S04|05 - Trauma, Triggers, Alarm and Shame with Pam Thompson, MSW/RSWMar 28, 2022
Pam Thompson a mother of 8 (and happens to be my mom too!), and therapist and specializes in trauma-informed counselling focussing on mind-body attachment. She enjoys music, art journalling and spending time with her delightful grandkids.
In our conversation today:
- How to identify shame when it shows up in our life
- Zones of regulation within our autonomic nervous system
- How to improve the work of your Vagus Nerve
- Emotional guidance scale and how to use it to support you
Connect with Pam: www.wolfcreekcounselling.ca
From our chat: https://gabbybernstein.com/emotional-guidance-scale-abraham-hicks/
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Trauma, Triggers, Alarm and Shame with Pam Thompson. Pam Thompson is a mother of 8 (and happens to be my mom too!) and therapist, and specializes in trauma-informed counselling focusing on mind-body attachment. She enjoys music, art journalling and spending time with her delightful grandkids.
Hello. Hello, welcome to The Freedom Moms Podcast. I have a really special guest for you today. We're going to be doing a really fun conversation together.
Over the last few weeks, we've been talking a lot about shame and a lot about mom-guilt, and what we can do about that - and how I see it as kind of the biggest struggle that we're facing in parenting and the biggest struggle that's not really named or talked about a lot either. So, I thought that it would be super fun to bring on a professional and have a conversation with a therapist today.
And I'm lucky enough to have a therapist as a mother. So, she is here with me today, and I'm going to let her give us a little introduction about herself.
Pam Thompson: Hi, it's great to be here with you. I’ll just tell you a little bit about myself. I am a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, and a teacher. When the last of my eight children entered middle school, I decided that I was going to leave behind my piano-teaching and begin university studies to become a counselor.
I chose to go into social work because it seemed to be more in line with my holistic life approach. And when I went into my education, I kind of began this dissection of the medicalization of birth, of parenting, of motherhood, of society and the societal discourse that we have been taught. And then, came to the resulting solution, being a focus on attachment between mind, body, and also an attachment to others.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: All right. I just realized, as she was giving us her little introduction, that I forgot to tell you what her name is. So, her name is Pam, Pam Thompson. And if you've been listening to my podcast for a while, you know kind of my background and my story; how my parents came to me, they were still parenting at this time.
Their youngest was still in the midst of teens and preteen years. And they said, "Here. We parented all wrong, read this book and you can do it a better way." So, they were really the ones who led me on this path and this journey that I've been on for so long, since then over a decade.
So, I want to dig into the conversation today because I know that through my mom's experience in the past with her own life and her own kids that she'll have a lot of help to give us for parenting advice.
And also, because she works with so many clients or patients that have gone through difficulties. So, I think that we'll be able to have a really great conversation today.
So, as I mentioned, a lot of us don't really like to talk about or really understand shame. So, I would love your ideas on how you've noticed this show up for either you or your clients, and how we can kind of determine if it really is shame that we're dealing with.
Pam Thompson: I really think that shame is kind of at the root of a lot of the stuff that we are dealing with. I would say that we sometimes call it our ego, or our identity system, or the natural part of us that kind of comes from our primitive brain.
That part has a lot of shame-talk just through the stories that we've told ourselves, through the ways that we've survived, through the societal discourses we're told. And so, being able to see it, and to be able to look at it and shine a light on it, gives us a lot of power to be able to then address it; instead of just thinking, 'Well, it's just only me.'
How to identify shame when it shows up in our life
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Hey, so how do we do that? How do we notice that our brain is giving us these, you know, however you want to call it, the primitive brain or shame or ego or all of those thoughts? What does that sound like? When patients come to you, how do you kind of notice or identify that that's what's happening?
a) Being honest about our thoughts
Pam Thompson: The first thing that I would talk to them about is what's going on in their mind. I will sometimes say that they'll have Tornado Thinking - worry, anxiety, their thoughts are spinning. That's why I call it Tornado Thinking. Or else they'll notice-- I try to get them to be still and notice what's in their body.
Inevitably, they'll say, "My shoulders are tense, I feel this weight in my chest, my jaw is tight, my head hurts." Sometimes we'll have chronic health problems that we’ll be able to notice, you know, 'I really have a hard time speaking - oh, and I have sore vocal, chords,' whatever, like it's quite connected.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Okay. That is so fascinating. I haven't dug into that a lot on the podcast, so far, but how there's such a huge connection between our mind and our body. And I remember I was coaching a client one time and she was having all of this intense shoulder pain, and she couldn't figure out where it came from.
After a few sessions of kind of working through her stress and the pressure that she felt and the stories and the thoughts that were kind of swirling around in her brain, she noticed that that tense tension eased over time and totally went away.
So, I think that is really fascinating. What about the thought side of it? What kind of-- When you talk about stories we tell ourselves, which I know we talk about often in, sort of, Brené Brown, but what does that sound like?
Pam Thompson: Usually, the thoughts that we tell ourselves, we give meaning to these stories; and the meaning becomes about us. So, you know, our kids are doing something; well, that means that I did something wrong - I'm a failure. Or you know, something happened at work; and therefore, we make it mean something about us.
So, it's almost like this personalization of what's going on around us, as opposed to just looking at the story and seeing it for what it is, our thoughts start to take us away into a place where it becomes too personalized.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Okay. Yeah. I'm going to talk on that for a minute also, because that's one thing that I've really noticed when I can tell that I'm in that feeling of shame, which sometimes feels like discouragement or frustration or anger. It doesn't always come across as being shame, right off the bat.
What I notice for myself is that my thoughts tend to be very self-centric. Just like what you mentioned that Tornado Thinking - the tornado thoughts, for me, would be things like, 'oh, this is never going to work', or 'I'm not doing this right', or 'I'm doing it wrong', 'I don't know how to-- I don't know how to fix this', 'I don't know what to do about this.'
And all of the thoughts are about me; and it's not about my kids, and it's not about my husband, and it's not about the people around me or what's going on. It's always very self-centric - and not in like a selfish or mean way, but that's just one of the ways that I'm able to personally, determine when shame might be showing up for me.
Personal Experience: How shame shows up
Pam Thompson: I have an interesting story about that. When I first went into my practicum to be a therapist, and there's a whole bunch of people behind the glass and you're in front of the glass with your first client; and it's very nerve-wracking. You've got supervisors, and colleagues, and everybody watching you.
I was sitting there in the room with this client and I was thinking, 'oh, I wonder what she thinks of me, I wonder how I'm looking, I wonder what they said, I wonder--' All of a sudden, I stopped and went, 'Wait a minute - this is not about me, this is about the client.'
And so, for me, that was the first time I think that it really, really struck me that our thoughts get in the way of us being the best mom, the best teacher, the best counselor, the best whatever that we want to be when we start to get so concerned about ourselves, because we can no longer then use that thinking brain - that higher brain - in order to really show up in the way that we want to show up.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah, it really does block that logic. I say this often, but when we're high on emotions, we're low on logic; and it blocks our access to any of the helpful tools that we have.
And usually, the kind of tools that come from that state are going to be more frustration - being a little bit more short with the people around us, or withdrawing, or disconnecting. So, I would love to now start talking about what we can do.
We've kind of talked about how we can identify it, and how it shows up for both you and for me. But how do you help your clients move through this when you notice that it's a problem?
Zones of regulation within our autonomic nervous system
1. The green zone
Pam Thompson: The very first thing I do is I kind of work in zones, but my zones are kind of maybe a little different than maybe you've heard. The green zone, I would call rest and digest, that's when our parasympathetic system is at rest - when we're able to just be there, we feel calmness in our body.
And, you know, because I work-- I'm trauma-informed and work with a lot of people in trauma, as we're going through this, often, I'll say to people, "This means that your thoughts are just still, this means that your body is just still."
And as we go through, they haven't even ever come to that place - that isn't a place that they even know how to be in. What they think is rest and digest, once we start actually going into it is not actually complete rest and digest. So, that's the first part.
2. The yellow zone
The yellow zone is when you come into sympathetic dominance. Sympathetic dominance is the other part of our central nervous system that kicks in when our alarm system kicks in.
And just like we can have a faulty smoke detector that goes off, even when there's not a fire, our alarm system can kick in even when there's not danger; and that happens because our brain can't tell the difference between a real or an imagined threat.
And so, if there's something there that kind of triggers us to what happened before a situation of danger or what we perceived as danger, then our body automatically goes into this defense system. So, the sympathetic dominance is kind of like the Hulk mode - flight or fight.
It's an activation of energy, hyper-arousal. It's when we get more energy and we're just like, 'got to go, I got to keep busy - I got to keep doing, or else I'm angry and I'm frustrated with people and I'm blaming other people.' So, that's the yellow zone.
3. The red zone
Now, the red zone is actually also parasympathetic, which is kind of interesting, but it is when we go, drop down into no energy. Okay. So, I call that the red zone - and in the red zone, it's the freeze or appease.
It's when you're just - you are going to do whatever, you're going to just sit down, you're going to veg. Your kids are going to ask you for ice cream and popcorn for supper, and you go, 'sure, sure, whatever.' We don't care.
And those are kind of the three zones that I kind of talk about, because once we can understand those three zones, then we can start to say, "Okay, where am I in there, and what can I do to move from there?"
Alarm Responses / Trauma Responses
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. That's really interesting. The first time that I heard you talk about this, it was a while ago- I had never heard-- I had heard of fight or flight, for sure; that's ones that I talk about commonly.
And I definitely heard about freeze more in the last couple of years, but I'd never heard about fawn. And so, some people call these alarm responses or trauma responses, but can you dig a little bit into what those four responses might look like for us?
Fight, Flight, Freeze, & Fawn/Appease Responses
Pam Thompson: Okay. So, the flight or fight--
a) Flight Response
The flight response is a chronic going, always busy. It's hard to sit still. It's hard to find a place of calm.
b) Fight Response
The fight is, I call it-- It’s like a bubble, and where you push everything outside of yourself - it's somebody else's fault, they made you angry. It's because this happened, you yell at people, whatever - that's the fight response.
c) Freeze Response
The freeze response is, I just can't do anything. Oh, the other thing about the flight response is that's more of the anxiety response. The freeze response is more of a depression response. It's a, you know, 'I feel this pressure, I can't do anything I'm so weighed down, I've just got to sit here and do nothing, I can't get out of--' I often have clients say, "I just couldn't get off the couch, I just sat there."
d) Appease Or Fawn Response
The appease or fawn response is submitting even to other people's opinions, even when they don't agree with your own values. So, often I'll say, I'll hear clients who say, "Well, I did this. That's not the kind of person that I am, but I just did it anyways. I just--" You know, or someone in situations of trauma, of abuse, where they put up with the abuse where we think, "Well, why didn't you just say, no?" That's that appease energy.
What to do after identifying shame
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Right. Perfect. I'm curious, though, knowing these now-- So, knowing these different responses and knowing these different zones, we can kind of tell, okay, yeah, we might be feeling some shame - we might be feeling that state of alarm or that state of hyper or hypo arousal is happening. But, now what? Like, now that we're sitting on our couch and we can't do anything, what do we do about it?
Pam Thompson: The very first thing that I say is mindfulness is getting in touch with your breath. And the reason that I say that is, I actually will often talk about Dan Siegel's Hand Model of the Brain, which you can look up on Google, there'll be lots of that.
But when our brain is activated, we don't actually have higher thinking, right? We're not in that rest and digest state. So, what I say to do, the very first thing is to do some deep breathing. So, I tell my clients to breathe in for four, to hold for two, and then breathe out for six.
And the reason that we do that is because with a longer exhale than an inhale, we're actually activating that parasympathetic system to kind of get us into that rest and digest state to get us out of that state of alarm. So, breathing is the first one that I recommend.
There's all sorts of other little hacks that you can do if you look up;
ii) Activate the Vagus Nerve
Activating the Vagus Nerve. The Vagus Nerve is the longest nerve in the body, and that is the nerve that's responsible for getting us into rest and digest. When that vagal nerve is broken, we're not actually able to get into rest and digest. It's not that it's broken; it's just not working properly. So, what we want to do is to try to activate that Vagus Nerve to get us back in that rest and digest state.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Okay. Yeah. I remember actually watching a Reels of, I think it was on Hey Tiffany Roe, if any of you, guys, follow her on Instagram. And she said things like holding ice in your hands, or there was something about humming or something too-- I'll let you talk about that in a minute. See if there's any more that you remember that you can mention to us.
The Power in Breath
But I just want to reiterate the powerfulness, the power in breath. When people ask me, what's the first thing I can do, or what can I do right now? I always say, breath, because breath is the thing that has helped me the most than anything else. Because what we're trying to do is we're trying to create some pause between that input and that reaction.
And if what I can do is breathe - is to kind of calm down from that maybe alarm state that I'm in - then I'm going to have a little bit of a time in between when the input comes and the reaction comes. But I would love for you to talk more about those other ideas that you've used.
Pam Thompson: I'm going to say one more thing about breath. Breath is all ours. It's 100% ours. Nobody can take it away from us. It's always with us. And it connects us to ourselves in a way that nothing else does.
And when I do breathing with a client, when we start to breathe, we really connect to the way that we are breathing, lifting, when we breathe in – expanding - when we breathe out, contracting. And then, visualizing that breath, nourishing us as it comes in and getting rid of the negative energy as it exhales.
And the more that we do that, we become connected to ourselves. So, it's always my number one go-to, but some of the other ones are; you know, holding ice cubes is one, but there are other ones gargling, humming, singing because the Vagus Nerve actually goes through the vocal cords. And so, if we can get that, that really helps.
How to get rid of the negative energy through the Vagus Nerve
So, one of the things that I will often say is, do you know how sometimes you feel like after you've had a cry or something and you have that big sigh and you just kind of feel that cleansing, well, I'll talk to some people about actually doing that big sigh when they're having a problem is just doing those big sighs, ah, and actually vocalizing when they do it. It can be vocalizing with a sigh. It can be vocalizing with hum through that.
b) Push against a wall
Another one that's really interesting is if you have a lot of really built-up energy, you feel like you've got to get rid of it is going up against a wall and pushing against it, kind of like a standing push up.
But the other thing you can do - maybe not when your kids are around or do it with your kids for fun - is when you're pushing into the wall, you scream to get rid of that energy. So, that's another one that's a really interesting one.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Okay. I was going to say screaming also, because I have felt, I have felt that way also - just going out into the woods, and just like getting it all out.
Breath & Mindfulness
And there was another thing that I wanted to mention about that, about that breath and that mindfulness. I think when we take that pause and we take that time to breathe, that vocal breath is super powerful. When I'm taking a client through, processing emotions is what I call it, but they're kind of feeling an emotion and it's kind of getting stuck. They're not--
They're not actually feeling it, it's there and it's hovering there, but they're not allowing it. Usually, what we first do is some of those more loud vocal breathing, just like making whatever sounds your body feels like it needs to make at that time--
I didn't know anything about the Vagus Nerve, besides what you told me about it. So, I think it's fascinating that this really does help people really find it helpful to process their emotions.
Abraham Hicks Emotional Guidance Scale
Another thing that has been helpful for me and for my clients is this Abraham Hicks' Emotional Guidance Scale, and I will have this at the bottom also. But basically, there's just these levels of emotions. There's some-- There's some more you know, like joy and love and freedom and passion, kind of at the top.
And then down at the bottom, we're going to have things like shame and discouragement and insecurity. And so, there's a whole bunch of emotions in that range. And oftentimes, we try to move from the kind of heavier sadness ones to the uppity joy-filled ones right away.
What we need to do, instead, is just kind of shift, take those little small shifts; and breath is such a helpful thing just to move us to the next level. We don't need to jump right up there.
Pam Thompson: Another thing that I would say is that I often ask clients to set a timer for a couple of times a day, even if they just do it once a day, then three times and then maybe five times; and every time the timer goes off, to do a little check-in, how am I feeling?
What is going on in my mind? What is going on in my body? The first time that I did that, it surprised me because every time I checked in, my stomach was tense, and I was holding tension in my shoulders every single time. I was really quite surprised.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. I love talking about this mind-body connection because it is so real. Alright. I hope that that was helpful for you today. I would love for you just to tell us a little bit about how people can work with you and who you work with.
More About Pam Thompson
Pam Thompson: I work with-- I have my own company, Wolf Creek Counselling. I work online or else in-person in Alberta. I tend to work a lot with trauma. That's kind of my specialty, I guess. I love working with people to be able to help them through the shame that they've carried.
Because what I find is we have these experiences, particularly as kids and young adults, and we don't even realize that we've kind of wrapped ourselves in this blanket of shame from these experiences. And so being able to work with people, to have them take off that shame and see it for what it is, and then to be able to work through this attachment back to themselves as the expert in their own lives.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: All right. I love that, and I will make sure that I have contact information for them. And thanks again, mom, for coming on my podcast today.
Pam Thompson: Hey, you're welcome. It's been great.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: All right, let's see you next week. I hope you enjoyed today's episode. Make sure that you give it Five Stars on Apple, and check out my monthly membership for moms in the show notes.