re really kind of in a precarious place, but I feel it’s to be hopeful.

Thomas: Yeah, me too. Me too. I want to underline a few things that you said. I also think that groups are very powerful vessels. If you lift, if you don’t think about, on the one hand resolving trauma through millions and millions, of one-on-one sessions, I mean, they also need it. And some people really have very complex life stories. They need a very protected environment, of course.

But I have seen a massive acceleration of healing even when many therapists work in our group context. The speed of the healing process is much higher when the one-on-one sessions happen in a bigger community space that has that intention. As you said, there holds an intention. I have seen this many times when the therapist working in our programs says what takes me five one-on-one sessions, we resolve here in 20 minutes. Yeah because this whole quality, the whole atmosphere of the group is so much more charged. And as you said, you have so much more energy available, so much more resources than focusing on just the individual because the ecosystem is very conducive to that. And I find that very hopeful.

There’s something else that I would love to bounce off with you. When we say we are both hopeful about that and the other thing I wanted to say to underline what you said is, we are not talking about getting to an end point. You said that we are talking about resilience is the capacity to stay related to challenging moments. And sometimes there are very overwhelming moments, as you said, and they are traumatizing. But I think through good inner work, we strengthen the resilience that at least more and more moments that we can stay related to somehow, even if it’s difficult. But that’s a power that’s growing. I think we need this in crisis moments.

Given what we just said, I think that we have been born into a world that was already traumatized when we arrived. As much as we came here, everything was great. And now suddenly everybody is traumatized. There were thousands of years of trauma before us, and we don’t know what it’s going to look like after us.

What I want to say is, there is in my understanding. And tell me how you look at this. There is no real architecture like hospitals and architecture to take care of people who need urgent care. But I don’t see a mainstream architecture in society that would be a collective holding space for dealing with, developing an architecture that can take care of the individual inter-generational and collective trauma aspects, the legacy that our cultures have, being it 400 years of racism in the US, Native American genocide, colonialism, the Holocaust, there are many reverberating after-effects of trauma all around the world. But I don’t see an architecture that studies the healing architecture, like hospitals for climate patients. I don’t see anything. And I’m wondering about two things: One is how to bring it to life? Two, why is it not there? I hand that over to you.

MaryCatherine: I love this question because I have such a vivid image as you were speaking and I’ve literally never thought about this like a kind of love that you highlighted that there is no architectural structure because I never have thought about it in those words.

But as you were speaking, I was like building one. What would that look like to have a hospital, to have the central intention to hold space, to be a relational home, was to give people in their overwhelm a dwelling place. I think I immediately see hope there.

And then the other question is, and I think these questions are related to how to bring it about, and then also, why isn’t it here? And I think it isn’t here because we are ashamed of our emotional experience. We are ashamed of overwhelm. We have taught ourselves that the proof of success is to manage our emotions and to have our vulnerability in check and only be vulnerable in certain very specific ways. We have really demonized fear, symptoms, and overwhelm as a sign of weakness. And it’s possible that that was necessary, that was, in fact, probably isn’t necessarily movement through just the timeline of humanity. Maybe fear was a luxury that we couldn’t indulge in for a very long time.

But if we are in a different place now and we are aware of the way that trauma is getting in the way and the way that our shame is getting in the way, then what could we do? So I think the first work, if you think about architecture and building, you have to break ground first, right? I think the first thing, the first work to do is to chip away at the stigma that says that vulnerability is weakness and that trauma is the sign of weakness or disorder – to chip away at the pathology and look at experiences from a much less judgmental frame. And then we can start building. If we can do that, then what would people need? And then how do we facilitate that?

The thing that I imagine right away is a space to do exactly what you were just describing so beautifully is to hold these groups where you can accelerate the creation of that relational home in a scalable way that isn’t just this one-on-one, although of course, some people will need that. I think probably all of us need that at some level.
So I’m being kind of vague, but I love the question. I don’t know how to bring it about. I think the task at hand feels to me like it is about creating spaces where people don’t feel ashamed for the way that their systems have tried to adapt to overwhelm. Like instead of judging yourself for what you reached for in desperation, could you recognize that you reached for it in desperation and then take what you reached for as important information about what you need?

Thomas: Yeah, I love that. I also agree that what you just said is very powerful, like the hiding mechanism and de-stigmatization of so-called weakness. All the parts that we attribute to trauma like that we should not have prevent us from having or creating naturally is an emergence like a collective healing architecture, where the society takes care of its own traumatization, like a healing architecture around nations, or in nations so that we don’t stay in the repetition-compulsion of trauma, but that we actually pass on something new to it, like it in ourselves, but also to the next generations.

I think you beautifully highlighted, that the more we de-stigmatize it, the healing architecture can come into being because it will certainly have the importance that it actually needs to create healing, a healing environment. And that’s that’s beautiful. I think that’s also the way we bring it into existence. One way to bring it into existence is first to highlight that it’s not there and that there is a strong need that we don’t recognize yet that we have, because otherwise we keep recreating the same cycles, and then we pass it on to the next generations. We know too much about trauma to continue like that.

MaryCatherine: Yes, yes, yes.

Thomas: Right. I see our time. I find that I feel very energized by our conversation. Is there anything that you think we didn’t talk about or you want to share with our listeners that is important for you that we didn’t touch on or anything, any kind of concentrated summary or anything you want to share that we leave our listeners with?

MaryCatherine: I think one thing and this has kind of been underneath everything that we’ve been talking about is that overwhelm is a part of existence. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, number one, it’s not your fault. You’re not doing anything wrong. Number two, we live in a very overwhelming time. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, that is, look, there’s someone within 50 feet of you who’s also feeling overwhelmed. I had lost track of the numbers, but the next thing is that that overwhelm will not take you down. You’re not going to drown in this emotion that you’ve been holding back, because I think that’s a thing that I certainly experience and I see that a lot with clients, is that when we start to kind of open the door to what we’ve been trying to close back for our whole lives, what’s behind that door can feel like it’s going to wreck everything. And it won’t. It won’t.

Emotions are biological events. They hit like waves. They take you out. Sometimes they bring you to your knees. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to be taken out. Nobody drowned in an emotion, you know? And then the last thing is just: Could you open yourself up a tiny bit, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, which so often tips into rage and irritation, could you soften to that a little bit in yourself and in whoever’s around you that you’re feeling that with and try to open to curiosity about what their experience might be or how they might look at your experience, were you to tell them.

Thomas: Beautiful. Thank you so much. The hour flew by.

MaryCatherine: It really did.

Thomas: Yeah, It’s amazing. Look at the time, it’s an hour that passed, though, and it was so energizing, lively, and interesting. So thank you very much and I deeply enjoyed this. And who knows how we continue and where we continue our conversation.

MaryCatherine: Thank you so much for having me. It has been an honor. Thank you.

Thomas: Thank you.