What an honor to have my friend and fellow therapist, Aundi Kolber on the podcast today for Part 1 of our two-part conversation on her brand new book, Strong like Water: Finding the Freedom, Safety, and Compassion to Move through Hard Things--and Experience True Flourishing
Aundi and I connected through social media, and she has become the dearest real life friend. It was my absolute honor to have this conversation with her abut her personal story and her new book, Strong Like Water, available for pre-order now.
Here's what we cover:
1. The problem with being the "strong one"
2. The turning point when Aundi discovered a different kind of strength
3. 3 Different types of strength
4. How to find safety when you need it the most
5. The difference between information and transformation
6. How Aundi has come to understand strength now
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Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
Preorder Strong Like Water, by Aundi Kolber
- 2 Corinthians 5:2
- Boundaries for Your Soul, by Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller
- The Best of You, by Dr. Alison Cook
- The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk
- Episode 15: CPTSD—The Pain of a Million Paper Cuts
- Episode 4: What Do I Need to Know About Trauma?
- How to Reclaim Your Inner Alert System
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
The Best of You Podcast:
With Dr. Alison Cook and Aundi Kolber
Episode 45: Strong Like Water
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Alison: Hey everyone, I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started as we learn together, how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hey everyone, welcome back I'm so glad you're here this week. Today, we are launching our first-ever, two-part series with my dear friend and fellow therapist, Aundi Kolber. Aundi is a licensed, professional, counselor and the author of Try Softer and the Try Softer Guided Journey, which are just beautiful, helpful, resources.
I recommend them all the time. Aundi brings a trauma-informed lens to everything she does. She is one of those friends who just, as much as teaches, she shows what it means to live in an embodied way. She has a new book out, this month, called, Strong like Water: Finding the Freedom, Safety and Compassion to move Through Hard Things and Experience True Flourishing.
This book is hard-earned wisdom. Aundi has lived what she teaches others. She has an incredible mind to understand complicated theory, as it relates to trauma and make it practical and digestible. I got to read an early copy of the book. And I wrote, in my endorsement of it that "She reimagines strength as a dance of both tenacity and tenderness. Of holding tight, at times, and of learning when to release. So she gets the nuances of strength, of resilience."
It's such a powerful book and I can't wait for you to hear this conversation with my friend, Aundi Kolber.[00:03:33] < Music >
Alison: This is so fun.
Aundi: This is so fun. I was just thinking, as I was sitting down for this call, I was like, "What a cool job that I get to do this with my friends."
Alison: We just get to have a conversation that we might, normally, have back and forth via Voxer only Live, while it's being recorded. So it's pretty cool to have you on here, and I'm so excited about Strong Like Water. I just can't believe it is here and upon us, and launching into the world, while you are near water. I love it that this journey of creating Strong Like Water mirrored this journey of you, actually, getting to be nearer the water. That I know you love so much and speaks so much to you.
Aundi: Yes, thank you so much. It has been really beautiful because now we are closer to a lot of lakes but, particularly, Lake Michigan, which it's not an ocean, but it's not too far off. And you've been just such a huge part of my own journey, especially, the last couple of years. So it's beautiful to get to have this time with you.
Alison: I think, it's been three years, almost, exactly, since we connected. And, honestly, for people listening, this is one of, there are all these pros and cons of social media. I go back and forth with a love-hate relationship with it. But one of the best things is I have made a couple of real friends out of it, and you are one of those very real friends. That's how we met about three years ago, I'm grateful for that.
Aundi: Yes, I feel the same; I mirror that so much. There's definitely, still, some ambivalence, I think, valid ambivalence around some things with social media. And there is the opportunity to connect with people at times in ways that, honestly, probably, would have never happened for you and I.
Alison: Yes, we don't live in the same part of the country. We would have, maybe, known of each other's books. But how would we have known how to reach out and connect to each other?
I want to dive in because you open the book with this glimpse of your 22-year-old self. And I want to go back in time to her. She's at the ocean, and she's feeling the weight of a lot of different things. There's this image of her having been super strong and perceived as a very strong person, the wise person. The person other people turn to for support.
But there's also this foreshadowing, this sense in that story, of there was a lot inside of you that was yet to be unpacked. And, so, what did that 22-year-old you think strength meant?
Aundi: oh, my goodness, bless her heart. I think about that age of myself with just a ton of compassion. And at that age, I had what I would call a very narrow perspective of strength. I would say I had a very rigid perspective of strength. And what that meant to me was it was a form of like, "I'm the only one. It's all on me. If I don't do it, who else will do it? If I don't show up for myself, who else would be there?" Also a sense of nobody else can.
And I think this was a reflection of the family I grew up in. But a sense of even if I want help, other people, even if I could ask for help, others may not be able to handle it. And, so, since I in some way seem to be handling it better, then, I should just continue handling it. And, so, there was this sense of almost wanting to protect other people in my sphere. Because I had internalized this belief that because, for whatever reason, people perceived me to be doing well.
And there's a sense in which that was true, there were things that I was doing well. But what was tricky about that is that it made it so that instead of receiving some of the care and support that I needed. That acted like a way for people to think that I didn't need that, I didn't need support. And, yes, it was very rigid. It was very, "You just deal with it. You put your head down and you just keep going."
Alison: Is it fair to say, you and I sometimes flip back into parts language. We flip in between our different languages. It almost sounds like there was a very ferocious, tenacious, you use the word fierce in the book. Part of you strong, very legitimately strong, could get the job done. But you didn't have access to other ways, to other parts of you, that might have needed help or might have needed to understand strength in a different way.
That part of you was like, "This is it. This is what we got going. And, so, I'm the game, I'm the one showing up. I'm the one getting things done." This was actually your experience, too. It was reinforced. And, so, that part of you was like, "Yes, this is what strength means; it's me getting the job done." Is that fair to say?
Aundi: Yes, that's absolutely true. And there is, probably, without getting too deep into the parts work, my guess is that there was actually even more than one. There was, particularly, very bright, fiery, fierceness and then there was more of a stalwart steadfast, keep going, no matter what. And those were like two of my main protectors, in that period of my life.
Part of my story is that I am recovering and have recovered, in the process of recovering from complex trauma. And, so, that means that it's complex. And, so, I say those two parts, among many, but those were very active in those years. And I appreciate what you said, that it was valid. It was not, "Oh, you know what, how can I make my life really hard?"
It was because of what I'm facing in my family, because of the lack of support. Because of dynamics of emotional and psychological abuse. This is the safest way for me to exist in the world
Alison: A hundred percent, this was the way you had to survived. When did you begin to realize you might need to rethink this way of being strong? What was that moment that you began to realize, "Huh, maybe that isn't the only way to be strong?"
Aundi: It was close to that time. That moment that I described, that 22-year-old self, is just prior to me making a huge change. Which was that I, essentially, moved across the country to Denver, Colorado, all by myself. As a 22-year-old woman, I did end up getting a nannying job. And I had one friend from high school that I knew, that I had visited, and that part of that helped facilitate some of that. But it wasn't like I had this full-on plan.
But I will say, for me, that's a big God moment in my story. Because there was something in me that was so deep, and so true, that knew that it was the right move for me. That it bypassed, not just bypassed, even my protectors believed that this was the right move for me. Which is saying something because I'm a cautious person.
And, so, all that to say, it was that move. I've experienced many of what I would think of as almost like a cracking-open moments. Of the various protective strategies and patterns, and that was one of them. Because, up till that point, the way that I had lived was I was a college athlete. I was an excellent student. I was seen in these roles as being just people could depend on me. I did a good job; I was a hard worker. There were a lot of those things which were good.
But that was also ways that I used to suppress what was really going on for me, and when I didn't have that. I wasn't playing college basketball anymore. I wasn't on the same track, academically, because that wasn't available to me. So all these ways that had previously existed, they were not even possible.
And that, first of all, was very vulnerable and there was a grief to that. In addition, to the fact that I had called off an engagement. I had quit my first professional job. And both of those I'm so thankful for, ultimately, in a way, there was a wisdom to that. But just thinking about that was when I began to think, "Is there a different way?"
I think how I would have phrased it "Is there a different way to even be?"
And, so, at that point, I don't think I had language for the strength part. But I just was like, "Wow, I don't know how to be who I am anymore."
Alison: Hindsight is 2020, but it's almost like you used the strengths of those formidable parts of you to go, "I need a change; so let's just catapult me into this new setting in Denver, where I'm completely vulnerable." It's almost like this way in which using your strength, you put yourself in a situation where you would have to confront the vulnerability, almost. I don't know, that's what I'm hearing. I don't know if that resonates?
Aundi: I think all these years later, so we don't live in Denver anymore. But this fall would have been 18 years since that. I think it was early October that I drove across the country, and moved officially. And looking back through the years, I'm grateful because it was the right decision for so many reasons. And, yet, puzzled because it was a part of my story that I'm like, "That is not me." It's me, but it's not something where you're like, "Oh, yes, here's all the times that Aundi did something like this." It's very few.
But I think something in me like the Bible talks about, Paul writes about it, "We groan." All of creation groans. And there is this sense in which, I think, that's when I first felt that ache of "Is there something more for me?" And the dynamics in my family system were such that I wouldn't have been able to articulate it then. But I really needed to be able to differentiate from my family system. And at the time, what that felt like, to me, is "I have to leave or I will get swallowed up."
Aundi: And it was a body knowing. It was almost like it was that space, and the profound sense of just peace that I really felt was God's peace when I was in Denver. And it never went away, it just was confirmed. I was like, "Yes," again and again, just I knew that. And I tried to be mindful of not spiritual bypassing, things like that. But it was such this deep anchored knowing. And that's been such a resource to me through the years. Because when you've had those moments, you're like, "Oh, that's what that's like."
Aundi: When you know that and all the systems know, at least for me in that circumstance. And, so, all that to say, yes, it was this really paradoxical where something in me felt called, and led, and almost a deep knowing that, "Something has to change; and I'm not sure exactly how it's going to change, what that's going to look like, but I'm willing to try."
Alison: I love that. In a way I'm hearing you say "I need to choose myself."
"I need to put myself in a position where I'm away from all this, give myself a shot." And you did that in partnership with God's Spirit and you never looked back. As much as I know there's still a whole lot more to the story. That decision was, "I am going to choose a life of my own, I'm going to choose myself." And that moment was a real turning point, a real breakthrough, that's beautiful.
I'm curious, for you, therapist to therapist, when you land in Denver, did you start doing that internal work first or was a part of you drawn to this whole, "I think I want to be a therapist. I want to learn more about this journey of healing." How did that go for you?
Aundi: I had never been in therapy before I moved to Denver. I had started to, and was familiar with some pieces around some of the psychological elements. My older sister is also a therapist so that gave me a little bit of a picture, of some idea, and some perspective on this.
I had done a little bit of work in my undergrad working with social workers. And, so, I had a little bit of a sense of some things that were interesting to me, and where I felt like I might want to be helpful. I got to Denver, and to be honest, I mean, I had no clue just the level of work that I needed, personally, to do.
I think even at the time, I would have been able to say, "Yes, my family's really dysfunctional, there's a lot of chaos." At that point, we had been through a couple of interventions for both of my parents. I had been through some things; I had seen some things. And, yet, I think, partly, our body does this, in my opinion, to protect us. I think sometimes we're not ready to see the fullness of our story. And I would say, for me, that was a part of it.
So one thing that really was a gift is that one of the people I connected with really early on, she was a therapist, but she was my mentor. So I wasn't seeing her for traditional therapy. But she was going to Denver Seminary, or she had gone there a few years before. And she just was this really beautiful person, who I knew through one other person. And she was willing to meet with me semi-regularly.
And, so, she began to give me some language around some of the things I had experienced. She gave me the beginning understanding of some of what I had been through. And she has remained a really beautiful resource in my life, I'm so grateful for her. And, so, even before I went to therapy, I think that relational peace remained. I think she saw some of herself in me. She had a similar story. She knew that I wanted to potentially go to get my masters.
And, so, it was a way to support me and it made a big difference. Because, for me, really, it wasn't until I was in my master's program that I went to more formal counseling. But, honestly, I really needed even that pre-step of having that mentorship through an attachment lens was really helpful. Then the other piece that, and this can look different for different people. But a lot of my trauma is attachment related.
Brendan and I, my husband, we were introduced pretty, early on, set up for a date very early on when I was in Denver.
And there was a lot of complicated elements to that because I had been through some things. And I was trying to figure out, "I want to trust myself; I don't know if I can trust myself." Just even to pick someone who would be a good fit for me, and just navigating these layers.
But what's so interesting, and what I'm just so grateful for now, is the role of even just a few people, who were safe for me, in my life. And how that, in a way, laid the foundation for so much of my healing. That was a lot of the beginning. But without that, I don't know that some of my deeper healing could have happened.
Alison: Yes, it makes a lot of sense. What I'm hearing you say is that from the minute you landed in Denver. There was a way in which different people, enough people came alongside to create safety, and you talk about safety in Strong Like Water. To where you could begin to do the work of digging deeper.
We still weren't talking a lot about trauma. It was before that was being talked about. I'm curious, when did you begin to be able to feel comfortable with that label? When did you more, consciously, begin to say, "Oh, I need to go down this road?"
Aundi: Yes, I would say it was a progression over time. Even through seminary, I would not have labeled my experience as trauma. Because at the time, according to the DSM, I didn't fit. And now I actually even see that a little bit differently. But, at the time, I would not have considered it PTSD.
So this was in the early, gosh, this was 2006, 2006 through 2008. So there was starting to be, in the field, a lot more discussion. But I would say, in my particular program, there wasn't much training around that.
I will say there was a lot of really good, I'm super grateful. I got a chance to really do a lot of integrative work with my spirituality. A lot around understanding our stories and attachment. And, so, there was a lot that was really good. And what happened for me is that I graduated, and I was on my journey to become licensed and doing all these things. And it was like another cracking open because I went from this very structured, contained, environment. Where I was like, "I know what it looks like to achieve."
"I know what it looks like to" fill in the blank. To being like, "Oh, now I'm going to go out in the world and I'm going to be this person. I'm already beginning to try to be a person who offers healing to other people, who create spaces where they can heal." It wasn't that during seminary, that good healing didn't happen. I think that I would say that layers of that began.
There's a lot of professional understanding of here's what it looks like to do notes, and here are the ethics, and that's all really important. But, for me, it really was because I felt like I didn't have permission. And I think it's part of what it comes down to. Because part of what was going on, in the background, is that things with my family were continuing to get worse and worse. Now, I was quite farther away, so that created a little bit of a buffer.
But there were several really intense, painful, things that happened just in those years, while I was even in seminary. That, at that point, now I understand I had traumatic energy, I would not have known that then. I can remember trying to explain this to my mentor, and I remember my hands shaking. And as I think about that, I just have so much compassion, I had no idea. No idea.
I'm like, "Oh, my body doesn't have the capacity to process the intensity of the pain that is coming up." And most people in my sphere did not understand that. Even therapists that I might be seeing, they did not have that training. And I say that it just is what it is, this has been a progression.
And, so, it was really a couple of years, after I got out of seminary, and I had been doing some work to get my license. I was doing agency work. There's a lot of things, when you're first wanting to get licensed, that's not for everybody, but you're willing to be like, "I'll just go wherever I can." Which is great to the sense that you get lots of different experience. It's really good to feel out where do you want to work and what do you want to do.
But as I did that more and more I had the sense, I'm like, "Oh, wow, there are these people and they know so much about something, for example. But that knowing is not translating to their transformation." And I was seeing it all over. And it was like once you see it, you can't unsee it.
Alison: I know.
Aundi: And then the thing was, that was me too.
Aundi: Not that there weren't some changes, there were. But some of these big dynamics, in me, I was like, "Why I can know all this information and it still not changing it?"
Alison: The big thing at the time, for me, at that season I was, there was cognitive behavioral therapy. Where you look at your thoughts and you change them. And I was like, "I can do that with the best of them."
"I can get rational."
"I can analyze."
"I can capture every thought."
"I can change it to the truth." And it does not get anywhere below the neck. It's not getting to any emotional truth. It's not getting to any embodied truth. So it's interesting, to me, this was really before all of this trauma-informed, and what you're doing such a great job of bringing to so many people.
Before it had really broken through into the mainstream, I think, it's fair to say, practice of therapy. And I love what you're saying, you're like, "I could tell, I could see it, there's a lot of information here, but there's not the transformation. And I see it in others, and I experiencing that in myself."
Aundi: Yes, and I think that's what really motivated me, for me, post-graduation, to seek out additional training. In things like EMDR, integrating somatic therapy with things like EMDR. This is right around the time, then, I think, it's 2015, Bessel van der Kolk released The Body Keeps the Score. There's all this stuff beginning.
And, for me, it was this blooming it changed my life. It changed the trajectory of all my work. It changed, for me, everything, frankly, because it gave me a new lens both of understanding, but of deep compassion and of understanding the necessity of things like safety. Of understanding why, I needed to be so strong, a certain kind of strong. And that there was value to that, that I didn't need to shame how I survived. That was God's grace to me, that I could survive.
Aundi: And that I was so loved. I have always been so loved. And that, for me, there was an alignment of things that I had known for a long time.
Aundi: Things like Henri Nouwen talks about "Belovedness". There was a sense that maybe for the first time, I could fully hold that, fully integrate that. And not to say that it was always accessible, we ebb and flow. I think in the past, I experienced concepts like that as fleeting versus it being an attachment language, a secure base.
Aundi: Like, "Oh, no, this is where I go home to. This is where I live. Everything else I do is just an extension of this place where I am secure, no matter what. No matter what comes. No matter if I have to go into a trauma response or I'm able to stay integrated, I am loved."[00:28:40] < Music >
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< Music >
Alison: Thank you, Aundi, for just sharing with us a little more of your personal story. I know so many people have come to trust your voice, to turn toward your expertise. And I just, as your friend, what I know to be true, more than anything, is that it is 100% embodied. Everything you say, everything you put out, whether it's social media, what you write, it's coming from a lived experience. It's coming from your authentic lived experience on the ground, in real life. You are, 100%, this person in your own life, doing your own work, as you are showing up for others.
And I appreciate you're just giving us a little window, and you do it a little bit throughout the book. You give us little glimpses of how close to home this work is for you. This, literally, comes out of your own experience. And it's just such a gift that you've taken all of that pain, and all of that trauma, and through your own work of healing, created these paradigms, these ways for other people to come in and do the work.
Tell us a little bit about what you mean by the flow of strength and the three different types of strength that you teach us about in Strong Like Water.
Aundi: Yes, so the concept of the flow of strength, and we'll probably talk a little bit more about some other nervous system elements as well. But the flow of strength, I conceptualize as on one side of the flow of strength is something I've come to call situational strength. And I really think of this as, literally, survival energy in our body. And when you think of this, part of what that means is physiologically, that would mean we're only in the lower part of our brain.
Our prefrontal cortex is mostly offline or all the way offline, potentially. And this is where, in a simplistic way, for example, this is the survival energy. The strength that we need if a car was about to hit us. Instantaneously, and subconsciously, we would move out of the way as quickly as possible. And our body does that in service of our safety, of our survival. And this is a gift, I really believe that to be true.
However, when things are a little more complicated. When survival requires things that are not quite so simple as fight, flight, just collapsing. These are what are often thought of as our stress responses or trauma responses. In this situational strength, what can happen is when our body perceives that it doesn't have what it needs to move through. Meaning to connect to the internal resources, that would allow us to not just be in our survival brain anymore. Situational strength could then look a lot of different ways. Which is where I was at when I was 22.
It might be like neglecting yourself. It might be over accommodating others because that in some way is keeping you safe. It could be pushing yourself much further than what you're really, physically, able to do. And when our body is doing this, again, it's important to understand it's because it's in relationship, to what we're perceiving the threat might be, and then we just react.
And, so, for folks with a history of different types of trauma and those traumas are unresolved, these can become patterns in our body. That are more than just a one-off, they become the thing that we reach for, like a tool. That you're like, "Oh, same kind of thing is happening again, let me just reach for that tool." I don't know if we have the time to go into it. But you can see how the connection with parts work. Well, it might come up around this.
But in this framework of the flow of strength, I conceptualize it that when we experience what I call compassionate resourcing. It's a way that our body perceives whether through something like support or some way that we are getting a cue of actual safety. So that could be a person. It could be a space, it could be a boundary, it could be a hug. It could be having enough food.
Our body adapts and shifts towards what I conceptualize as transitional strength. And in transitional strength, this is where we're beginning to have a little bit more access to the rest of our body and brain.
So whereas situational strength is just that lower brain, transitional strength is now I have access to at least some of my prefrontal cortex. I have, maybe, access to a little bit more of the resources of my brain that might help me remember like, "Oh, I'm not alone."
Or, "Oh, I've done something like this before, in the past."
Or "Here's a creative way I could solve my problem." Dan Siegel talks about "Thinking". And I think this is a great example when we have the ability to notice, for example, that maybe we have some survival energy in our body. When we can notice it, that's a cue that we're maybe shifting towards that transitional strength. And then the way that I theorize it, it's that as our body continues to have the support and resources to move through that original situational strength. It's like our body digests the thing that made us feel like it was life or death.
As that gets digested by the actual systems of our body because we have the safety. We can move towards the end of that spectrum, which I call integrated strength. And with this, I go hard on this, and you, probably, know this about me. But this is not categories where we're like, "Ooh, when you're in integrated strength you're winning. And when you're in transitional strength, you're almost there." And it's not like that so much as it is more like a cycle.
It's more like you may be in situational strength. And then as we are able to bring those compassionate resources and attention, we may be moving through that actually pretty quickly. And I think the more complex our trauma is, the more we may have to spend time building up the resources. We may spend more time in places like situational strength and transitional strength, and there is no shame.
Alison: That's what I love about the whole flow. Again, even though you call it a flow, there's not a right or wrong. It's a "What is? In this moment, I am in situational strength. My body is going into high adrenaline or whatever it needs to do to survive." I love what you just said, and I want to underscore it. It's like just that moment of noticing and doing that thing, that's a shift, just that tiny.
In IFS we'll say, "Can you get a paper-width distance from the part of you that's about to just completely take you over?" And that's almost enough. That moment you're moving into consciousness just a little bit, where I love the term. And you talk about it a lot in the book, where you can provide resources, compassionate resourcing. The situational response is just as I understand, it's just what your body does in the moment, as a result of years and years of conditioning, and it's what it does. And it's not bad, it's just what is no shame.
And then what I love is then as you resource yourself, and that seems like such a pivotal piece of this. Because what do you do in that moment? You can go to shame. You can go to, "I'm going to beat myself up." You can go to "I'm going to isolate more."
Or there is some choice of, "How can I resource myself? So that I can move into that wise place of integrated strength." Tell me if I'm getting it right.
But when you first told me this, I was like, "That makes so much sense." It's all just part of the process. Mm-hmm. There's no shame in any of that. And there's some moments of conscious choices to some degree, too. Where we can make healthier choices in the moment or not even healthier, but choices that will help promote us moving into that deeper and deeper layers of strength.
Aundi: I so appreciate and I've always loved, when I explain this to you, you got it right away. This was early, this was last year. And then there's that intuitiveness of "Oh, okay, because we need different kinds of strength." And that was part of my hope, actually, in creating this framework. Because it's not that there aren't ways for us to talk about trauma responses, there are.
For me, what I have noticed, in my work, is there's this very binary thinking or there can. Like, "Oh, trauma response, bad. Healing, good." And there's this very, I don't know, it can feel so polarized. And, again, it's not to say the ways that we are living, in situational strength, I think one of the important cues here is that, ultimately, it's not sustainable.
Aundi: And maybe that's the thing that most orients us because it's like it's not that we don't need situational strength, we do. The question is how long can you live that way? And, often, I think, the more integrated you become, the more healed you become. Often the more uncomfortable extended stays in situational strength becomes because what's happening is we don't have access, well, in IFS we would say, to self.
Aundi: In the work that I'm doing, a lot of times I might say the window of tolerance or ventral vagal. But I would say there's an alignment with all three of those. That we don't have access to the things that makes us the most who we are. And, so, of course, that feels uncomfortable. We have limited choices when we're in situational strength.
The survival brain is really needed, but it is not creative. It is not imaginative. It is not generative. It can't take us where we need to go, not in days like these. Not in a time, in the world, like now. And, so, I just love that you honor and recognize that we don't want to shame any of the types of strength. And we can recognize that there are times when situational strength, it's outworn its usefulness in certain situations.
Alison: Yes, it's gotten us through to where we need to be. So it strikes me that we are activated when we're in situational strength. How do you move into that compassionate resourcing?
Aundi: Yes, so one of the things to acknowledge here is that the deeper into situational strength that we are, almost, it's like you're coming out of a deep thaw. So if you're only a little bit frozen, you don't have to unthaw as much.
I think in many ways our trauma responses are similar. If your prefrontal cortex, if your perception of danger is so significant. That you are so deeply activated I would say, in a very practical way, it will require more resources. Or another way to say it would be, it will require more safety to move even into transitional strength. And what I mean by that is even to the place where you might be able to notice, that you have been living solely from the situational strength.
Alison: That's right.
Aundi: So part of why I think it's important to name this is that, sometimes, I think about my own journey. That I wasn't thinking about thinking. I might have been ruminating, that's not thinking about thinking. I might have been intellectualizing, that's different than the ability to observe what's going on in your body.
Alison: A hundred percent, yes.
Alison: And, so, what I would say is that oftentimes if we have a history of a really complex trauma, really significant, unresolved. Part of the early resources might be getting into places and spaces where you might be able to experience even a glimmer. Even the hope that there could be safety.
Aundi: And it's important to know our body, if it's experienced a lack of safety for most of our life. When we first experience that, that might not feel completely comfortable. Which I think just adds to the this is not, necessarily, simple work.
Alison: That's right.
Aundi: However, I think there's a lot of hope in this conversation because as we grow. As we have even one space, let's just say it's your therapist's office, we're like, "Man, that's the place. That's the place where I can take a full deep exhale. That's the place where I feel like for, maybe, the first time in my life, someone is seeing even a little bit of who I really am."
Those would be two things that remind me of, "Oh, that person is, probably, experiencing some elements of some safety." I think in an example like this, what we can do is we can begin to learn how to leverage even those little glimpses. To be able to notice that as we build awareness of, "Okay, I was feeling relatively okay in my therapist's office. And then I walked outside and I looked at a text and my heart started beating really fast." Let's just say this is an example. This is a cue, right, that your body is detecting something.
It may not even be completely, fully, dangerous. But maybe it's partly reminding you of something, a situation that has been dangerous. If we can begin to hone in on circumstances like this, before we're deeply into the situational strength. What we can do, I conceptualize it like we still have one foot. I've got one foot back in transitional strength, and maybe my other foot is a little bit in situational strength.
That compassionate resourcing, an example of that might be, there are basic things that you and I have, I'm sure, already shared about or talked about in other places. Things like grounding, which is using your five senses to bring you into immediate awareness. Things like containment, where you're like, "Oh, here is my phone and that person, I don't need to get back to them right away. And I'm actually going to turn my phone off right now because I need a sense of space from whatever's coming up." There's a sense of safety that may come from that.
Now, those aren't these simple, "Oh, it's just going to make everything go away." We may need multiple things like that, just in that one moment. Maybe it's a breath prayer, and then we do grounding, and then I call my best friends. And all of those things, together, begin to cue safety to our body. I have to geek out for a second.
Alison: I love it when you geek out.
Aundi: I love seeing this, and I see this in my clients all the time. I see this in myself. I see this in people that I love. I see this in you. As we begin to move towards safety, our bodies are naturally designed, our brains, specifically, to pull from existing resources that we already have. People talk about like an upward spiral effect. There's this sense that as you begin to inch your way back to something, where you feel a little more like yourself, our brains want to integrate. Our brains want to pull from, "Oh, I had another situation that was like this and here's how I solved it."
"Oh, this person, yes, they do remind me of the person who verbally abused me. But, actually, it's mostly, that they look alike and they're actually very different and here's how they're different." All of these things are examples of ways that our brain is trying to pull us towards integration.
Alison: Yes, I love that. Every glimpse that we get, it expands. Just a glimpse begins to expand and our brain starts to want more of that. And you unpack this so well in the book. For everybody listening, Aundi gives you very clear, practical, ways to practice this in Strong Like Water.
I'm going to ask for forgiveness, for staying here in this abstract area because it's so interesting to me.
But what I hear you saying is there's that moment where we're in situational. Where we can move into transitional by resourcing ourselves. And I almost heard you, you didn't use these words. But what I heard is it's almost like safety is the conduit, we have to have a little bit of safety in order to become aware. And then as we move into transitional, we can learn to be more conscious of the resources that we need to bring more of this safety.
Am I hearing that right? And that key thing of noticing, "Oh, my gosh, I'm in that activated, I'm in that situational strength, I don't need to be." I mean, there's moments where maybe I need to be like you just had, or you're being attacked by bear, whatever it is, and your body should be doing what it is doing.
But in those social situations, in those interpersonal situations, where we are finding ourselves moving into that situational strength and we recognize it. What I'm hearing you say is there's that memory or that glimmer of safety, even if it's not right there with us in the moment, it's what can help us move into even more conscious choice and intentionality.
Aundi: Yes, I think that's so good that we want to talk about that explicitly. Dr. Stephen Porges has a great quote, he said, "Experiencing safety is the treatment and creating safety is the work." And I think this is such an important part of what I'm talking about in Strong Like Water. And the connection to this idea of compassionate resourcing. I want to unpack that just a tiny bit more because I love the definition of resourcing that Dr. Ariel Schwartz gives. And she says that, "A resource is anything that communicates safety to our bodies, in the present."
So this is really important and also, I think, really hopeful. Because that means that literally anything that is communicating even a glimmer of safety to your body and nervous system has the potential to be a resource to you. What's so cool about this is that means the possibilities for what is available to us, as we cultivate resource are almost endless.
Aundi: And I think that this is just such, for me, this just has the fingerprints of God all over it. Just like the goodness of God, that there are so many things. We may not always have eyes to see them.
Alison: That's right.
Aundi: That's okay, we're human. We have a very complex and yet fragile body. A resilient and fragile body. As we practice this work, as we practice developing and leaning into, and accessing our compassionate resources, we have more and more eyes to see.
The neuro pathways in our bodies strengthen again and again. They myelinate, that means there's, literally, a fatty substance on the neural pathways develops. So that instead of like you're going through the backwards, it's like a superhighway. Because our body gets better and better at learning how to access safety.
Alison: That's great, that's beautiful.
Aundi: Yes, it's really beautiful. I think you and I share this sentiment, this is sacred work.
Alison: Oh, yes.
Aundi: This is the sacred space in which all these things intersect. And we have the opportunity to have this way in which not only our faith, but also the practicalities of our lives. It's almost like these thin places where we get to see the ways that God is with us. And there is a reality in which we live in a world that has a lot of pain, a lot of brokenness. A lot of wounding that's not yet healed. And that both of those things exist in this space.
Alison: Yes, hence the need for the flow of strength.[00:29:51] < Outro >
Alison: Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of The Best of You. It would mean so much if you take a moment to subscribe. You can go to Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts and click the Plus or Follow button. That will ensure you don't miss an episode, and it helps get the word out to others. While you're there, I'd love it if you leave your five-star review. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.