Microdosing Bravery

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July 12, 2022

Kristen Lee, EdD, LICSW, is an award-winning behavioral science and leadership professor, clinician, researcher, activist, comedian, and the author of Reset, Mentalligence, and with Sounds True, her newest book, Worth the Risk. The host of Crackin’ Up, she has over two decades of clinical experience in mental health and twelve years of teaching and leadership roles in higher education, focusing on underserved populations. She leads the Behavior Science program at Northeastern University. 

In this podcast, Kristen Lee joins Sounds True founder Tami Simon to talk about how strategically “microdosing” risk can cultivate courage and resilience in the face of challenge and adversity. Kristen and Tami discuss: embodying a sense of gumption and spirit; bringing mental health out of the shadows; measuring our risks against our values; how risk can nurture resilience; the importance of safe relationships; finding the right balance between being on the edge and being safe; anxiety as a “frenemy,” and how self-acceptance and compassion support healing and change; microdosing bravery in our creative pursuits; freeing ourselves from the need for external validation; moving from being a spectator to an active changemaker in the world and looking for ways we can begin our own process of active contribution; confronting your biases and prejudices; the illusion of perfection; the cult of overachievement; the new psychological safety; and more.

Kristen Lee, EdD, LICSW, is an award-winning Behavioral Science and Leadership professor, clinician, researcher, activist, comedian, author of Reset and Mentalligence, and host of Crackin’ Up. She has over two decades of clinical experience in mental health, and twelve years of teaching and leadership roles in higher education, focusing on underserved populations. She leads the Behavior Science program at Northeastern University. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts. For more, visit kristenlee.com.

Author photo © Priyantha Herath

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Also By Author

Be What You Want to Receive: Three Ways to Experiment ...

At a time when we’re marinating in trauma and dealing with the test of a lifetime, we all wish things were different. When what we want from life is a million mile march from what it actually is, it can seem like we need a massive intervention to keep facing what’s at hand. 

But research shows that small things can make a big difference. Just like stress is cumulative, so are the daily steps we take to grow and give.

Microdoses of bravery add up. To start, consider moving from asking what will the world offer me, to what will I offer the world? Tiny bits of strategic courage are sources of nourishment that can help you become what you want to receive. 

Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is a tall order, but worth doing. Microdosing bravery can help us build the strength and stamina that helps us heal, create, and liberate from fear, despair, and isolation. 

Here are three ways you can experiment with microdosing bravery including journal prompts for reflection.

Worth the Risk - Be What You Want to Receive

 

BE LOVE. 

Loneliness is being called “the new smoking,” a modern health risk. For some, the global pandemic has strengthened relationships, allowing for bonding and teamwork like never before. For others, it’s wreaked havoc: leading to feeling smothered and stuck. For those living alone, distancing has been brutal, making love feel far from reach. Loss, whether through death, divorce, breakups, or other factors, singes our hearts. We can become avoidant and skeptical of our future potential to love and be loved. 

When we strive to embody love, it’s essential to keep an open mind and heart. Loving connections are protective factors to our well-being. Consider these microdoses of bravery to strengthen your relationships, your sense of belonging, and the co-creation of new love paradigms in your life:

  • Get real. Go through your friends on social media and make a list of all the real people in your life with whom you can be yourself. Make a conscious effort to spend time outside of social media. Thank them for being so real to you and vow you’ll do the same.
  • Spark connection. Initiate a conversation with a partner or friend to see if you can build greater intimacy or camaraderie. To improve your connection, ask them what would mean a lot to them, and offer your own thoughts too.
  • Seek affinity relationships. Write a short poem or essay about yourself to clarify your various identities and then seek an affinity connection. Invite that person for coffee. Don’t shy away from sharing yourself and nudging them to do the same.
  • Be innovative. Create your own bravery microdose to help you be love.

Take note:

Write down what you chose to do and reflect on how it cultivated love in your life. Consider sharing this with someone you trust to help you maximize your efforts.

BE HEALING. 

The level of trauma at hand has ravaged our lives, making healing feel elusive on a good day, impossible on a bad. Given the magnitude of suffering at hand, healing should not be trivialized as a three-step process. Healing requires enormous courage. Microdosing bravery can help us reach out and tap in to the many forms of restoration available to us.  

Understanding how resilience works is a helpful way to begin healing. Gone are the days when it was viewed as a character trait—something you’re born with or not. There’s a lot of hype about being gritty and never letting anyone see you sweat that gets in the way of us finding the right support. Here are some ways to microdose bravery to foster healing and build resilience:

  • Recognize you’re not alone. The biggest lie our difficulties tell us is that we’re the only ones dealing with such intense suffering. All of us are living in a global mental health crisis, with exorbitant pressures and crushing circumstances. Suffering is part of our shared humanity. Finding solidarity and safe community can serve as a catalyst to healing. As we get traction in our own healing process, our acts of courage can be nourishing and healing to those around us.
  • Self-advocate. Healing requires intentional change in our communication. Many of us are comfortable and willing to give help, but few are asking for it. Identify one trusted person in your life that you know has the emotional maturity and skills to listen and support you. Tell them what you’re going through and work with them to identify potential roads toward healing, such as therapy, strategic behavioral change, and targeted self-care.
  • Set boundaries. Untreated trauma and unresolved issues can haunt us and impair the quality of our lives. By paying attention to what we say yes and no to, we can ensure we are leaving space for growth after we’ve gone through significant stressors. Find language to courageously share what you can commit to, and what you cannot. Enlist support to help you firmly protect your time so that you can devote attention to healing and restoration.
  • Identify resources. Take some time to scan your direct environment for things that nurture and sustain you. Select one or two things that can be microdosed to build your bravery.

Take note:

Write down things that help you experience healing. How can you continue to build off this?

BE A LIBERATOR. 

Society can project a lot onto us, caging us into patterns of conformity that can become harmful. Freedom to live as our truest selves isn’t something that comes with safety or ease. The work of unhooking from social prescriptions and ills can be fraught and exhausting. Still, when we find the courage to call out injustice and fight for a more humane world, we can experience exuberance and help change paradigms.

When we strive to liberate, we realize that we must dismantle oppression. That we must advocate for inclusivity and human reverence, particularly for social identities that are marginalized and harmed. Constrained living hinders human progress, individually and collectively. Consider these microdoses of bravery to liberate from social constructs that are harmful:

  • Let go. Take inventory of so-called social “norms” and become less apt to cower in the face of social impositions that are dismissive and destructive toward “difference.” Embrace your own multidimensionality, and that of humanity.
  • Speak up. We all have opportunities to be active contributors rather than passive bystanders in the world. Practicing accountability means that we call out injustice and work to eradicate forms of human suffering and imprisonment—whether based on race, gender, orientation, age, place of origin, or other social identity categories.
  • Practice human reverence. Move from me to we. See the glory and wonder across the human spectrum. Honor varied identities and perspectives. Work to find and engage in diverse relationships, rather than staying insular or spending time with those that look like, love like, and think like you. Become a liberator by standing fervently with those who’ve been marginalized, oppressed, or discriminated against. Seek ways to forge change, bit by bit.
  • Break Free. Create your own bravery microdose to help you liberate.

Take note:

What do you need to be liberated from? Do you know someone who is struggling in a similar way? How might you join forces and work together to become freer?

Author Kristen LeeKristen Lee, EdD, LICSW, is an award-winning Behavioral Science and Leadership professor, clinician, researcher, activist, comedian, author of Worth the Risk: How to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More, and Offer Yourself to the World, and host of Crackin’ Up. She has over two decades of clinical experience in mental health, and twelve years of teaching and leadership roles in higher education, focusing on underserved populations. She leads the Behavior Science program at Northeastern University. For more, visit kristenlee.com.

 

 

 

 

Book - Worth the Risk

 

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Microdosing Bravery

Kristen Lee, EdD, LICSW, is an award-winning behavioral science and leadership professor, clinician, researcher, activist, comedian, and the author of Reset, Mentalligence, and with Sounds True, her newest book, Worth the Risk. The host of Crackin’ Up, she has over two decades of clinical experience in mental health and twelve years of teaching and leadership roles in higher education, focusing on underserved populations. She leads the Behavior Science program at Northeastern University. 

In this podcast, Kristen Lee joins Sounds True founder Tami Simon to talk about how strategically “microdosing” risk can cultivate courage and resilience in the face of challenge and adversity. Kristen and Tami discuss: embodying a sense of gumption and spirit; bringing mental health out of the shadows; measuring our risks against our values; how risk can nurture resilience; the importance of safe relationships; finding the right balance between being on the edge and being safe; anxiety as a “frenemy,” and how self-acceptance and compassion support healing and change; microdosing bravery in our creative pursuits; freeing ourselves from the need for external validation; moving from being a spectator to an active changemaker in the world and looking for ways we can begin our own process of active contribution; confronting your biases and prejudices; the illusion of perfection; the cult of overachievement; the new psychological safety; and more.

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Buddhist psychotherapist Bruce Tift is a master at holding these two seemingly contradictory views, and—ready for this?—he does so “without any hope of resolution.” In this podcast, Tami Simon and Bruce Tift talk about how, in his work with clients, he skillfully embraces both the developmental view of psychotherapy and the fruitional view of Vajrayana Buddhism, the blind spots that come with each approach, and how combining them can help people avoid these pitfalls. 

Tune in as they discuss unconditional openness, and how it is important to be “open to being closed”; how neurosis requires disembodiment, and further, how our neurosis is fundamentally an avoidance strategy—“a substitute for experiential intensity”; our complaints about other people (especially our relationship partners) as opportunities to take responsibility for our own feelings of disturbance (instead of blaming other people for upsetting us); how to engage in “unconditional practices,” such as the practice of unconditional openness, unconditional embodiment, and unconditional kindness; and more.

Unwinding Trauma and PTSD: The Nervous System, Somatic...

The mind-body connection is still a new concept in Western medicine. Descartes’s declaration “I think, therefore I am” encouraged many to view the mind as separate from and superior to the bodyfor almost 400 years! So, to understand the discovery of feedback loops in the nervous system linking body and mind is to undergo a major paradigm shift, with radical implications for how we view and treat conditions like trauma and PTSD—and how you can empower yourself around your own healing journey.

Why Embodiment Decreases for Trauma Survivors

Until trauma survivors feel their safety has been truly restored, their nervous system relies on defensive mechanisms like dissociation, numbing out, or immobilization. This can feel subjectively like becoming a two-dimensional “stick figure” energetically, with a body that’s barely there.

If you feel like you’re not really inhabiting your body, know that it’s not your fault and you probably had very good historical reasons to leave it. With recent advances in mind-body therapies and somatic psychology, however, there are many ways—when you’re ready—to safely return to experiencing your fully embodied self. 

Perhaps the most popular of these therapies is Somatic Experiencing®.

What Is Somatic Experiencing?

Somatic Experiencing is a form of therapy originally developed by Dr. Peter Levine. It proceeds from the premise that trauma is not just “in your head.” Though you may feel off-kilter psychologically in the wake of trauma, you’re not “crazy”you have a nervous system that has been put into overdrive.

The body can’t distinguish physical trauma from mental or emotional trauma, and this leads the brain, once you’ve had trauma, to get stuck in a state of believing that you’re in perpetual danger.

Without a way to shake off the effects of having been in a dangerous situation in the past, trauma survivors disconnect from their bodies; the trauma gets “frozen” inside. With this frozenness in the body, your emotions can become dysregulated easily; you might at times feel spacey, agitated, depressed, panicky, collapsed—or all of the above.

Again, it’s not your fault that any of this is happening: dissociating and numbing are a natural  defense mechanism. Still, it may take some work, often within a therapeutic container, to start to “thaw” the frozenness or unwind the trauma.

Somatic Experiencing practitioners help clients increase their awareness of their kinesthetic, embodied experience, and lead them through techniques to gradually release stresses that have been locked into the body. Allowing both physical responses and emotions to come through, bit by bit, restores psychological balance and can help resolve even long-term PTSD.

How It All Works: Polyvagal Theory

Neuroscientist and psychologist Dr. Stephen Porges synthesized Polyvagal Theory as a way to explain human behavior in terms of the evolution of our autonomic nervous system. It not only provides a biological frame for parts of Somatic Experiencing, it has helped therapists develop a host of somatically attuned interventions and refined the way they interact with clients.

The centerpiece of Polyvagal Theory is the vagus nerve. This long nerve mediates what Porges calls the “social engagement” system. The vagus nerve’s ventral branch supports social engagement: a calm and playful, pro-social state. Its dorsal branch supports the opposite: immobilization (characterized by dissociation, depression, numbness, or “freeze.”)

If you undergo a trauma, the dorsal branch of the vagus nerve activates a state of immobilization. On the other hand, when you feel safe and embodied, your parasympathetic nervous system functions smoothly and you can (ideally) engage socially. What makes all this possible is neuroception, perception that takes place without our conscious awareness, tipping us from safety into other modes, like fight, flight, or freeze.

Clinicians trained in Polyvagal Theory support clients in making shifts in their autonomic responses, from “freeze” and shutdown to fight or flight—to safety—in order to restore a healthy range of responses and the feeling of being safe. 

Practicing co-regulation with their clients helps the clients to re-establish inner safety and other positive feeling states.

How You Can Increase Your Embodiment

Trauma severs us from our body, and embodiment brings us back. 

Embodiment practices like somatic therapies, qigong, and various athletic activities are some of the best medicine around for the nervous system. Even just taking a long walk while paying attention to your feet making contact with the earth can be quite supportive.

Sounds True also has created The Healing Trauma Program to offer support for your healing. The course has a faculty of 13 esteemed trauma experts—including Somatic Experiencing founder Dr. Peter Levine, Polyvagal Theory expert Deb Dana, Dr. Gabor Maté, Konda Mason, Thomas Hübl, and many others. The program takes place over nine months and is truly an immersion into the world of trauma recovery, with teachings, guided practices, live practice sessions and Live Q&As. Find out more about The Healing Trauma Program.

A Compassionate Approach to Recognizing Trauma Bonding

The theory of attachment styles became popularized in the last 15 years; now trauma is (finally) getting recognition from the mainstream. But most of us aren’t yet clear about the very deep connection that exists between trauma and certain attachment styles. This is where the concept of “trauma bonding” comes into play.

What is trauma bonding?

Trauma bonding happens when we get attached to someone who is often neglectful or abusive (physically, emotionally, or psychologically), but is also occasionally kind. When we’re attached to someone like this, we typically explain away their bad behavior, claiming “they had a hard day” or “it was my fault they got mad at me.” Rationalization offers us a semblance of protection from seeing the reality of the danger and inequality in the relationship. 

It’s common to form a trauma bonding pattern when one of our parents or partners is erratic, abusive, or absent. But often the template of trauma bonding gets applied to many of our relationships.

Signs You Have a Trauma Bond

If you’re in a trauma bond relationship right now, you may make dramatic or sudden life changes or even great sacrifices for the sake of the relationship to the detriment of outside friendships, family, and your autonomy. 

Even if the original, harmful relationship is now a thing of the past (e.g., you moved out, you broke up with the manipulative partner, or your former abuser has died), the trauma bonding pattern may remain embedded until you learn how to consciously uproot it.

Signs this trauma bonding template is still present can include:

  • Emotionally caretaking others while your own needs and desires are swept under the rug
  • Acting as if you continually need to prove your worth to others (and yourself)
  • Avoiding being authentic or open because it feels like too great a risk
  • Feeling frustrated, exhausted, hypervigilant, or unsupported in relationships due to perceiving pressure coming from others
  • A pattern of feeling disempowered around coworkers, a spouse, or family members

What Causes Trauma Bonding?

When we experience stress and feel (consciously or unconsciously) we’re in danger, our sympathetic nervous system activates the “fight or flight” response. As long as that circuitry is activated, we’re not able to plan for the future or assess risks very clearly; our nervous system gets locked in survival mode to get through the stress. In other words, it’s not your fault that you can’t see what’s going on.

The challenge is heightened because of the intermittent reinforcement that characterizes trauma bonds: we receive occasional comfort or love in the relationship, which is sprinkled on top of the typical abuse or neglect. Like other forms of intermittent reinforcement, it’s an addictive combination to be exposed to, and one that hampers our ability to understand we’re being mistreated. 

Because we focus so intently on the positive reinforcement we experience from time to time with our abuser, we contort ourselves psychologically to try to get the love as often as we can. Once this pattern is established, it is naturally hard to stop engaging it—again, because of the way our nervous system developed. Getting outside support to stop the cycle is an act of strength and wisdom.

Should You Break a Trauma Bond?  

If you’re in clear and real danger, it is most important to find a way to safely remove yourself from harm. Over the longer term, the best approach is learning to create healthy relational boundaries so as not to form or reform trauma bonds.  

Once you start to become aware of the trauma bonding pattern operating in you, you can recognize and address the behaviors it causes. You can uncover and listen to your buried needs and wants, and reclaim your personal power and freedom. Doing this can help you shift your nervous system out of past trauma bonding tendencies and toward new possibilities, including nurturing mutual relationships with people who are interested in your happiness and will support your thriving.

To find out more about healing traumas (including trauma bonding), please check out The Healing Trauma Program, hosted by Jeffrey Rutstein, PsyD, CHT.

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